Ronde van Vlaanderen returns to Bruges for its start after six years, with the peloton set to embark on a 273.5km journey through the Flemish Ardennes which will see the peloton take on a total of six cobblestone stretches and 19 hills. The centerpiece of the race will once again be the Oude Kwaremont – Paterberg combo, set to be tackled twice, but the likes of Koppenberg, Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg and Kruisberg/Hotond also open up the race before the final two climbs – the last of these crested with just 13 kilometers to go.
Asgreen finishes top 10 in De Ronde
Kasper Asgreen took a confidence-restoring result Sunday afternoon in the fastest edition of the Belgian Monument in history, finishing in the top 10 after attacking from the distance on the Molenberg and forming a strong breakaway group that heaped the pressure on the favourites by surviving in the lead until 20 kilometers to go.
It was an insane Ronde van Vlaanderen, marred by numerous crashes, Julian Alaphilippe and Davide Ballerini being among those who were involved in a massive pile-up that took down half of the peloton after 120 kilometers of racing. When things settled down and those who lost time in that incident made their way back, a breakaway finally went clear, Belgian Champion – and De Ronde debutant – Tim Merlier booking a place in the move that took the gap to six minutes.
Later into the race, Kasper accelerated off the front, sparking an important selection. Eight men joined the 2021 winner, and the newly-formed group managed to put more than three minutes between them and a depleted peloton, in the process joining the leaders. Merlier rode his heart out in support of Asgreen, ensuring the breakaway a consistent margin by the time they began climbing the Oude Kwaremont for the second time.
The 28-year-old was the group’s driving force, putting in an impressive amount of work at the front, and continued to do so even after they were caught and left behind by the pre-race favourites, with 20 kilometers to go. Refusing to give up, Kasper showed incredible perseverance on the flat roads to the finish, where he arrived one minute behind winner Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), taking a solid seventh place – a result from which he draws a lot of confidence ahead of the next race.
“This is more in line with what I expect from myself. It’s been a long way back, I’m still missing something when it comes to following the others, but I hope this was the last step I needed to return to my old self”, the Dane said at the finish. “As we were missing a couple of guys due to those earlier crashes, I decided to go from afar. We worked well together in that move, we believed in our chance, and kept pushing all the time. Having Tim there was very important, as he was of great help. To be top 10 in such a tough and relentless edition of Flanders is a huge morale-boost for us all, one that comes after a very good race not just from myself, but from the whole team.”
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele / Getty Images