World Championships road race bronze medallist Michael Valgren said that he "saved the day" for Denmark after the squad suffered a day of bad luck and crashes in the elite men's race on the roads of Flemish Brabant.
The talented Danish team was touted before the race as perhaps the strongest the country had ever sent to a Worlds, with triple Vuelta a España stage winner Magnus Cort heading up an eight-man selection that also included former world champion Mads Pedersen, Tour of Flanders champion Kasper Asgreen, and Valgren himself.
The former Amstel Gold Race and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner, who was in top form coming into the week having won the Giro della Toscana and Coppa Sabatini, explained afterwards the multitude of calamities that befell his teammates, leaving him to carry the hopes of a nation in Leuven.
"We didn't have the best day as a team," Valgren said in the post-race press conference. "We were unlucky with all the crashes. Pedersen went down twice, the second time with Andreas Kron and then Mikkel Honoré also crashed. That's part of bike racing isn't it.
"Then Asgreen didn't have his best day and Magnus had cramps early. I thought 'shit it's up to me now'. Luckily, I can sit here with a bronze medal so I kind of saved the day for the national team.
"When you look at the big perspective it wasn't a great day for us – we should've had more guys in front. It was a hard race and that's also something that suits me like [silver medallist] Dylan Van Baarle. I'm happy to be here."
Valgren made his way into an elite lead group in the final 58 kilometres of a furious day of racing, which had seen attacks flying from race favourites far earlier than had been predicted beforehand.
On the climb of Wijnpers, when defending champion and eventual winner Julian Alaphilippe made his umpteenth attack, and what turned out to be the winning one, Valgren made his way into a four-man chase group alongside Van Baarle, Jasper Stuyven and Neilson Powless. He fancied his chances on the closing Leuven circuit, and eventually sprinted to third place, just pipping Stuyven on the finish line in the Belgian's hometown.
"It's not a miracle. I thought I could win today but with how Alaphilippe was riding it wasn't really possible. He was a miracle today," Valgren said. "I was trying to go for the podium in the end and luckily Wout was looking to Mathieu and Sonny and these guys were covering each other. Then when these guys went, I bridged across to them and I was just riding for the medals.
"When we were four guys, I knew there was a good chance of getting a medal. Before that in the group I thought if I can get a top-10 today, I'll be satisfied. There were 17 guys and probably like 15 sprinters in the group almost so to go away with these guys and come away with a medal, it was a dream come true."
Valgren welcomed the massive crowds lining the route, saying it was "the best atmosphere at any race I've ever done".
He also took time to pay tribute to Chris Anker Sørensen, a friend and former teammate for his neo-pro seasons at Tinkoff-Saxo.
The 37-year-old, who was in Flanders to commentate on the Worlds, died earlier this week after being hit by a driver. Valgren said that Sørensen was on his mind during the race.
"Chris was a special guy. He lived for the bike. He was one of my good friends and taught me a lot when I was a neo-pro with Saxo – I did the last training camps with him.
"I had him in my mind, and when he passed away, I was like not really motivated but then I thought like 'what would Chris do in my situation?' He would honour bike racing and do what we love, riding our bikes, so that's what I did.
"It's nice to be here, especially here on the podium because we had a rough week in the Danish national team. We all knew Chris really well and he was a big name in Denmark."
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Daniel Ostanek has been a staff writer at Cyclingnews since August 2019, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later part-time production editor. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content on Cyclingnews and takes on live race text coverage throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Tro-Bro Léon, Strade Bianche, and the Vuelta a España.
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