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Kasper Asgreen poses team a Tour of Flanders puzzle

On-form Dane could be the strongest rider on Deceuninck-Quick-Step, but may be hampered by team deference to Julian Alaphilippe.

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Kasper Asgreen has finished in second place at the Tour of Flanders and has the legs to go one step higher on the podium this weekend.

But there are two obstacles square in the path of the on-form Dane: His team’s tactical playbook and the presence of world champion Julian Alaphilippe. It’s a conundrum that could leave Deceuninck-Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere with a sleepless night ahead of piloting his team to battle at De Ronde on Sunday.

Asgreen has emerged as the ace in the Quick-Step pack this spring. The 26-year-old scored a career-topping victory at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic last month and has acted as one of the lead engines behind Quick-Step’s success at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and its near-miss at Strade Bianche.

Yet although Asgreen may be the strongest rider on the team bus right now, his hopes for victory on the cobbles could hit a Quick-Step-shaped bump this weekend.

“I am confident that my shape is where I want it to be and I can play a role for the team on Sunday,” Asgreen said this week. “Winning E3 felt great, especially as it came after a fantastic display of teamwork. This makes me confident that if we race the way we did last Friday [at E3], we’ll have a good chance of being in the mix again.”

Asgreen will be just one of the “Pack” at De Ronde as Quick-Step plays its tried-and-tested tactic of flooding the front and overcoming threats with a swarm of attacks before launching one lucky rider to glory. In the absence of Alaphilippe at the E3 Classic, Asgreen was the chosen man, hitting out on a long-range break before attacking again to seal his biggest win since last year’s Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

Also read: DQS: ‘We have to use team power and Alaphilippe’s strength’

All talk may have been about Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel this season, but for Asgreen at the Tour of Flanders, his biggest rival may actually be teammate Alaphilippe.

Though the Danish champ was hampered by crashes at Dwars door Vlaanderen this week, his breakaway exploits at the E3 point to him as Quick-Step’s best single rider as the squad looks to upstage key players van der Poel and van Aert on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Alaphilippe labored his way through Dwars, complaining of fatigue after his heavy race block in Italy. The Frenchman took a break after finishing 16th at Milano Sanremo last month and missed all the cobblestone races ahead of Wednesday’s tune-up event. Nonetheless, as the team’s centerpiece and the bearer of the rainbow bands, Alaphilippe is near-guaranteed to be handed the “MVP” badge when Quick-Step rolls out of Antwerp for some 265km of cobblestone chaos.

Also read: Julian Alaphilippe on Tour of Flanders: ‘I just want that ‘we’ win the race’

Both Alaphilippe and Asgreen towed the party line in pre-race press conferences this week, insisting that it’s all about the team rather than the individual, and this season’s classics have shown that team depth is always an advantage.

But at some point, Lefevere may need to decide which of the world champion or the Danish upstart gets his golden stamp. The on-form outsider or the team talisman with the rainbow bands on his back.