Van der Poel, van Aert outshone by tactics, Asgreen at E3 classic

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) are considered the strongest riders in the peloton when it comes to the cobbled classics at present, but that didn't turn into an automatic win for either of them at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic on Saturday morning AEDT.

64th E3 Saxo Bank Classic 2021, Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel

Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel during the 2021 E3 Saxo Bank Classic Source: Getty

SBS will broadcast the next big cobbled classic event, Gent-Wevelgem men's and women's races, with the broadcast to begin from 10.30pm AEDT on SBS HD and SBS On Demand.

Deceuninck-QuickStep produced a tactical masterpiece and combined with the indefatigable Kasper Asgreen, who launched not one, but two seemingly doomed solo attacks, they took the win at 'mini-Flanders'.

Asgreen, who got clear solo 67 kilometres from the line, was caught with 13 kilometres left in the race but then attacked again and held off the six-man chasing group that contained two of his teammates - defending champion Zdenek Stybar and Florian Sénéchal - to take the victory.

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Even with AG2R Citroën's Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen and Ineos Grenadiers' Dylan van Baarle in the group, van der Poel couldn't manage to overcome the stalling and policing efforts from Stybar and Sénéchal.

"I think the strongest man in the race has won," Van der Poel said. "First he drove it for a long time and then again, and then he kept it up to the finish. Obviously supported by a very strong bloc, but I don't think that detracts much from his performance.

"He also made a very strong impact in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne last year. But what should you do with so many Deceuninck men? If you go get one, the other will attack behind your back. You just know that."

Van der Poel actually received some cooperation from his main rival, Wout Van Aert, in chasing the Deceuninck-QuickStep's first attack on the Taaienberg with 80km to go.

Van Aert punctured at the crucial moment and had to have his Jumbo-Visma teammates nullify the gap to the leading group from the fracturing main bunch. As van Aert was being brought back, Asgreen jumped away on the Boigneberg.

"Because of that flat tire, I lost a bullet that I missed in the final," van Aert said. "I already had a slow leak for the Taaienberg, but the group was still so big that it was a bad time to change.

"I waited until it was finally no longer possible. I could not take the corners properly anymore. After that flat tire I did not give up, because I still felt good. Only it was difficult to compete with Deceuninck-QuickStep."

Van der Poel was caught out by the Taaienberg aggression, too far back when QuickStep strung out the race into the foot of the climb, sprinting to get back into contention.

"That was an enormous effort," said van der Poel. "I had to go really deep there. Suddenly they pulled everything on a ribbon, a kilometre before the Taaienberg, and I actually sprinted to the foot to keep the wheel."

The pair of favourites made it to the chasing group and then set about dragging Asgreen back, a tough ask as it turned out. Van Aert blew spectacularly in the finale, and while he threatened to return to the lead group, his race was over as the group in front cooperated to make sure he was out of the race.

"I also felt good in the final, so I didn't see it coming at the Tiegemberg. My legs were empty and I had to sit down. It was game over," van Aert said.

"The wind played an important role," said van der Poel, "after Stationberg (57km to go), I think it was a good effort but then we turned left on the big road and there was completely headwind and it was very difficult to make the difference. It was too easy in the wheels as well, and then Deceuninck had a really strong rider in front in Asgreen and the rest didn't really have to work. We knew if we caught Asgreen it would be impossible to drop the other guys."

In the end, a surprise attack from Asgreen broke the front group and the Danish champion soloed in for the win while behind van der Poel was visibly exhausted in the sprint and sat up when passed by Sénéchal in the final metres, hanging on for third.

The Dutch superstar of the sport will now take some rest of his other major objectives for the spring classics, while van Aert is on the startlist for Gent-Wevelgem.

"The Italian block of racing was pretty hard," said van der Poel of Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan San Remo and Strade Bianche. "I noticed when I came back from Milan-San Remo I was pretty tired and had to take some extra rest. I didn't do recon either for this race. Now we will be easy recovering for the last races."

SBS will broadcast the next big cobbled classic event, Gent-Wevelgem men's and women's races, with the broadcast to begin from 10.30pm AEDT on SBS HD and SBS On Demand.


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5 min read
Published 27 March 2021 at 10:57am
By SBS Cycling Central
Source: SBS