Tour of Flanders cycling 2021 – Kasper Asgreen stuns Mathieu van der Poel, Greg van Avermaet third
Asgreen broke Van der Poel in the final sprint to take a stunning win at the Tour of Flanders. The pair almost slowed to a halt as they tried to win the mind games in the closing stages, with the Danish rider having too much for the defending champion. Greg van Avermaet edged out Jasper Stuyven for the final spot on the podium.
Highlights: Asgreen topples Van der Poel at Tour of Flanders
Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck–QuickStep) broke Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) in the final metres to take victory at the Tour of Flanders. The Dane secured a first monument win of his career, to add to the win he took last month at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic.
Van der Poel had lit up the race on the Kwaremont, the day’s penultimate climb, with only Asgreen capable of clinging on as the Dutchman exploded away, distancing chief rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
The pair maintained a healthy lead into the final kilometre, allowing them to slow and engage in a game of cat-and-mouse – Van der Poel on the front, head tilted over his shoulder, with Asgreen on his back wheel waiting. In the end, Asgreen had Van der Poel well beaten by the 40m mark, with the defending champion sitting up to allow the new champ an uncontested run to the line.
The day's early break consisted of seven riders: Stefan Bisseger (EF Education Nippo), Nico Denz (Team DSM), Hugo Houle (Astana PremierTech), Jelle Wallays (Cofidis), Mathijs Paasschens (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces), Fabio Van Den Bossche (Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise) and Mathias Noorsgaard (Movistar). Together they built up a lead of over 11 minutes at one stage, with Bisseger the final one to be caught after he attacked solo and was briefly joined by Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
Early controversy was provided by two incidents. First, a double disqualification for dangerous riding meted out to Otto Vergaerde (Alpecin Fenix) and Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana).
'It is ridiculous' - Fedorov and Vergaerde disqualified for dangerous riding at Tour of Flanders
And this bit of handbags was quickly followed by a disqualification for littering, for Michael Schar (AG2R Citroen).
As has so often been the case, the Oude Kwaremont proved to be the site of a decisive moment in the race. It was on the second of three ascents of the iconic cobbled climb that Bisseger pressed on from the breakaway, while a few minutes later it proved the first point where Van der Poel and Asgreen emerged as the two strongest men in the race overall.
The pair managed to get a small gap as they headed over the summit of the Kwaremont, before being reeled in by the Jumbo-Visma teammates of Van Aert. This was to set the pattern for what remained of the day – at that point some 55km of racing.
Schar disqualified for littering outside designated area
The next climb was the Paterberg and once more Asgreen and Van der Poel got a gap, only to be slowly brought back. The next major moment was a split that formed with 45km to go, of which Van Aert and Van der Poel found themselves on the wrong side. Alaphilippe, who did make the move, tried then on the ascent of the Koppenberg to bridge over to Bisseger. He was successful and the pair worked well together, but were brought back eventually by the twin engines of Van der Poel and Van Aert.
There was then a reformation at roughly 35km to go, and the leading group on the road became Alaphilippe, Asgreen, Van der Poel, Van Aert, plus Marco Haller and Dylan Teuns (both Bahrain Victorious). This group proved to be the one from which the eventual winning move would be launched, with Asgreen lighting things up with a show of brute force at 25km to go.
Only Van der Poel and Van Aert had the strength to follow Asgreen. Alaphilippe faded at this point, due in some part to a crash he was involved in earlier in the day, which saw both he and Asgreen chasing back to the peloton. While Asgreen was able to recover from the effort, it's possible Alaphilippe was not. He faded out of contention quite dramatically from the 25km mark, to finish well outside the top ten.
From here, with three riders in the lead it took a devastating attack from Van der Poel on the Kwaremont once again to get rid of Van Aert. The Belgian was not able to match the excoriating attack from the Dutch national champion, and while Van der Poel did succeed in distancing Asgreen at first, the Dane was able to reel him in on the flatter road after the summit and before the Paterberg. From there, there were only two possible winners of the race.
Asgreen and Van der Poel seemed content to trade turns on their way to the finish and it was only within the last two kilometres that Asgreen stopped offering turns to Van der Poel. From that point it was a classic track-style standoff, with Asgreen lurking over Van der Poel's left shoulder for what felt like an eternity. When Asgreen did come through, he simply overpowered the Dutchman – with Van der Poel abandoning his sprint with 40m still to go and sitting up. Asgreen crossed the line with arms aloft, taking his first Flanders crown and his second one-day win of the season after his victory in E3.
Greg van Avermaet (AG2R Citroen) shrugged of accusations of a lacklustre season so far with a fine sprint for third place against Milan-San Remo winner, Jasper Stuyven, with Sep Vanmarcke bagging fifth from a larger bunch slightly further behind.
"I felt good in the last kilometres still so I decided to try and trust my sprint," said Asgreen. "Going into the last kilometre I got Mathieu on the front and I heard we still had more than 30 seconds so I decided to stay in the wheel, so I could decide when to go.
"It was a really hard race. We were both on the limit. It was a question of the margins at the end. It was the plan to start to jumping after the second time up Kwaremont and we did.
"We rode a perfect race all day. The guys were incredible - a huge thanks to them. A huge thanks to Tom [Steels] and Wilfried [Peeters] in the car. They prepared this race so well and we know every single metre of the course. It's just an incredible team to be a part of."
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Museeuw was a rider who dominated the one day classics. Ex-pro Bernie Eisel joins Johan on some of his favourite cobbled climbs from the Tour of Flanders to find out what set him aside at these prestigious races. You can stream this and more of the best cycling stories in the world exclusively on GCN+.