Kasper Asgreen played off an impressive tactical effort from his Deceuninck-Quickstep team, adding five solo kilometres to a previous 54km effort to win the E3 Saxo Bank Classic ahead of an elite chasing group, led home by his teammate Florian Sénéchal ahead of Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix).
Asgreen attacked first on the Taaienberg and then again with 66.7km to go on the Boigneberg before snapping the elastic. His team then marked all the attempts to chase from a revolving door of formations behind until finally, with 12.3km to go he was caught by a group of Classics titans: Van der Poel, Greg van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen (AG2R Citroën) and Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) in addition to defending champion Zdenek Stybar and Sénéchal.
With Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) having lost contact on the Tiegemberg and in a chasing group behind, the seven leaders cooperated until the gap to the Belgian was too large to close and then, with 4.6km to go, Asgreen attacked again.
It was a canny dodge to force Van der Poel to expend his energy but Asgreen found himself with enough energy left and, with his teammates again disrupting the chase, the Danish champion came across the line with no one else in the picture.
"I knew after the effort I did today that I wasn't going to have any chance in the last kilometre, so I had to get away and arrive alone if I wanted to win the race. It was all or nothing at that point," Asgreen said.
"I tried to use the traffic island to put some distance between them and myself so I could get a gap before they could react. I don't know if that made the difference. I think everyone had a hard day and everyone was on the limit."
An attack from a rider who had already spent more than an hour off the front alone but Asgreen said he still felt good. "I was really motivated to go out and create a hard race - that's where I have my biggest strength. I was not afraid to open up the race early. To go solo for that long was not the plan but in the end when you're off the front you just have to put your head down and make the most of it.
"We had an amazing team here. Everyone was so strong. I could hear them cheering for me behind and I could hear how well they were bluffing the other guys. We always had someone there. It was really perfect. A huge thanks to the guys. It's really amazing teamwork. It would not be possible to do a ride like this without my teammates, that's for sure."
How it unfolded
Overcast skies greeted the peloton for the E3 Saxo Bank Classic in Harelbeke as the pro peloton left the flatter, windier roads of Brugge-De Panne and headed deep into the Flemish Ardennes for a much lumpier 203.9km of racing with 17 hellingen on tap.
The race went off without the Bora-Hansgrohe team, who withdrew after Matthew Walls tested positive for COVID-19.
Some surprising names pushed their chips in on the first climb of the Katteberg, just 23km into the race, including 2018 winner Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie) and top sprinter Andre Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation) along with some usual suspects: Taco Van Der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Marco Haller and Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious), Jelle Wallays (Cofidis), Julius van den Berg (EF Education-Nippo), Alexys Brunel (Groupama-FDJ), Johan Jacobs and Lluís Mas (Movistar), Lindsay De Vylder (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Rasmus Fossum Tiller (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team) forming a 12-man breakaway.
The leaders gained three and half minutes on the peloton but the Deceuninck-QuickStep team whittled that down before the next series of climbs - La Houppe and Kanarieberg before the halfway point. Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) crashed with Jhonatan Narvaez (Ineos Grenadiers) and both had to abandon.
The race heated up on the Hotondberg with 94km to go with Qhubeka-Assos' Victor Campenaerts and Dries de Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) following. The attack didn't work but the effort of the Hour Record holder created the first serious gaps in the peloton behind. Campenaerts continued to push the pace and Van der Poel had to expend some effort to close down a gap.
Between the wind, the surges and the brisk first two hours of racing, there was a definite selection with 88km to go as the crosswinds and constant switch of direction split the peloton in two but with most of the favourites in the first group.
The breakaway began to come unravelled on the Taaienberg with 80km to go, while behind Deceuninck-QuickStep ripped the peloton apart even before the climb with a huge surge, launching Zdenek Stybar into the steep, cobbled ascent along with Kasper Asgreen. Van Aert and Van der Poel had to chase the pair themselves and the huge turn of pace brought the breakaway's advantage down to just 47 seconds by the time the shattered leading group headed down the other side.
Eleven riders came together to form the first chasing group, with Asgreen, Sénéchal, Lampaert and Stybar (Deceuninck-Quickstep), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) and Van der Poel catching Milan and Van den Berg, who'd been dropped from the breakaway.
The air went out of the lead group and with 70km to go, the chasers closed down the gap just before the next climb, the Berg ten Stene, making the leading group 19 strong. Van Aert punctured and, dropping back to the much larger chasing peloton, Jumbo-Visma committed fully to the chase to close down the 18 seconds to the leaders.
It was up to Deceuninck-QuickStep to keep the breakaway moving since they had the numbers. After the previous surge on the Taaienberg, Stybar attacked again on the Boigneberg to soften up the group. Then it was Asgreen's turn. The Danish champion opened up a slight gap on the leaders over the top just as Jumbo-Visma were closing in.
Van Aert used the rapid chase as a springboard and came across along with Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM) but just as he made contact, Van der Poel countered with 65km to go in pursuit of Asgreen, pulling away a group of six - Haller, Wallays, Van der Hoorn, Stybar, and Lampaert.
The move sparked new life into Wallays, who had Asgreen in sight and opted to push the pace. However, Van der Poel sensed the huge peloton coming and drifted out of the back of the group to shelter within it, and that was all Asgreen needed.
On the Eikenberg - paved now and less selective - there was a general regrouping behind Asgreen, who had 22 seconds with 62km still to go.
The next climb, the Stationberg, still with its cobbles, proved to be a tougher ascent and Terpstra used the steepest part to put in a dig and was followed quickly by Van der Poel, Van Aert and Stybar as Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) lost touch with the peloton. Race on! Küng scrambled across as the gap to Asgreen came down to 10 seconds.
However, The four leaders weren't quite ready to commit and as Van Avermaet and Lampaert closed the gap there was yet another regrouping. Then, Anthony Turgis (Total Direct Energie), Oliver Naesen (AG2R Citroën), Haller, Markus Hoelgaard (Uno-X), and Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix) put in a counter-attack that was marked by Sénéchal.
This group was given quite a bit more leeway and with 48km to go, Asgreen had 36 seconds on the chasers with the third group taking a breather at just over a minute from the Danish champion. Ahead of the Paterberg with 43km to go, the second group inched closer to Asgreen. He had a 24 second lead at the start of the famed hellingen and 1:09 on the peloton.
The Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont
The favourites kicked off on the climb behind, with Van Aert pulling away Stybar, Van Avermaet and Van der Poel and setting off in pursuit of the Naesen group. It was an advantage for Deceuninck-QuickStep and AG2R Citroën to be dragged across to their teammates but Van der Poel, who also had Vermeersch ahead, was keen to close down the gap.
As Asgreen hit the Oude Kwaremont, he had 22 seconds on the Naesen group with Van Aert reeling in the chasers almost singlehandedly on the climb. The chase succeeded with 38km to go but it wasn't time to pounce quite yet. The group, led by Hoelgaard, could see Asgreen before the top and Van Aert came over the top of the Uno-X rider and proceeded to halve Asgreen's gap.
Van der Poel took over the chase on the smoothly paved road beyond and, isolated from his teammates, Van Aert partnered with his Dutch rival and Naesen to keep the gap to Asgreen going in the right direction while the Dane's QuickStep teammates enjoyed the free ride. The cooperation inspired the rest of the group to work as behind, Lampaert and Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) tried to come across.
They Van Aert group had Asgreen in sight on the wide highway but could only watch as the gap just began to open. Asgreen reached the Karnemelkbeekstraat with 31km to go and 18 seconds in his pocket. With 27km to go, Lampaert and Van Baarle impressed with a successful bridge, giving QuickStep another rider in the mix.
The end game
Deceuninck-QuickStep were more than happy to play the tactical numbers game and slow the chase heading into the flat cobbled section at Varent, knowing that the Tiegemberg was still to come with 20km to go. Without Van Aert or Van der Poel pushing the pace, the gap ballooned to 36 seconds and more riders trying to get across: Milan-Sam Remo winner Stuyven and Tiesj Benoot (Team DSM).
Lampaert punctured out of the group before the climb and had a slow rear wheel change from Shimano neutral support and never saw the front again.
On the Tiegemberg, Van Aert put in a big attack but when Van der Poel came over the top with Stybar, he cracked Van Aert. Van Avermaet and Naesen were marked by Sénéchal as they came across, making it five riders in pursuit of Asgreen, two of them the Danish rider's teammates.
It was a surprising failure by Van Aert, who coasted as Van Baarle leapt away in pursuit, but he wasn't giving up, and partnered with Haller, Vermeersch, Turgis and Hoelgaard to try and rejoin.
Asgreen proved startlingly difficult to catch as Naesen, Van Avermaet and even Van der Poel were all pulling faces as they worked to reel him in. With 14.5km to go and no more climbs or cobbles, the Dane still had an aggravating five-second gap and someone would have to burn their last match to erase it.
It was Naesen who drew the short straw and finally, after 57.7 kilometres of solo effort, Asgreen finally could sit on with 12.3km remaining. Still, QuickStep had the numbers in the front group but they helped to set the pace to keep Van Aert - still dangling at 16 seconds - from rejoining. Once the seven leaders began a smooth rotation, Van Aert's chances went out the window.
With 8.8km to go, Van Aert had a 20-second gap that only kept yawning out ahead of him. By the time the leaders gained 30 seconds - with 6.5km to go - his hopes were all but dashed.
Asgreen hadn't used up all of his matches and took off with 4.6km to go, forcing Van Baarle, Van der Poel and Van Avermaet to chase. Naesen took a breath and then launched on the outside but Van der Poel quickly nullified the move. With the QuickStep riders marking the rest, Asgreen stubbornly forged another 10-second gap with just 2.5km to go.
Van der Poel attacked with 2.1km to go and again, marked by Sénéchal and Stybar, could only sit up in frustration as Asgreen sailed to his first win of the 2021 season.
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck-QuickStep||4:42:56|
|2||Florian Senechal (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:00:32|
|3||Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix|
|4||Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team|
|5||Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|6||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team|
|7||Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers|
|8||Markus Hoelgaard (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team||0:01:28|
|9||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix||0:01:30|
|10||Marco Haller (Aut) Bahrain Victorious|
|11||Wout Van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma|
|12||Anthony Turgis (Fra) Total Direct Energie||0:01:34|
|13||Yves Lampaert (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:02:12|
|14||Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo|
|15||Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Team DSM|
|16||Florian Vermeersch (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:02:47|
|17||Jasper De Buyst (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|18||Matteo Trentin (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|
|19||Dimitri Claeys (Bel) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|20||Stefan Küng (Swi) Groupama-FDJ|
|21||Jelle Wallays (Bel) Cofidis||0:02:49|
|22||Joris Nieuwenhuis (Ned) Team DSM||0:02:56|
|23||Johan Jacobs (Swi) Movistar Team|
|24||Taco van der Hoorn (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|25||Thomas Pidcock (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers|
|26||Davide Ballerini (Ita) Deceuninck-QuickStep||0:03:04|
|27||Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spa) Movistar Team|
|28||Jonas Koch (Ger) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|29||John Degenkolb (Ger) Lotto Soudal|
|30||Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Israel Start-up Nation|
|31||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain Victorious|
|32||Michael Gogl (Aut) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|33||Mikkel Bjerg (Den) UAE Team Emirates|
|34||Rui Oliveira (Por) UAE Team Emirates|
|35||Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo|
|36||Arjen Livyns (Bel) Bingoal WB|
|37||Damien Touze (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team|
|38||Jake Stewart (GBr) Groupama-FDJ|
|39||Loïc Vliegen (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|40||Lindsay De Vylder (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|41||Dries Van Gestel (Bel) Total Direct Energie|
|42||Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team DSM|
|43||Owain Doull (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers|
|44||Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education-Nippo|
|45||Victor Campenaerts (Bel) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|46||Niki Terpstra (Ned) Total Direct Energie|
|47||Michael Schär (Swi) AG2R Citroën Team||0:03:09|
|48||Rasmus Tiller (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team||0:06:30|
|49||Nathan Van Hooydonck (Bel) Jumbo-Visma||0:10:18|
|50||Stan Dewulf (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team|
|51||André Greipel (Ger) Israel Start-up Nation||0:10:50|
|52||Dries De Bondt (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix|
|53||Juri Hollmann (Ger) Movistar Team|
|54||Luis Mas Bonet (Spa) Movistar Team|
|55||Pascal Eenkhoorn (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|56||Robert Stannard (Aus) Team BikeExchange|
|57||Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain Victorious|
|58||Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|59||Jonas Iversby Hvideberg (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|60||Timo Roosen (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|61||Kévin Geniets (Lux) Groupama-FDJ|
|62||Alex Kirsch (Lux) Trek-Segafredo|
|63||Alex Edmondson (Aus) Team BikeExchange|
|64||Stefano Oldani (Ita) Lotto Soudal||0:12:47|
|65||Yevgeniy Gidich (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech|
|66||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates|
|67||Kristoffer Halvorsen (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|68||Tim Declercq (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|69||Fabian Lienhard (Swi) Groupama-FDJ|
|70||Mads Würtz Schmidt (Den) Israel Start-up Nation|
|71||Ryan Gibbons (RSA) UAE Team Emirates|
|72||Piet Allegaert (Bel) Cofidis|
|73||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Total Direct Energie|
|74||Milan Menten (Bel) Bingoal WB|
|75||Olivier Le Gac (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|76||Benjamin Perry (Can) Astana-Premier Tech|
|77||Simone Consonni (Ita) Cofidis|
|78||Artyom Zakharov (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech|
|79||Erik Nordsaeter Resell (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team|
|80||Ward Vanhoof (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|81||Jenthe Biermans (Bel) Israel Start-up Nation|
|82||Alex Colman (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|83||André Carvalho (Por) Cofidis|
|84||David Dekker (Ned) Jumbo-Visma|
|85||Brent Van Moer (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|86||Michal Golas (Pol) Ineos Grenadiers|
|87||Maarten Wynants (Bel) Jumbo-Visma|
|88||Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Bingoal WB|
|89||Leonardo Basso (Ita) Ineos Grenadiers|
|90||Jack Bauer (NZl) Team BikeExchange|
|91||Boy van Poppel (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux|
|92||Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team|
|93||Quinn Simmons (USA) Trek-Segafredo|
|94||Frederik Frison (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|95||Alexys Brunel (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|96||Szymon Sajnok (Pol) Cofidis|
|97||Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team|
|98||Emil Vinjebo (Den) Team Qhubeka Assos|
|99||Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix|
|100||Otto Vergaerde (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix|
|101||Remy Mertz (Bel) Bingoal WB|
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news.
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