Danish champion Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) might seem a surprise winner of the 105th Tour of Flanders to many but there'll be few people who will claim his victory on Easter Sunday wasn't deserved. Pre-race favourites Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert had to bow to the big Dane.
In 2019, Asgreen rode his first Tour of Flanders and finished solo as runner-up behind Alberto Bettiol. Two years later the now-26-year-old claimed the highest podium spot.
"It was always a dream of mine to come to those races and experience them. Finishing second in my first edition was really nice but to win is obviously the cherry on top of the cake," Asgreen said shortly after capturing the victory in Oudenaarde.
Asgreen also won the E3 Saxo Bank Classic which is considered a major indicator for the Tour of Flanders. "It's been an incredible Classics season this year. I'm so happy with how we rode as a team in both those races."
Asgreen grew up in Kolding, in the region of Jutland, Denmark and quickly gained a love for the Classics. "The Classics were always something special to me. I loved watching those races because of the action and the dynamics in those races. The first edition I remember clearly was the one where Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen were battling it out on the Muur van Geraardsbergen.
"I always looked up to a guy like Fabian Cancellara because I could see myself in that with my time-trial abilities and my dream to one day be a classics rider. There was still a long way to go. It was a dream at that point," Asgreen said.
It is clear Asgreen feels good in the team of Patrick Lefevere. He's allowed a free role during the Classics and he's a key member of the team at the Tour de France. Last year, just before the first COVID-19 lockdown in Belgium, Asgreen won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne with an impressive solo. Last week he pulled off what ended up being a double solo at the E3 in Harelbeke.
"I'm a much better bike rider than two years ago. It was my first time in the cobbled Classics. I've done a lot more finals in a variety of races since then and I've done more Classics since then. Those experiences help a lot in a race like this. It's a long race on the bike. If you don't do the right things in the first three hours of the race then you can really suffer in the last one. To have that experience helped me a lot today," Asgreen said.
That experience probably also helped him at 70 kilometres from the finish when the race was about to explode. Shortly after an attack from Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM) on the Kanarieberg, the pace dropped in the peloton on a narrow road. Suddenly an Alpecin-Fenix rider crashed near the front of the peloton and a few moments later a huge amount of riders were on the ground.
"After the Kanarieberg there were a bunch of guys who went down. I actually managed to stop but got hit from behind and I landed on top of them. Stuff like that happens. It was a very stressful moment. A lot of people jumping and trying to get to the front. I managed to come back but it wasn't so easy. I had to change my bike first. It took a little while before I was moving again. I managed to come back and still had something in the legs. In the end, it didn't change too much," Asgreen said.
He time-trialled his way back to the peloton and ten kilometres later he re-appeared when Mathieu van der Poel attacked during the second ride up the long Oude Kwaremont climb. On the following Paterberg climb Asgreen pushed on and once again he found himself in the company of Van der Poel. Several riders came back, and on the Koppenberg, at 45 kilometres from the finish, he was unable to mark the best riders.
"At the Koppenberg I was in the second group. I just made an acceleration on the Paterberg. The Koppenberg is a bit longer and really, really steep and probably doesn't suit my characteristics very well. I mean that it's the climb that suits me the least on this course. I went full gas there and only managed to be in the second group. We came back and we then we could play the game again," Asgreen said when asked by Cyclingnews at the post-race press conference in the Ronde van Vlaanderen centre in Oudenaarde.
The Koppenberg was probably the only occasion where Asgreen struggled. On the Taaienberg, Hotondberg, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg he was putting everybody in the hurt box. "At the Paterberg we were both à bloc. None of us could go much faster. In the last 10 kilometres, we still needed each other. There was a strong group coming up behind that was riding really well. At one point they were starting to close the gap. To have each other was a big advantage. That's when I decided to trust my sprint and go for that. My sprint after a long hard race is not too bad. I did a few sprints like that before. A sprint in a big group is also risky. A two-man sprint is easier to control.
"Had we been caught we could've ended up with nothing. The team told me to take turns and trust my legs. Going into the last kilometre we still had more than thirty seconds and I wanted to come from the back. Even though we slowed down we still had a gap to play with so I decided to stay on his wheel. I could control when I wanted to open the sprint," Asgreen said.
With Paris-Roubaix being postponed to October, the Spring Classics campaign of Kasper Asgreen is now over. "Obviously it's a shame. With my shape at the moment, it would be really nice to do Paris-Roubaix as well but the health of the world comes first. I'm sure the authorities have done what they could. If it's not possible, it's not possible. Now I will take a break and I will start to prepare for the Tour de France and the Olympics. In the fall there's a really nice world championships course and now also a Paris-Roubaix. I'll for sure go as well for that," Asgreen said.
His agent can start contract negotiations in a comfortable position. "Riding for the Deceuninck-QuickStep was always a dream of mine. They developed a lot of really good riders over the years. They have a proven record of developing young talents. Obviously, as a young rider, you want to be part of that. To get on the team was a dream coming through. I know Patrick is working hard to work on the sponsors for the upcoming season and once he does I hope he also wants to have a conversation about my future," Asgreen said.
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