Danish pro cycling has taken something of a series of flooring blows in the past decade or so, with the antics of Bjarne Riis and Michael Rasmussen all but knocking out its repute.
Thankfully things have turned around some more recently with the likes of Jakob Fuglsang leading the charge. In 2018 the Dane will be co-leader at Astana and hopes for grand tour laurels.
Backing him in his quest will be a small band of young Danes, including 27-year old Jesper Hansen, who ended his season with a second place overall in the Tour of Turkey.
Steve Thomas: The Tour of Turkey was very late in the season, but you had a great ride and came very close to winning - was it planned? Can you talk us through the plan and that final climb?
Jesper Hansen: The first part of my 2017 season was quite difficult, and after the Giro d’Italia I was really tired and empty.
After a break during July I was very motivated to do well in the second part of the year. I felt like I was improving and at the Vuelta a Burgos it went not bad at all.
Despite a crash at the Vuelta a España, at the Italian classics I was able to come to a good level and at the Tour of Turkey I found myself in a strong form. The Tour of Turkey was a good goal for me – a nice stage race of the UCI WorldTour. So, I am happy, it went well and I was able to reach the final podium.
Unfortunately, there was only one mountain stage. On that final climb I did my best; I felt really good, but honestly, the climb was not too steep or too selective. The team did an excellent job for me before that last climb, and as we had planned before start, I tried to attack several times.
But my rivals came back every time. Inside the last 1-km there was not much space to do anything with Diego Ulissi, and, have to say that he was really strong.
There are a few Danes on the team now; do you tend to stick together? Is the Danish mentality changing things within the team?
Of course, it is nice there are Danish riders in the team. In 2017 we were four riders from Denmark at Astana and it looks like in 2018 it will be the same (The four in 2018: Hansen, Fuglsang, Magnus Cort and Michael Valgren).
And, also, we have a Danish sports director - Lars Michaelsen.
It’s always nice to have your compatriots in the team and to do races together. We can introduce some of our ideas and style of cycling to the team. That’s all great; but, at the same time I can say, that Astana is a very international project, and this is cool!
Although it’s great to have a Danish group inside the team, it’s also good to be involved in an international project - which Astana is.
What was your main team role during 2017? With compatriot Jakob Fuglsang as a team leader in 2018 is it even more of an inspiration to you?
During the 2017 season I only raced a little with Jakob, because I was in a group of riders who did the Giro and the Vuelta; helping Tanel Kangert, Miguel Angel Lopez and Fabio Aru. It was a nice experience for me and I was happy to do my best to help the team in reaching our common goals.
What are your personal hopes and development goals for the near-future?
The last season was not easy at all for me. In the first year in Astana I spent some time for acclimatisation. I did my debut at the Giro, and it was a good experience for me; and of course, a hard one.
During the second part of the year I was able to improve and to find myself. I think I did a good job in the first week of the Vuelta and later at the Italian classics and at the Tour of Turkey. It was my first big result in Astana, and I am happy I could get it for the team.
Now, I hope to improve in the next season. I will try my best to be on the high level to help team’s leaders and in the same time, to reach my personal result in some races; in races which suit me really well.
What do you think of the Danish cycling and development system at the moment?
It seems like the Danish cycling and development system is working really well. It is reflected by the fact that there are many young Danish cyclists who are riding fast -and already have some strong results on the international level.
You've been with Saxo then Astana for your entire WorldTour career, a mix of Italian and Russian eastern influences. How do they compare in atmosphere and organization, and how different are the Italian staff to the Kazakh/Russians, and from the inside do you see the structure very different to fully Euro/Australian/US teams?
It’s difficult to say, and hard to compare. For example; the Astana Team is a very international project - we have a group of riders from more than 10 countries, and also the staff from all around Europe.
Of course, in Astana there are many Kazakh staff members – sports directors, mechanics, and masseurs; but also, we have Italian, Spanish, French, Russians and Belgians So, the atmosphere is really nice and friendly.
This kind of mix inside the team creates a great atmosphere; and, also, the organization in the team is on the highest level. I think all WorldTour teams are more or less similar, because this is the highest level of modern cycling and because all the teams become more and more international.