How great were Sunday’s races at Tour of Flanders?
De Ronde never disappoints.
Both races saw the peloton’s top stars taking it all the way to the line in exciting, tactical battles that delivered the most entertaining afternoon of racing so far in 2021.
Two big winners in Annemiek van Vleuten and Kasper Asgreen saw each of them assert themselves in unique and telling ways. Van Vleuten seemed intent on re-establishing herself at the top of the hierarchy, while Asgreen stamped his name onto the peloton as a new force to contend with.
Van Vleuten will now go from strength to strength into a series of important races, while Asgreen will have a chance to relish his breakout spring campaign. What’s next for each of the weekend’s big winners? We take a look:
Is Annemiek van Vleuten the ruler of the peloton again?
Jim Cotton: Looks like it! Fourth-place at Strade Bianche and two wins in five days last week suggests that the van Vleuten show has rolled back into town and won’t be going anywhere soon. Both of the Dutchwoman’s wins this season have shown that her trademark huge horsepower is still chugging as strong ever. Kasia Niewiadoma looked like she was going backward against van Vleuten’s drag strip sprint at Dwars last Wednesday, and AVV’s ability to fend off a chase from a group containing the likes of Elisa Longo Borghini and Anna van der Breggen suggests a change of team and equipment hasn’t impacted her peerless power.
Andrew Hood: Sunday was impressive on so many levels. Not only did she drop the entire peloton on the Paterberg, but she fended off a determined chase all the way back to Oudenaarde. That’s pure strength. She was a bit slower out of the gate in what will be a very busy 2021, and did not race until March. She’ll be hitting form just in time for the upcoming Ardennes classics. It’s not like she ever went anywhere, it’s just that the rest of the peloton has caught up.
How do teams contain AVV’s massive engine?
Andrew Hood: She’s going to be harder to stop in the hillier classics. After training over the winter on top of Spain’s Teide volcano, she will be flying up the bergs of Benelux. Rivals will need to get warm bodies up the road. Van Vleuten’s weak spot, at least on paper, is the depth of her team. Movistar will only be more motivated following her big win at Flanders, and will be working hard to control early breaks. Few can match her one-on-one, so it’s going to take some tactical wizardry to knock her off-balance.
Also read: Van Vleuten starts new chapter at Movistar
Jim Cotton: Teams with depth like SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo are going to have to employ the Deceuninck-Quick-Step strategy of “flood the zone” against AVV. If van Vleuten holds the form she hit this week, she will be able to drop riders like van der Breggen or Longo Borghini whenever they face her in a one-on-one. The team will need to send riders into early attacks to force van Vleuten to react and slowly weaken her legs. Although Movistar has a strong support crew with Leah Thomas and Emma Norsgaard, it doesn’t have the heft to respond to the full strength of an A-list SD Worx or Trek lineup, and laying the hammer on them could see van Vleuten exposed.
Do you see Kasper Asgreen becoming next classics star or a one-off?
Jim Cotton: I think Asgreen will be around for some time. Although he’s risen to superstardom with his Tour of Flanders and E3 victories this year, he’s always been there or thereabouts. Second at Flanders in 2019 and first over the line at Kuurne Brussel Kuurne in 2020 showed he’s got the massive motor, just being on a team with Julian Alaphilippe, Zdeněk Štybar, et al, means the Dane has always been a little overshadowed. I don’t know if Asgreen will go as far as Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel in winning so prolifically and across such diverse terrain though. He may, perhaps, be more specialized. He’s spoken of himself as a rider in the style of Fabian Cancellara thanks to his big TT motor, and the heavy northern races look to be where he shines.
Also read: The Wolfpack’s tactical masterpiece at E3
Andrew Hood: A star is born. Like Jim said, he’s already proven his pedigree before his breakout spring. There’s every indication he’s no fluke. He’s only 26, and he’s cool as a cucumber on the bike. He has the big motor to ride everyone off his wheel, and as he gains even more experience on the pavé, I think we’re looking at a rider who can go toe-to-toe against “VanderWout” in every scenario. If he’s smart, he will stay at the “Wolfpack” for at least the next several years. His staying power Sunday was impressive, and he will only grow stronger in the next five years.
— Deceuninck-QuickStep (@deceuninck_qst) April 5, 2021
How important is DQS, and would he have won on another team?
Andrew Hood: The Wolfpack tactical approach was fundamental to Asgreen’s successes this spring. On another team, he’d be the one having to chase Deceuninck-Quick-Step instead of the one applying the pressure. I enjoyed how DQS really took on the spring classics this year. The team raced aggressively and put its rivals immediately on the defensive. It’s a shame to have to wait until October to race Paris-Roubaix, because with the form Asgreen has right now, he could have easily won into the velodrome. Put him on another team, and he might be racing for the podium rather than the victory.
Also read: Wout and Mathieu run out of gas
Jim Cotton: Riding on Deceuninck-Quick-Step is a key part of Asgreen’s success. Both his E3 and Flanders wins came off the back of a battery of Quick-Step attacks that isolated and weakened the likes of van Aert and van der Poel. Asgreen undoubtedly has the skills and the power, but I think if he were to ride for a small team like Alpecin-Fenix he may be racing for top-10 rather than the top step of the podium at the monuments.