Two of the peloton’s biggest motors ran out of gas at the Tour of Flanders.
When Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, and Kasper Asgreen hit the bottom of the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont on Sunday, few were expecting the Dane to last the longest. Only Asgreen outfought the favorites to score the biggest win of his career, proving toughest after van Aert blew with 17 kilometers to go and van der Poel lost his legs just 25 meters from the line, sitting up in the final sprint.
Also read: Kasper Asgreen wins Tour of Flanders
“I am obviously very disappointed,” said defending champion van der Poel. “I would have liked to succeed myself, but I can accept it because I am beaten on value by someone stronger. After 260 kilometers, such a sprint is not the same as after 200 kilometers.
“I felt that I was at my limit, and along the way, I felt that Asgreen was very strong,” he continued. “On the climbs, he had the best response to my attacks. He is certainly the deserved winner.”
Asgreen klopt Van der Poel en wint de Ronde van Vlaanderen 2021! pic.twitter.com/Ijb8pN6dRB
— Sporza 🚴 (@sporza_koers) April 4, 2021
Despite hints this week that his form may be fading, van der Poel had gone toe-to-toe with Asgreen through the final phases of the race, and led out the final sprint in what had made for a near-mirror image of the 2020 edition of De Ronde. However, unlike last year, the Dutchman fizzled out with seconds to go, shaking his head in despair as Asgreen ripped to victory.
Van der Poel and Asgreen had been the major movers in van Aert’s undoing. Along with Julian Alaphilippe, the two national champions had made a series of attacks through the climb-riddled finale, with van Aert repeatedly left to do the chasing as his box of matches slowly got lighter.
Van Aert finally lost the wheel on the Kwaremont climb, and a handful of minutes later looked to crack altogether as he was left zig-zagging up the wall-like cobbles of the Paterberg.
“I soon realized that Asgreen and Mathieu were the two best in the race,” van Aert said. “I could no longer follow the last passage on the Oude Kwaremont. I felt my legs deflate. Riding up the Paterberg again I was really stumbling.”
With a strong chase group just seconds behind, van Aert fell into the pack before rallying to finish sixth in the sprint for lower positions.
“It’s not that I did anything wrong, the legs just weren’t good enough,” he said. “I ended up in a group of men of whom I was clearly the better in recent weeks, but not anymore. I now have to let this sink in and rest ahead of the Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold Race. ”
Respect. 🥵🙌🏻 pic.twitter.com/exjmPF4H8n
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) April 4, 2021
With Paris-Roubaix moved to autumn, Van Aert’s dream of winning one of the two cobblestone monuments will have to go on pause until October.
“Whether I am disappointed? Yes and no,” he said. “There was nothing more to it and I didn’t drop any stitches, but I had hoped for a better feeling. This was the main goal of my spring. I need to recover from this.”
Van der Poel was similarly frustrated in what made for his final road race for a few months before he turns his attention to preparing for the mountain bike Olympics.
“This will linger for a while,” van der Poel said. “I’ll be happy if I can get on my mountain bike in a week.”