Kasper Asgreen won an amazing edition of E3 Harelbeke, but that doesn’t tell the full story of Friday’s race, which our team played perfectly from start to finish. Asgreen became the first Danish rider in more than three decades to triumph at the Belgian classic, which many view as a Ronde van Vlaanderen rehearsal, backed up by an incredible team who took the race by the scruff of its neck and controlled all the moves with clinical precision.
“Winning this makes me super proud and happy! Today’s result shows that these races that I love so much suit me and at the same time serves as confirmation of the hard work I put in during the winter. It’s a great day for me, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of this fantastic squad, to whom I am very grateful. My teammates were just unbelievable and showed again why we are the Wolfpack! We wanted to make the race really hard and we did it, and at the end we ripped off the rewards”, Kasper said after the finish.
Everything exploded on the Taaienberg, where Deceunick – Quick-Step rode flat out with all seven guys amassed at the front, hacking the field to pieces and dealing a blow, which although not decisive, ended up playing a huge role in the outcome. Four members of the Wolfpack made it into the nine-man front group, from where Kasper Asgreen rode clear on the Boigneberg. The attempts to follow him were quickly brought to heel by reigning champion Zdenek Stybar, and so the Danish Champion continued at the front, battling through the storng headwind and leaving behind hill after hill, including the Paterberg and the Oude Kwaremont.
When a new chasing group emerged with 30 kilometers to go, Stybar and Florian Sénéchal were there, and they were soon joined by Yves Lampaert, after a mad chase of the Belgian Champion that saw him claw back half a minute on the flat section off the Oude Kwaremont. Unfortunately, Yves didn’t sit too much in the group, from where he dropped out inside the last 15 kilometers due to a puncture, but Zdenek and Florian continued to ride flawlessly and mark moves, including those coming on the Tiegemberg, the final hurdle of the 203.9km race, which contained a total of 17 hills.
Eventually, the forcing of those behind meant that Kasper’s time off the front came to an end with 12 kilometers to go, but the 26-year-old remained in the elite group and patiently waited for the last five kilometers before a last roll of the dice. Winner of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne last season, Asgreen used some traffic islands in his favour, attacking on the right side of the road and motoring clear of the group where his teammates expertly shut down every attempt to bring him back.
Under the flamme rouge, Kasper had a 30-second margin which was more than enough for him to sit up with 200 meters to go and savour his biggest victory to date, and Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s eighth at E3 Harelbeke. To round out the Wolfpack’s perfect day on the Flemish bergs, Florian Sénéchal sprinted to second – his best ever result in a cobbled Classic – while Zdenek Stybar took fifth place.
“I felt good today, and also in the weeks prior to the race. I also knew every part of the course, as I did a recon this spring, so I had a lot of confidence during the race. We wanted to win, we were not afraid to open the race early and I’m happy I could pull it off. To win here against the best Classics riders in the world means a lot for my morale ahead of the next big one-day races, especially after a day like this, when I was on the attack for more than 50 kilometers, got caught and still had enough to try again in the finale.”
“I don’t know if I surprised the other guys in the group with my move, but I tried to use that traffic island to put some distance between them and myself so I could get a gap before they could react. I was aware I had one last chance and took advantage of it, knowing that in case it didn’t work out, we had Florian and Zdenek ready to pounce”, explained the Danish powerhouse, the second rider from his country to win E3 Harelbeke.
Not just Kasper wrote history Friday afternoon, but also Sénéchal, whose enormous effort and flawless commitment saw him became the first French rider in history to finish the prestigious World Tour Classic in the top 3: “Racing in this team is a dream come true for me and it feels amazing to play a part in a big race like this. I am happy for Kasper, he was incredible today, and happy for Deceuninck – Quick-Step, as the whole team was superb today. Our extraordinary collective strength was on show today in this beautiful but hard race, which bodes well ahead of the next classics. I’m also happy with my second place, it’s my best result in a World Tour race and it came at a great moment in the season.”