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Going into last year’s classics calendar, the Alpecin-Fenix star almost appeared unbeatable.
Yet in two monuments when he entered the finish line with victory in play — at Flanders and Paris-Roubaix — van der Poel came up short, proving yet again that anyone can be beaten.
Last year, it was Kasper Asgreen who took him to the line in a two-up sprint and came away with the flowers in a scenario that many expected the Dutchman to come up the winner.
Everyone, that is, except Asgreen.
“If I didn’t think I was going to win, I wouldn’t have taken turns with him,” Asgreen said. “I was confident in my sprint. If I wasn’t, I would have started to attack him before the line.”
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Van der Poel might have had the hype last spring, but it was Asgreen who had the power and the speed.
In 2021, he rode away from the bunch at E3 Saxo Bank Classic, thanks in large part to his Quick-Step teammates marking the chase group.
Then at Flanders, he followed the attacking van der Poel and the pair marched clear of the favorites to take it all the way to the line in Oudenaarde.
With his winning pedigree, many thought van der Poel would blast to victory.
Once again, Asgreen surprised everyone, except those who know him inside the “Wolfpack” lair.
“I am not so slow in a sprint, especially after a long and hard race like that,” Asgreen said in a media call. “We have a lot of fast guys on the team, so I do not have many chances to sprint. But when there is a finish line like that, we can go for me.
“After a long, hard race like Flanders, my sprint remains more or less the same. It’s the others who are tired and are maybe not as fast.”
Marked man in 2022, but confidence keeps hopes high
This year, Asgreen’s been a marked man, and his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team is struggling so far to get on the classics scoreboard.
Asgreen is skipping Dwars in order to be as fresh as possible to defend his Flanders title Sunday.
With third at Strade Bianche and 10th at E3, Asgreen will bring confidence into what he hopes is a rematch.
“I was confident going into the sprint,” Asgreen said. “If I end up in the same position, I will also be confident about doing it again.”
Van der Poel won Flanders in a thrilling matchup with Wout van Aert in 2020, but his two near-misses in Flanders and Roubaix, respectively, reveal perhaps a minor weakness in his otherwise impenetrable armor.
After 2021, Asgreen knows what it takes to win.
— Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team (@qst_alphavinyl) March 29, 2022