Pick a member of the Danish men’s road race squad, and they probably have a shot at a medal.
Sweet worries, as their rival Primož Roglič would say.
The Danish squad has already had a strong week at the world championships in Flanders with gold medals in the junior and U23 men’s time trials, but they’re yet to get off the mark in the road races.
That could change Sunday as the Danish men have been winning a lot lately, with Magnus Cort taking victory at almost every opportunity at the Vuelta a España, and Michael Valgren taking a duo of Italian wins earlier this month.
“We don’t have a clear leader, but we have a very strong team and a lot of riders with a chance to win and we will try to use that strength to our advantage,” Cort said after competing in the mixed team relay Wednesday.
“For sure, the Danish team here is a historically a strong team for Denmark. We are here with eight riders and for many years we didn’t even have a full team. It’s not only eight riders, it’s some very strong riders. We probably don’t have the big favorite, but we have a very strong team collectively.”
Cort might not see himself as a big favorite, but the 28-year-old was in near-unstoppable form at the Vuelta, taking three stage wins in a wide range of circumstances. His first came when he managed to hold a chasing Roglič off on the uphill finish on stage 6.
He went on to win a bunch sprint — where we usually see him — in the second week before taking another sprint from a break in the final week. With the short and sharp climbs combined with a potential uphill sprint, Cort cannot be denied as a real favorite for the win and he’s backing himself if he makes the final selection.
“It’s always difficult to try to keep your form going after a three-week grand tour. I feel pretty well and, obviously, I’ve done my very best to stay in as good a shape as possible,” Cort said. “For sure, I’ve done some good sprints in the Vuelta and elsewhere, but we also have some other fast riders. It’s always different. The race on Sunday will be very hard and we don’t know what will happen and who will have the legs.
“If we come home in a sprint and I’m with [Wout] van Aert then I will believe in myself. I think you need to believe in yourself in order to win. He’s a very strong rider but why not. I think more cyclists, they believe in themselves, and they believe that we will see on the day who is the strongest.”
Flooding the zone
Cort and Valgren aren’t the only in-form riders with the potential to take the win Sunday.
The Danish team also boasts former world champion Mads Pedersen, who won at the Tours of Norway and Denmark in August, Mikkel Honoré, who finished fourth at the recent Tour of Britain, the ever-aggressive Andreas Kron among its eight-rider line-up.
This year’s Tour of Flanders and E3 champion Kasper Asgreen will also line up for the team as one of the pre-race favorites. The parcours for the worlds has been described as something between Flanders and Liège, but Asgreen doesn’t believe it’s as hard.
“Compared to Flanders, it’s not as hard. If we had more laps around Overijse [the Flandrien Circuit -ed], then I would say it was as hard as Flanders but because we only have two laps there, and one of them is quite early in the race, I think it’s going to be less hard.
“I think the weather will play a big role. If it is raining, I think the lap up in Leuven is going to be super hard because of all the corners through the city. That’s going to line up the bunch and can easily make some gaps. I think the weather is going to be a huge factor and something that we will follow very closely in the coming week.”
While the worry of having too many potential contenders is a concern that many national managers would love to be burdened with, the challenge will be deciding who will ultimately get the opportunity to go for gold.
It’s an issue that Asgreen is well used to at his trade team Deceuninck-Quick-Step and one that he has thrived in by utilizing the team’s numbers to win De Ronde. The 26-year-old believes flooding the zone is the best tactic for the men in red.
“I think we have a very flat hierarchy, as a starting point, we have five guys with free roles and nobody has a clear leadership, like Belgium for example. I think we’re going to try and employ a bit of a Quick-Step tactic, and play our numbers and hope we have a good situation with more riders with other nations.”
Will the team adopt an aggressive strategy to break up the Belgian strength? Asgreen certainly hopes so.
“That’s up to the national coach,” he said. “I would prefer to attack, it’s always more fun.”