When Michael Valgren (Astana) hit the deck with still 100 kilometres to run at the Tour of Flanders, the Dane thought that any chance he had of doing anything in the Monument had been dealt a fatal blow. However, with a little help from his friends, the Astana rider not only made it back to the front group but was in contention for the podium, with defending champion Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) finally beating him to third place.
"It was tough conditions and just a really hard race right from the beginning," he said. "It took a really long time for the breakaway to go and then before then at the Muur there was this big crash and I was involved. I thought then that my race was over, but I got amazing help from the team to get back, first from Truls and then from Hugo and Oscar. After that, Magnus was just amazing to put me in the right position on the important cobbled sections, so I cannot thank the team enough."
Valgren thinks that he may have been able to do more, but he decided not to chase down an attack from Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and eventual race winner Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) as he wanted to keep as much energy as possible for the third, and final, ascent of the Oude Kwaremont.
"I was trying to follow them. He and Nibali went away and I was riding well, but I wanted to save myself for the Kwaremont because that was where I was dropped last year by Terpstra," Valgren said. "I wanted to save myself and it worked out to be fourth, but it would have been interesting to be up there with Terpstra, but I don't know if I would have been able to follow him or not."
Valgren, who had scratches to his hip and the palms of his hands, was caught up in the same crash as Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale) with just under 100 kilometres to go. It's not exactly clear what caused the crash, but camera footage shows an FDJ rider going off the road and into a ditch before, almost immediately afterwards, several riders come down in the middle of the bunch. Valgren can be seen lying on the floor, underneath Naesen's bike. Once he had a replacement bike, he was back on his way and the memory of being ruled out of Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen gave him the impetus to chase down the peloton.
"I had to use one bullet to come back and I was really full gas on the Muur," he explained. "I was pissed because I crashed out of Waregem and there I was really motivated to do a good job again and I missed out. Today, I wanted to show that I was a good rider in these races, and I think I did by keeping morale high after the crash. I'm happy to be fourth now."
Since Valgren won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on the opening weekend for the team, Astana had missed out on a number of crucial splits in recent races. When asked if the recent races had been frustrating, Valgren said that the team didn't let their heads drop, because they knew the form was there.
"Not super frustrating, because we knew that we had good legs. We were just a little far behind every time, so we kept the high spirit and the good morale in the team and that's what we showed today," he said.
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