ASGREEN STUNS VAN DER POEL IN FLANDERS SPRINT

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Elegant Quick Step’s Kasper Asgreen outmuscled cycling world’s biggest strongman, Alpecin-Fenix’s Mathieu van der Poel, to claim the Ronde van Vlaanderen from the 2020 winner and overall favorite, a stunning conclusion to a powerful day in the saddle.

Asgreen and van der Poel had broken away in the race’s final climbs after looking stronger than the rest all day, and marked each other carefully in the approach to the finish. On the home straight, the Dane opened up his sprint from behind van der Poel some 300 meters from the line, with the pair slowing down and eyeing each other, and van der Poel went ahead. But the Dutch champion had spoken all week of fading form, and when he went to find that last bit to finish off the race in his usual dominant fashion, it shockingly wasn’t there. Fifty meters from the line van der Poel could be seen taking his foot off the gas and shaking his head, while Asgreen thundered home in a huge gear, leaving van der Poel several bike lengths from a second moment of pure Flemish glory.

AG2R’s Greg Van Avermaet, a podium regular but never a winner here, took a sprint for third from Jasper Stuyven, while Sep Vanmarcke outkicked pre-race favorite Wout Van Aert for fifth ahead of the main chasing group.

Asgreen’s finish may have been a shock, but his presence in the finale was not. The winner of the E3 Saxo Bank Classic nine days ago, Asgreen matched van der Poel’s more ominous accelerations (of which there were several) in the race’s final 60km, and while his Quick Step team couldn’t completely boss the race around — thanks to van der Poel and others thinning the herd and preventing any major regrouping after the climb of the Taaienberg — Asgreen needed no massive team effort to help his chances.

CYCLING RONDE VAN VLAANDEREN RACE 2021

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Ultimately it was Asgreen himself who forced the final selection, accelerating over the top of the Hotond just below the highest peak in the Flemish Ardennes — a tactic which gained Quick Step a victory just three years ago when the top riders watched Niki Terpstra ride away from them on this same slope. This time Asgreen drew the worst cards possible, with van der Poel and Van Aert for company, and leaving his teammate Julian Alaphilippe in arrears. But that didn’t stop the Dane from committing to the move, indicating that Asgreen was Quick Step’s true ace on the day, and by the time the trio hit the final climb of the Oude Kwaremont, they had half a minute on Anthony Turgis, Alaphilippe and two Bahrain-Merida riders Haller and Theuns, with a larger group just a few seconds further back.

105th Ronde van Vlaanderen - Tour of Flanders 2021 - Men’s Elite

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The gaps shrunk a bit as Turgis climbed brilliantly up the Oude Kwaremont hunting the big game up front, but near the top of the penultimate climb, van der Poel put in another huge attack, shedding Van Aert decisively and putting Asgreen on his heels for a bit. The two regrouped and hit the Paterberg with 10+ seconds over Van Aert. On the last climb, the leading pair were evenly matched, while Van Aert wobbled behind, doubling his deficit and seeing his hopes evaporate before being absorbed into the chase group with 10km of mostly flat roads to go.

At 5km, it looked like the chase hadn’t given up, a mere 22 seconds back, with Van Aert’s sprint still looming over the race, but one km later it was 32 and the day was down to two riders. With 2.5km Van Avermaet, still the reigning Olympic champion, left the chase group, not wanting to leave things to a sprint for third, and got Stuyven for company. The remaining chasers had nothing left to do but finish their day with dignity.

105th Ronde van Vlaanderen - Tour of Flanders 2021 - Men’s Elite

Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

In becoming the first Danish winner since Rolf Sorensen in 1997, and the first Quick Stepper since 2018. Asgreen delivered on the promise he first flashed two years ago, the last time De Ronde was run in its springtime slot. Then, in his first attempt at the Flemish monument, he was the strongest rider on the day not named Alberto Bettiol, as he escaped the peloton in the closing circuit to finish alone 14 seconds back. This time around he correctly sniffed out his main challenger and didn’t repeat his past mistakes.

Not that van der Poel was hard to spot on the day. His narrow sprint win over Van Aert last year made him a big favorite for another success, which he seemed to confirm over the past month with wins at the Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico. But he had not ridden with the same power since then, taking third in E3 and seeming to be a few watts short of what we normally would expect, an ominous sign coming into a race as hard as Flanders. He even dropped his white shorts, which he reserves for days when he feels extra strong, for modest black ones, a signal to his rivals… or a false one? The latter seemed more likely, and having come within seconds of another win, I think we can call it that. Van der Poel made the first important move of the day on the second climb of the Oude Kwaremont, kicking off the last big phase of the race, and accelerated again over the Koppenberg (this time from behind Alaphilippe who’d attacked) and the Taaienberg. Van der Poel did his best to thin the herd, since failing to do so would probably mean a match against several Quick Steppers in the closing km. But he just couldn’t convince his fading legs to muster that one last gasp of power.

105th Ronde van Vlaanderen - Tour of Flanders 2021 - Men’s Elite

Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Van Aert’s performance was the biggest disappointment on the day, as he seemed strong enough in winning Gent-Wevelgem, after not looking especially great in E3. Was he on the uptick? Perhaps, but not quickly enough, as he defensively accelerated to stay close to van der Poel without ever going on offense. When he lost the leading pair, the writing was on the wall, and when he wobbled up the Paterberg, his situation was crystal clear. The great hope of Belgian cycling will need at least one more try at De Ronde before he can meet his destiny here.

RESULTS

  1. Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck-QuickStep
  2. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix
  3. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team
  4. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
  5. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Israel Start-up Nation
  6. Wout Van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma
  7. Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
  8. Anthony Turgis (Fra) Total Direct Energie
  9. Florian Senechal (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep
  10. Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers

CYCLING-BEL-FLANDERS

Photo by DIRK WAEM/Belga/AFP via Getty Images

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