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The Moment The Ronde Van Vlaanderen Was Won

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Kasper Asgreen leads Mathieu van der Poel over the Paterberg. The Dutch cyclo-cross specialist had tried every trick to find the smoothest path up the climb but Asgreen just rode over the cobbles and beat him to the top, a sign he had more power in the final hour.

There’s a pattern to the Ronde. First an early breakaway that’s wind-dependent. If the wind blows then teams place riders in the early move as insurance but since it was calm, the early break had little chance. Still they got over 10 minutes before Jumbo-Visma and Deceuninck-Quickstep took up the chase with a bit of help from Bora-Hansgrohe.

A lot was happening without the race taking shape, there were crashes and mechanicals galore but with it was during the climb over the Oude Kwaremont with 55km remaining that Belgian TV commentator Michel Wuyts pronounced “‘t is begonnen“, the race had started. Those with 200km in the legs by then and perhaps a crash might disagree but Wuyts had a point as now race reached boiling point and the leaders started making moves. Onto the Paterberg and Mathieu van der Poel and Kasper Asgreen took a small lead. A clue to the final result? Even with hindsight this feels like stretching things as we expected with both riders keen and capable to make a long rang move and together able to ride away. The pair were quickly joined by others including Tim Wellens, Marco Haller, Tom Pidcock with Quickstepper Florian Sénéchal onto them. Then Christophe Laporte moved and Julian Alaphilippe latched on. Deceuninck were closing every window.

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More moves followed but the inevitable scenario arrived: after Alaphilippe attacked, it was Asgreen’s “turn” and he put in a big move such that only van Aert and van der Poel could follow and we got the trio as a valiant Anthony Turgis led the chase. The trio up front didn’t last long, onto the Kwaremont again and van der Poel attacked, Asgreen fought to get across and it was game over for van Aert.

Up the Paterberg for the last time and van der Poel was exploiting his cyclocross skills to take the smoother gutter and for a second he looked to have a tactical edge. Only Asgreen was riding up like a tank commander, he matched the pace, then pulled slightly ahead and crossed over the top first: Asgreen was the stronger. But the faster? No, in a sprint between the pair it still looked like van der Poel would smoke the Dane, no? After all only a few minutes back Asgreen had been slow to get to van der Poel.

The surprise was Kasper Asgreen didn’t try to play with van der Poel’s nerves on the run to the finish. Instead he was sharing the work, something L’Equipe described as “driving his own hearse” but if he was going to be buried alive in the finishing straight at least this way Asgreen and his team had second place as their worst option and it stopped van der Poel – if he could – from making repeat attacks and kept things to one outcome, the sprint. Also his team mate Sénéchal was covering and he is quick – he’d won the sprint for second place in the E3… beating van der Poel – but no certainty. Van der Poel led in the final kilometre, waiting like a track sprinter observing his rival. Asgreen launched, van der Poel matched him and then suddenly Dutchman capitulated, shaking his head as he was out-powered. In the race for third Greg Van Avermaet saved Ag2r Citroën’s spring campaign and got them their first ever podium in a monument.

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The Verdict
A predictable format, a surprise result. The early breakaway, the flurry of moves and then a move with van Aert, van der Poel and a Deceuninck rider to police them… it all went to script until late on. First van Aert couldn’t match the pace, then on the Paterberg where Asgreen was the stronger. You could replay the race over and over and Asgreen would win again and again and it could be just as exciting. Capable of winning the sprint, of dropping van Aert, he probably could have gone solo too and his team mates played their part, he had the space up front because Sénéchal and Alaphilippe had been sapping the others behind.

That’s it for this season’s cobbled classics, alas there’s no Paris-Roubaix and such a pity as its a unique race that takes place on roads used only once a year. It’s due for October but won’t feel the same. Looking back over the past weeks Van der Poel, van Aert and Alaphilippe were the star figures and monopolised the attention, in part because of what they promised but also what they did. Van Aert fared the best, taking Gent-Wevelgem while van der Poel often looked the most threatening at times but the least clinical too, the excitement he brings isn’t reflected by his palmarès, for the time being. Alaphilippe seems caught between two stools, he’s aiming for the Ardennes as well. As the winner of the E3 Asgreen can stake a claim to be the best too but we don’t have to be reductive and coronate a sole rider. What is more striking is once again Deceuninck-Quickstep looked like the best team again, erratic at times – see Gent-Wevelgem – but over the course of the campaign still the best with Ballerini, Sénéchal and Asgreen as riders with more to deliver.

{ 75 comments… add one }
  • Tomski Monday, 5 April 2021, 8:53 pm

    Canny move by Asgreen to open up the sprint early – although it looked to me like MVDP was the one to sprint first: had he occasionally looked at either the finish line or the distance markers, he would have realised he would blow 50m too soon.

    Great race and write up.

    Asgreen looking really good these days. Chapeau!

  • Louis le Blond Monday, 5 April 2021, 9:43 pm

    What a magnificent race and finish from Kasper Asgreen. Killing Van Aert on the climb and outsprinting Van der Poel – nobody woud have bet on Kasper in such a prediction. But Asgreen did it and he did it his way – the fantastic beautiful strong way….. Chapeau, Kasper 🙂

  • CA Monday, 5 April 2021, 10:25 pm

    Great race – Asgreen is so talented, a very worthy winner.

    Inrng – imagine his swansong if Sagan joins QuickStep?!? He’s never had a powerful team before… and he’s still relatively young so still has plenty of firepower, but he will hit the finale’s of races in much better shape because will be much more supported.

    • cp Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 12:41 am

      I’ve wondered about this as well, what Sagan would be (have been) with a very supportive team, but then wonder how much I underestimate his team.

      And what if van der Poel were on a stronger team?

      • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 7:51 am

        A counter argument for van der Poel on a stronger team is he wouldn’t like to playing things so tactically, I think he likes the buzz/adrenalin of being the top rider who has to make the big moves. Thinking “ok, I’ll mark moves today for a team mate and shut down rivals” might not be his thing.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 7:55 am

      L’Equipe say they’re in talks. It’s early and there’s a lot to resolve – Sagan comes with a whole entourage around him for starters – but the template seems to be like Gilbert, when the team normally tends to hire younger riders on the up and release them once they cost too much. What the cost of Sagan is remains to be seen, and it’s a big issue for Lefevere of course.

      • petersollberg Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 8:50 pm

        re sagan talking to dqs – cycling-info.sk portal, known for more rational reporting and well-linked to sagans background too, has hinted, that the l’equipe article has nothing to do with the real situation

        freshly out, dqs signed remco till 2026. thats either an excelent negotiation position of dqs towards denk – in case he wants remco for big stage races. or an indirect outcome of sagan’s refusal signing for dqs.

        • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 10:41 pm

          Thanks for this. There’s a grading for tips, normally L’Equipe are good on transfers but not always, but better than Gazzetta which is better than Italian TV RAI’s Beppe Conti. Seems early for Sagan but by mid-May he’ll want his contract sorted.

      • KevinK Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 10:15 pm

        First, I don’t think anyone noted your elegant pun, “Deceuninck were closing every window.” Nicely played.

        Second, my head is exploding at the thought of Peter Sagan going to Quickstep. It seems like forever that Lefevere has guided his team with the attitude, “Either we win, or Peter loses.” It’s always seemed like there was bad blood, and per Cyclingtips Sagan’s agent and Lefevere don’t mesh. I have a hunch Sagan isn’t particularly motivated by money, so I’m not sure a pay cut would be the hard stop to such a deal, especially since I imagine that Sagan has fat stacks of cash stashed away already, more than he’ll ever spend. But riding for the team and the manager who have worked so hard to deny him wins every chance they’ve had? Hard for me to imagine. OTOH, if he leaves for a big paycheck at some of the other teams being mentioned will he have the kind of environment and support he needs?. I think environment is as important as support, and while he seems out of sync with Denk and Bora currently, a few other teams being mentioned seem like worse fits for him.

        Certainly a move to DQS creates lots of other intrigues. Imagine Sam Bennett’s thoughts as he reads these articles! It’ll be interesting to see how all this plays out. Here’s hoping Sagan’s recovery from COVID continues and he makes some noise in the Giro and the Tour.

    • Watts Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 8:53 am

      Sagan is young, but in relative terms he is old. He has been at the top of cycling for 10 years now. That is a long time. He has done remarkable things, but it takes a toll.

      Antother thing is I just can’t see a rider like Sagan in a team like Quickstep. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him ride for anyone but himself. Could Sagan could play the team card the way Quickstep require?

      I think he will sign a more lucrative deal with a team to do a couple of farewell seasons as their mascot much in the same way Contador did for Trek. They kind of bought his legacy at Trek more than the results he made in his last season.

      • RQS Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 2:18 pm

        …I couldn’t see Cav back at DQS, but still here we are!

      • KevinK Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 10:36 pm

        GVA is four years older, and has been a top classics contender since 2008. Phil Gil won PR at 36, nine years after his peak year. Valverde – 17 years at the top. Considering that Sagan isn’t the obsessive that some riders are, that he doesn’t wreck himself to be an unnatural weight, that he’s had remarkably few crashes and injuries, it would seem that the toll his body has taken is not all that extreme compared to many riders.

        As for riding for others, I’ve seen him do it multiple times in the past few years. The problem is he’s too instinctive and too fast to be a good leadout man. When he’s tried to do that, his sprinter can’t stay with him. But he’s shown he’s happy to be a team player, and he will pull when the team has a GC leader high in the rankings and he’s not saving himself for the finish. As for being a team player at DQS, it’s not like someone of his caliber would be actually riding for others. Their strategy is to have people like DeClercq riding for the team, and others taking their shots, some waiting for a charge at the finish, some riding off the front to see if they can get away. So essentially someone like Sagan would be “riding for the team” by just being a threat in the front group if it came down to a sprint, or occasionally skipping away as he did when he wont PR.

        I think you’re also wrong about Sagan being comfortable taking a big paycheck for some farewell seasons as a mascot. It’s clear he races because it’s fun and he likes winning. For example, I don’t think he could stand even a few months of being in the situation Cavendish has been in since 2018.

  • jc Monday, 5 April 2021, 10:42 pm

    There is a thought that with the growing popularity / importance of Strade Bianche it is more difficult for riders to keep at top form for a number of weeks. Whether that is true or not Kaspar Asgreen certainly managed to hit peak form in late March / early April. DQS (or whatever they were called for this race) in all their various guises are so difficult to race against on their “home” turf. It is a credit to Patrick Lefevere that the team has had so many years of success. Not sure if Peter Sagan would really fit into the “Wolfpack” ethos

    • Ron Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 5:02 pm

      Peaking too early – still can’t quite believe a journalist asked Wout if he’d peaked too early after the race. Seemed a bit harsh right after a 250 km battle and I like to believe cycling is a bit more civilized than ol’ American “ball sports”…(I’m in the U.S. and strongly dislike most major sports).

      What a great race. Never would have guessed MVDP legs would quit on him like that, wow. What a ride from Kasper…bridging across in that situation takes some serious legs AND some serious self-belief. Amazing ride from him!

      • d. nixon Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 5:10 pm

        If riders have “peaked too early” you can hardly blame them when there was (and still is) the risk of races being cancelled.

  • GrahamG Monday, 5 April 2021, 11:44 pm

    The reasons are unarguable but, yes, such a shame that Roubaix is deferred. So much fun in thinking who’d be up there – Lampaert was looking good, more Van Baarle’s cup of tea too and Van Aert for revenge….

    • Cepphus Grylle Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 5:47 pm

      3 riders who look made for P-R, if luck were to go their way (see van Aert the previous 2 editions!)

  • cp Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 12:43 am

    Are there other examples–in a race of such stature–of a favourite like van der Poel just conking out like that so close to the line? That was remarkable to watch. He just stopped pedaling. I thought he’d pulled a hamstring or something it was so sudden.

    • David Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 7:28 am

      I was thinking the same. It would require someone with better knowledge of cycling history than me to answer, but I certainly don’t remember seeing this happen anytime recently in a race this big.

      • PaulG Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 2:40 pm

        …and Van Aert blowing up as well. Not often we see the big guns doing that.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 8:01 am

      I’m sure I’ve seen it… but can’t recall who and when. It adds to the all-or-nothing aspect for van der Poel, if he’s going to lose, might as well sit up.

      • Morten Reippuert Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 11:36 am

        Trentin vs. Mads P at worlds ?

        Though he probably wouldn’t beat Mads P in a sprint anyway, but in his own mind and much of the cycling press’s perception at the time it’s similar.

        • StevhanTI Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 2:16 pm

          Was thinking of the same, VDP was there as well but had to pass a little earlier. Before that race only few people took into account that Mads P had a sprint on him and now he’s a bona fide bunch sprint contestant.

        • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 3:32 pm

          That was a good example, thought of it too and came back to post it… but others quicker. In a sprint between the two Trentin might still have a chance on a good day in Yorkshire if he could have gone very long to use the hill to tire Pedersen (like he’s won, say, Vuelta stages), or a short sprint to accelerate faster… but not the middle option of trying to outpower him.

        • cp Wednesday, 7 April 2021, 1:48 am

          I hadn’t seen that race so I watched the last kms on the web. It’s a great example, though I think van der Poel’s balloon letting out the air is a bit more dramatic, especially considering the expectations.

          Bizarre to look back at a race with people on the barriers screaming like mad. And to see racers discarding their bidons willy-nilly.

      • AndyW Wednesday, 7 April 2021, 11:40 am

        Not quite sitting up before the line, but Hayman versus Boonen at Roubaix had a similar feeling in terms of the improbability of the diesel outsprinting THE classics star. Perhaps a more similar (slightly unexpected) finish was Kwiatkowski versus Sagan at E3, where Sagan just had no legs for the sprint.

    • StevhanTI Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 7:29 pm

      Occasionally you see a leadout leading it out to the line, Steegmans winning over Boonen in the tdf here in Ghent comes to mind. Obviously Steegmans was always one of the stronger/faster men in the peloton capable of (sprint) wins, he just seemed to miss the ‘mojo’ for lack of a better word. Anyway that one stage was remarkable and I think it’s happened before and since but can’t find names immediately.

  • Ecky Thump Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 1:28 am

    I thought that DQS’ pattern was more discerning than that?
    They really started laying down the hurt around the 90km to go mark, I think that’s their outer trigger point if you like for getting rid of favourites like Sagan in the past and MvdP and WVA now.
    From there in, it’s almost constant pressure or covering moves and garnering energy again for the next attack.
    The crash in which several of their riders were involved almost scuppered this I felt, and they did really well to get it back together after that, especially Alaphilippe who went down.
    In the end, it was the finest of margins.
    That crash almost upset their master plan, several riders didn’t really ‘show’ as they may have done otherwise, but Asgreen just did it at the death.
    Thoroughly enjoyable race, you have to admire van der Poel for his bravery, elan and confidence.
    Anyone else want a Canyon Aeroad? 😄

    • hoh Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 9:19 am

      With the bar & seat post issue? Not really.

      • hoh Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 12:31 pm

        Happy with my CF SL atm.

  • JacknJackson Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 1:42 am

    Mr. Ring. I missed seeing the race. Thank you for the wonderful report.

  • Ecky Thump Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 1:44 am

    This ‘one man in a video truck’ thing seems very wishy-washy to me.
    If we’re all following television footage from a host provider, can’t several people working from their kitchen tables not retrospectively go over the race and pinpoint littering infractions?
    You won’t get everyone but you’ll get a lot, on camera, and the cost of the fines would more than pay for the labour I’d have thought?
    If necessary, cut the minimum weight of the bikes down by two bidons worth, so the riders don’t feel too put upon and buy into the move. We want them to do the right thing and a two-way compromise is always more palatable?

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 8:04 am

      People could crowdsource these things but better to have an expert doing it professionally. I think littering will drop dramatically and this is a good thing, once riders have learned they can’t shower the countryside with waste and that the organisers must have regular zones, habits will clean up a lot and discarded bottles or wrappers will hopefully be a relic by the summer.

      • Ron Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 5:14 pm

        I think people who litter are pretty much the lowest form of a human, so I’m all for the new rules. However, aren’t these guys flying around the globe/Europe for 9 months a year? Aren’t a few flights much worse for the planet than a few gel wrappers?

        Just commenting as someone who is appalled at all the environmental damage done by things like the NFL, the NBA, college football & basketball, especially now that conferences include teams on opposite sides of the U.S. And that is to say nothing of all the industrial farm complex meat needed to feed 300 pound football players and 250 pound fans on game day…

    • J Evans Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 10:20 am

      Michael Schär’s “Dear UCI: WHY KIDS START CYCLING” instagram post is spot on.
      Rules should be applied equitably. We all saw in that race various instances where they weren’t.
      In all walks of life, including cycling, rules are often applied via subjective judgements (the two other riders who were DQ’d, for example): they are often not simple or black and white. This can be done with throwing bidons to fans too.
      Possibly, a UCI commissaire (or whoever) could go through races afterwards and ban anyone who litters from the next race. That would be equitable and would quickly put a stop to littering: they’d probably only have to do it for about three races.

      • hoh Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 12:39 pm

        Only problem is that the rider’s next race can be a long long time away. Besides, how do we know if he is rested, or banned.

        Even if we say the team have to have one less rider in the next race the littering rider entered, the team can enter the rider in a less important race and have a smaller team there.

        • J Evans Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 12:43 pm

          There are always ways around things, but it would be enough of a pain for the team for riders to very quickly learn not to litter. Far more of a deterrent than a fine, in all likelihood.

          One thing I would add is that I don’t think riders should be giving bidons to fans during a pandemic.

          • DaveRides Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 4:11 pm

            Handing bidons back to team cars was the compulsory requirement at the Santos Festival Of Cycling (National Road Series men’s and women’s races held after UCI cancelled the Tour Down Under) as part of the event’s COVID-19 management plan.

            Regular NRS amateurs and semi-pro riders were fine with that as many of them were doing it that way even before the pandemic, but the Euro-based Aussie pros entering as guest riders didn’t seem to have any trouble adapting to the system.

            Bidons from WT teams are not as good souvenirs as they used to be though, as the manufacturers have been switching over to degradable bio-plastics for team issue bottles. Good if you live in a dry climate and only want to have them sit on a shelf, not good to actually use or if you have high humidity!

        • DaveRides Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 2:53 pm

          “Next race” would be very easy to sort out – it should be a ban from racing at all levels until the team has gone short a rider at a race of the team’s normal racing level or higher. For a WT rider it would have to be a WT race missed, for a PT rider it could be a WT or Pro Series race missed.

          It could be developed further by allowing for multi-race suspensions for riders found guilty of more serious offences. If that means a rider sitting out for many weeks while the team opts to avoid serve the suspension at a targeted race, then the rider should have thought about that before.

          Teams would adapt quickly, probably by insisting on future contracts stating that a suspension of more than one racing day would be a breach of contract.

          For more minor things such as the rider’s first littering offence in the season or drafting an official vehicle, stop serving a 60 second stop-go penalty on the side of the road at the 5km to go sign would be a better option. Caught during the race = serve it immediately, caught afterwards = serve it in the next stage or the next race of equal/higher classification. Multiple offences = whole team serves the penalty.

      • hoh Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 12:41 pm

        Though I agree these things are better not be done in the moment of heat.

        The other way is to punish the team. However many litterings, you are out of la Tour/Flanders/PR.

      • RQS Thursday, 8 April 2021, 9:58 am

        Next race wouldn’t work. Firstly, if riders jettisoning bidons (littering) win the race then the riders following the rules are penalised.
        Secondly, when is a riders next race? Line-ups change 24hrs before races, so canny teams could just say that “so-and-so was due to ride a race the next day, but is now serving his suspension” which is no penalty. The other side of this is a rider who is fatigued and struggling, or just not on form or motivated lobbing their rubbish in hope of getting a break. Team management would not be happy, and the rider holds all the cards.

        • RQS Thursday, 8 April 2021, 10:02 am

          One further ‘hypothetical’ which would not play well with sponsors, teams and race organisers would be bottlegate, where a team might find themselves without a squad for their next race due to a clusterf&@k of riders littering inadvertently and therefore being without enough riders for a full or partial roster. That wouldn’t go down well at all.

          • RQS Thursday, 8 April 2021, 10:06 am

            …my mind goes back to Geraint Thomas’ accident where most of the Astana team seemed to lose a bidon going over road furniture. It would be a rare event for an entire team to be suspended, but it would be an unwanted pressure for management to have to deal with the problem of putting out a team that is scheduled to race, and might invite them to use riders who are already under physical stress, that are scheduled for a break. Lots of drawbacks to this idea is what I’m saying.

    • Anonymous Wednesday, 7 April 2021, 10:47 pm

      The one-man-in-a-video-truck is wishy-washy for other reasons too. What are the chances that Asgreen got back to the peloton from his crash completely under his own steam? Let’s ask Nils Eekhoff what he thinks of that.

      If TV shows a rider being paced back to the peloton after a crash then Twitter goes mad and the man in the video truck makes himself famous. If TV doesn’t show anything then it obviously never happened and nobody either talks about it or cares about it.

      Moral of the story? Make friends with as many TV cycling directors as you can, especially those doing big races. And doubly so if in your home country.

  • Digahole Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 7:38 am

    Fantastic race and a fantastic write up… as usual, as usual.

    It seems that many, me included, had Asgreen pegged as a huge diesel, but he’s obviously more than that… a turbo diesel perhaps? Such a solid step up for him this year that he had Alaphilippe riding in his service in the finale of Flanders, let alone who he beat!

    As for MVDP and WVA, I think it’s pretty clear now that their form peaked at least a couple of weeks ago. So to be peaking before Flanders, Roubaix and LBL… is riding a cross season such a great prep for the classics after all?

  • Watts Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 8:31 am

    “Like a tank commander” haha, so true! What an astonishing race we got this year. Asgreen opened up the long sprint wise to Van Aerts mistake last year, and I think he gave us all a lesson. Talk of the big three is silenced. Alaphilippe is not really a favourite for De Ronde. Van Aert perhaps suffers in trying to do too much. And Van der Poel finally met someone who will perhaps make him race a bit smarter. He was picked apart with surgical precision after. Asgreen was, as mentioned by a few clever guys in the talkback here the true favourite. He has this big calm about him and he knows the time to stick the knife in where it matters. That he even had to come back after being held up by that crash late in the race just makes it even more impressive. Other than that this race was really tight between 10-15 riders. I bet they will all be hungry for next year.

    De Ronde kept me up the last few nights, I was a bit sick and in feverish dreams. I needed the “how the race was won” piece to put it to rest, so thank you. It’s like my race debriefing.

    De Ronde will always be the highlight of the cycling season for me.

    • Mikael Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 2:47 pm

      Apart from the obvious strength that Asgreen showcased, I think you are absolutely right about the point of the long sprint. On Eurosport/Discovery Denmark, the commentators (one happens to be Brian Holm) repetedly mentioned this during the last kilometers, while at the same time saying that you should not count Asgreen out in a sprint.
      The more you rewatch the last hour of the race, the more of a cool cat Asgreen looks.

      • Mad Black Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 11:58 pm

        Ha, this is funny. Robbie McEwen on the Australian broadcast was betting “his house” on MvdP, totally dismissing Asgreen’s chances. He was humble enough to pay respect where it was due after the fact though.
        On a side note it’s funny how totally unlikeable riders like McEwen can morph into one of the best cycling commentators around.

  • GB Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 9:13 am

    Naesen at MSR and Bardet at LBL already gave AG2R monument podiums

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 3:33 pm

      You’re right, they were saying it was a first but probably for cobbled classics only.

      • VD Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 7:06 pm

        Dillier PR

  • Richard S Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 9:27 am

    There’s been talk in the past about certain very strong riders lacking tactical acumen in races and just relying on their strength to steam roller their opposition, most notably Cancellara and Sagan, and also Van der Poel. I wonder if you could level this criticism at ‘the two Vans’, but not in races – almost across the season as a whole. Especially Van Aert. He turned up last August and blew everyone’s doors off in the displaced Italian classics, was a revelation in the Tour, tried to win everything at the worlds, did the cobbled classics, took on Van der Poel in Cyclo Cross, went to Strade Bianche again, raced Tirreno Adriatico as if his life depended on it…. I absolutely hate to say it, and maybe it’s just a quirk of the last 12 months and the odd calendar, but maybe selecting a few goals and aiming for them rather than trying to win everything would be the way to go. Like, was there any need to take on the stage race specialists in Tirreno? I get the impression both Vans took too much out of themselves there. I’d also suggest neither have anything to prove in cyclocross any more. Having said all that though, maybe we (I) should just enjoy them for the breath of fresh air that they are. Whether it’s in a field in Belgium in November, the Appenines in March or any other time?! You get the impression that they have the brawn, but Quick Step the brains.

  • J Evans Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 10:06 am

    I’m very happy to have Paris-Roubaix in October – grateful to have it all. There are a paucity of good one day races late in the season, unlike now, and it might just rain.
    Impressive lack of ego from Alaphilippe that he was willing to work for a team mate in such a big race.
    Seems like MvdP and WVA might have to sacrifice some earlier races in the season – including cyclocross – if they want to peak for the Ronde and P-R. A common thought, unsurprisingly, having seen them at Tirenno-Adriatico, particularly.
    Also like many, I think they both need to do less work, and MvdP might win more races if he indulges in what other riders call ‘tactics’. (But it would might be less exciting for us if he did.)

  • plurien Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 10:44 am

    Great write up. Thanks.

    Let’s not forget it is Strade Bianche that is the latecomer to spring. It would make a lot of sense for organisers and UCI to set a part of the calendar aside for more gravel one-dayers, and autumn is the only time this could work.
    Also, remember that quite a few road riders must peak in winter for track events, so it’s not only the crossers that have to keep their form going.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 3:37 pm

      I’d be interested in the Strade Bianche being moved, it can have its place with the spring classics as there’s a sports logic and fitting it with Tirreno then Sanremo works logistically but the scenery just looks better in summer or autumn, it would really go from gravel race to an event that would provide images for the front page of newspapers around the world. But sentimentality aside, it’s not easy moving a race, there’s a lot to consider, how to riders train and peak for it? The current slot suits many right now.

      • Richard S Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 4:07 pm

        There are a lot of autumn classics in Italy in the run up to Lombardy, maybe it could be squeezed in there somewhere? The week after the worlds/before Lombardy?
        I actually like it in its current slot. I like the off chance of it being muddy. In summer it would be a massive dust fest every year. The only issue is it’s just a little bit too soon.

        • d. nixon Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 5:36 pm

          The riders make the race. Strade Bianche currently gets plenty of in form classics riders as well as Ardennes and GC types that are all about to start Tirreno. Would you get the same field, or the field in the same condition if it was later in the season?

          Races like Paris-Tours or San Sebastian offer pretty interesting terrain and attract plenty of big names but don’t seem to hold the same esteem as Strade Bianche. I assume that this is due to absence or fatigue in some of the bigger names due to the races being late in the season or being held after another big race. It may also be fatigue on my part from having spent many hours over the weeks previous watching the tour, vuelta and worlds.

      • Larry T Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 5:42 pm

        IMHO – leave Strade Bianche where it is. Modern cycling came back to the white roads after leaving them for many decades, why make THEM bow to modern cycling’s wishes?

    • jc Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 9:22 pm

      Whilst Tuscany is not the driest part of Italy, other than thunderstorms, little rain falls from the end of May until October. The gravel roads become very dusty, which is not ideal for bike racing. The riders face enough health issues without having to breath in lung fulls of dried muck. The race works well were it is no need to move it.

  • Lee Woodhead Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 10:54 am

    Asgreen was my pick & the first time I’ve been right in a while. Great ride, he looks a potential for P-R too. Strongest rider won, have to be pleased about that.

  • Anonymous Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 11:31 am

    Let’s not forget that Strade Bianche started out as a pro event of l’Eroica Gaiole on the 1st sunday of October (and the weekend after Worlds) Saturday could work in the calendar as all the best riders would often peak there anyway.

    Challenges:
    Worlds has to remain in Europe.
    Logistic and capacity: Every hotel room and camping space in the Siena region is already booked due to the size of the l’Eroica event.

    • plurien Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 7:33 pm

      Absolutely, it was moved to the spring and is a complete youngster. I’m not saying it should be moved back because it has found its place, but there is an interest in more gravel races. These could come along in the early autumn. Ground conditions are reliably firm and damp before frosts and short days make the going too heavy.

  • d. nixon Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 6:36 pm

    I for one am very pleased with the new rules regarding littering. I would hope that a suitable dispensation for handing out bottles to fans is worked out, however, if that’s not possible I still think the benefit outweighs the loss.

    I really don’t enjoy watching riders toss bottles into ravines or way out of reach on high altitude climbs. I have picked far too many used gel packets out of the bottom of hedges (i.e. >0) for my liking. I realise professional cycling isn’t responsible for this but stopping it in racing might make a few people think about what they do when they are out on a ride.

    The whole biodegradable materials for the bottles might be of some use when a cultivator has punctured and buried one in a field in Belgium but is meaningless when they are tossed onto some dry mountainside.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 7:05 pm

      I’ve ridden on the route of a race the day after and it’s an exaggeration to say you can almost follow the course by looking for the squashed gel and bar wrappers on the road and in the ditches, but you certainly notice them, they’re that regular. Perhaps worse, it’s been so visible on TV. As you say with bottles the term “biodegradable” is meaningless if it takes years to break down. The sport has introduced waste zones a few years back but there have not been enough of them and the penalty for littering was meaningless.

      Bottles can still be given to fans, the rules say “don’t throw” so there’s nothing to prevent a handover on a climb or during a quiet moment of the race etc.

      • Larry T Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 8:54 pm

        I see this as a much larger issue Mr. Inner Ring, one of the punters emulating their heroes in trashing up the environment. Of course they’re not tossing bottles (the ban on that is an unfortunate cost to the fans who aren’t at the places where bottles can be tossed) but they ARE trashing the environment with the wrappers for all this engineered food so popular these days.
        Back when we ran guided tours over the famous passes in Italy and France it was shameful to see the trash at the roadside, most of it dumped not by racers actually RACING but “Jack and Jill Crankarm” emulating their heroes, especially at the top of the pass as they (I guess) pause briefly, squeeze the contents of a mylar package into their mouth, throw it to the ground and zoom off down the other side. We used to get a trash bag out of our support car and collect this litter while waiting at the summit for our clients (with cookies and water so they didn’t have to eat that awful stuff) and find packages with pretty much every language on them that you can imagine and from “energy” companies we’d never heard of.
        Depriving lil’ Jack or Jill of a race souvenir seems a small price to pay to get the punters to stop littering IMHO.

        • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 10:38 pm

          I see it as a big issue too. There’s a lot of outrage online now about the new rule but it’s in the right direction, and a leap more than a step. Previous attempts with waste zones and cash fines didn’t work, this will change attitudes. Will do a post on this tomorrow.

        • KevinK Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 10:49 pm

          Do people really litter only because they’re emulating their sporting heroes? My bet is that this is approximately zero percent of the problem. My impression is that people tend to litter when they’re in places they don’t live, and aren’t being observed. I.e., tourists and visitors. And any place that isn’t cleaned up regularly gets more litter than places that are cleaned up (and example, I guess, of the broken windows concept).

          I think one place the average serious amateur road rider does emulate their heroes is in actually buying those gels and overpriced engineered foods that come in indestructible mylar that, once breached, will make one’s jersey pockets sticky and stained. I can’t get myself to waste money on such nonsense, especially when I can take a banana and if I have to throw the peel in a ditch I can be pretty sure it’s readily biodegradable. But I don’t think having pros only throwing their trash in designated zones during races is going to do anything about some riders being selfish slobs.

          • Eskerrik Asko Wednesday, 7 April 2021, 6:52 am

            Indeed. I’m not too sure that we’d ever find a single cyclist who litters only when he’s riding. People litter whether they’re riding, walking, running or riding. People litter because they don’t think about it, because they don’t care, because they expect and assume that there is someone who will clean up because it’s their job. And those of us who don’t litter when we’re riding don’t litter anywhere, ever.
            When I took up road cycling, I was pretty soon struck by two things: the amount of dead animals and the amount of roadside trash. The latter made me ashamed of my countrymen, but I can’t say I’ve found the situation better elsewhere – I haven’t ridden in Switzerland, though – and unfortunately things haven’t changed for the better.
            PS I thought Schär was unfortunate in that he was the first to throw a bottle in view of the commissars. In other words, it seemed to me it had been decided to DNF the first rider caught in the act, just to show that the new rule will be enforced and to give a warning to the other riders.

          • Larry T Wednesday, 7 April 2021, 8:58 am

            I can tell you after 3 decades in the challenging bike tour biz the answer to: “Do people really litter only because they’re emulating their sporting heroes?” is YES!
            Clients on these tours in many ways appeared to be regular folks – mostly Americans but Canadians, Aussies and some from South America, Mexico and elsewhere. On the bike they were clueless slobs while everywhere else nice, law-abiding folks.
            I keep bringing up that SPINACI handlebar as an example but now realize it’s too old for most of you to remember 🙁

          • KevinK Wednesday, 7 April 2021, 11:56 am

            My experience is exactly the same as Eskerrik Asko’s. When I was very young, before the famous Chief Iron Eyes Cody commercials (look it up!), it was common for even “nice people” to toss trash out car windows without a second thought. Since then, openly littering in the US has been much less common and socially unacceptable, to the point where I’ll see people call other’s out about littering. As for bike riders, I’m far from the most experienced rider here, but in the many hours I’ve spent riding I’ve never seen another rider toss trash to the roadside instead of shoving it in a pocket. As I said, perhaps it’s different for people who pay money to travel to do classic rides, where they’re already going in with the mindset that they are emulating their cycling hero’s. And perhaps in those settings there is already lots of wrappers on the roadside, so that it seems the normal thing to do.

      • Richard S Wednesday, 7 April 2021, 9:45 am

        Maybe the way to stop some of the littering is to try and stop the use of gels. And maybe the best way to tackle this is to follow what they’ve done with smoking. Nowadays on the side of a packet of cigarettes there is a health warning and a terrible picture of some damaged lungs. Maybe they could start putting on the side of gels something like ‘warning, these gels aren’t food’ and a picture of Sam Bennett spewing all over himself. Just a thought. Like others have said you’d only eat/consume them to emulate pros. They taste utterly disgusting and if you’re just ‘Jack & Jill Crankarm’, to borrow a Larryism, you don’t need them. It’s plainly obvious to anyone with a brain that if you can carry a package when it’s full then you can carry it when it’s empty, pros included.

  • oldDAVE Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 10:41 pm

    As noted yesterday, great race. Thank you for the write up.

    Flanders is not my favourite, far prefer Roubaix and Bianchi but this was the best since Gilbert and the only one I’ve really enjoyed for a while. My perfect under dog victory, I love a plucky lesser favourite winning and showing they were the strongest on the day, I don’t love a lesser fave sneaking away from a group of faves and having that horrible realisation the race is over just when you thought it was going to get good.

    On rubbish – new rules seem fine and no big deal – seems like a few riders will get some odd DQs but will right itself over time.

    On Sagan – I’ve been stunned by his sudden fade to irrelevance, and would happily see him at DQS as it’s a joy watching him at his best. Despite the three Worlds and seven Greens, it bizarre to think it feels like he’s under achieved without a second Flanders and Roubaix, he was so superior for a number of years without landing many monuments. I’ve always felt like he prefers warm weather.

    I do think though he’ll struggle to match the new gen any time soon.

  • Cycling Nut Wednesday, 7 April 2021, 2:03 pm

    MVP and WVA need a team mate or 2 in the last 20k like QS does. Both got big wins this year but more big misses. I hope they dont become like Sagan in the classics-some wins but lots of near misses because of no team.

  • Michael Walker Friday, 9 April 2021, 8:59 pm

    When WvA popped, you knew that was when it was between the two of them.

    The one thing I wish MVDP did less was attack. He seems to give 90% on 3 or 4 climbs towards the end of a ride. It’s fun to watch for sure but, if he saved all that energy for one full attack then he would clearly create a bigger gap.

    I know the separate attacks are to break down the groups to have less riders but think he hinders himself by always leading the attacks, several times,back to back.

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