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Asgreen can't do it alone as QuickStep Classics woes continue

Belgian Jasper Stuyven of Trek-Segafredo and Dane Kasper Asgreen of QuickStep-AlphaVinyl pictured in action during the mens GentWevelgem In Flanders Fields cycling race 2489km from Ieper to Wevelgem Sunday 27 March 2022 BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM Photo by DIRK WAEM BELGA MAG Belga via AFP Photo by DIRK WAEMBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images
Kasper Asgreen leading the peloton up the Kemmelberg during Gent-Wevelgem (Image credit: DIRK WAEMBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images)

You have to scroll 32 places down the Gent-Wevelgem results sheet to find the name of a QuickStep-AlphaVinyl rider – the Dane Kasper Asgreen.

After only scraping a top 10 at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic on Friday, botching the lead-out at Brugge-De Panne in midweek, and falling totally flat at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last month, this would normally be the stuff of crisis and scandal.

However, there are mitigating circumstances aplenty for the Belgian squad being a shadow of their usual dominant selves this spring.

Already besieged by illness and injuries, they were forced to conclude that the Classics gods simply have it in for them after a bruising encounter at Gent-Wevelgem.

Florian Sénéchal crashed and abandoned, Bert Van Lerberghe also hit the deck, and to top it off, Asgreen's chain came off in the group sprint behind the four leaders.

With pure sprinter Fabio Jakobsen dropped repeatedly on the Kemmelberg, Sénéchal out of the race, Stybar off colour again, and Yves Lampaert only just making his comeback from illness, it fell solely to Asgreen to take charge.

"Unfortunately I was a bit alone up there," the Tour of Flanders champion told Cyclingnews in Wevelgem.

"It's obviously a new situation for me. We've been used to being the team up there with the numbers. Now we aren't."

Asgreen's meteoric rise up the QuickStep Classics food chain was initially based on the strength in depth around him. He was on the fringes of the squad in 2019 but suddenly finished second at Flanders as the presence of his more fancied colleagues opened doors.

The following year, he won Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, and then last spring he beat Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) in a two-up sprint to win Flanders and effectively move to the top of the team's pecking order.

Without the likes of Lampaert, Stybar, and Sénéchal firing on all cylinders, however – not to mention the absence of World Champion Julian Alaphilippe from the cobbles this spring – he has encountered a different challenge entirely.

"When the group with the four guys went, I was there alone and at that point I have to make some decisions. Which groups do I follow and which groups do I let go?

"I chose to let that one go, because there were teams in our group with better numbers than us, like FDJ. In the end, they didn't close them down. That's the game you have to play when you're up there alone."

As if to confirm they were under some sort of curse, Asgreen's chain came off as the main group sprinted for fifth place.

"He almost crashed – otherwise he would have been top three in sprint," Sport Director Tom Steels insisted.

'We're coming back'

WEVELGEM BELGIUM MARCH 27 Yves Lampaert of Belgium and Team QuickStep Alpha Vinyl competes through Kemmelbergweg cobblestones sector during the 84th GentWevelgem in Flanders Fields 2022 Mens Elite a 2488km one day race from Ypres to Wevelgem GWE22 WorldTour on March 27 2022 in Wevelgem Belgium Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Yves Lampaert had a creditable ride on his comeback from illness (Image credit: Tim de WaeleGetty Images)

As Steels took stock in Wevelgem, there was a sense of resignation, a shrug of the shoulders rather than disappointment or even frustration.

"What can you do? We're just not in that flow," he said. "The ball just doesn't roll for us."

For Sénéchal in particular, bad luck seems to be lurking around every corner. At Milan-San Remo he was behind Giacomo Nizzolo when the Italian crashed not the descent of the Poggio, before puncturing at a key moment of E3 and now crashing out of Gent-Wevelgem when a rider went down in front of him.

"It's not easy, for sure. You build up all winter for this period then three races in a row this happens," Steels said. "You can only do one thing: keep moving forward."

If there was one ray of positivity on Sunday, it was Lampaert's performance. His 39th place was nothing you'd write home about ordinarily, but the way he generally made the second groups over the three Kemmelberg ascents was beyond expectations give his recent bout of illness.

"I was very surprised by Yves," Steels said. "He was already there and made it to the second group, so we step by step we're coming back.

"Bad luck you can do nothing about. There can be 15 minutes of disappointment but you have to go forward again. It's cycling. It's sport. You cannot stand still. If they're riding really bad, it's another story, but they're coming back."

Asgreen echoed the thoughts of his director, and happy with his own shape and health, looked ahead to next Sunday's Tour of Flanders with optimism. With Sénéchal free of misfortune and Lampaert back near full strength, his prospects would suddenly look a whole lot different.

"We're not that far off, to be honest," Asgreen said. "Today we had some bad luck. On Friday we didn't do a bad race as a team. The guys missed the split on the Taaienberg but did an awesome job to come back and they kept fighting, which is important. If we keep doing that at some point we're going get the better of them."

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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.