March 26, 2021
E3 Saxo Bank Classic 2021 – Harelbeke – Harelbeke : 203,9 km
Everyone’s favourite Classic named after a Belgian motorway will make its grand return to the Spring calendar on Friday after a one-year absence.
March 26, 2021
E3 Saxo Bank Classic 2021 – Harelbeke – Harelbeke : 203,9 km
Everyone’s favourite Classic named after a Belgian motorway will make its grand return to the Spring calendar on Friday after a one-year absence. The name may have changed slightly, but the iconic route through West and East Flanders remains the same, meaning we’re in store for yet another titanic showdown between the Classics specialists on legendary cobbled climbs like the Taaienberg, Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont. The E3 Saxo Bank Classic may be one of the younger Flandrian Classics, with its debut edition taking place in 1958, but it has wasted none of its time growing into one of the most prestigious one-day races on the calendar. Many fans refer to this race as ‘The Little Tour of Flanders’ and they couldn’t be more accurate with this nickname, the race mirrors its Flandrian cousin in both route and former winners.
Kasper Asgreen played off an impressive tactical effort from his Deceuninck-Quickstep team, adding five solo kilometres to a previous 57km effort to win the E3 Saxo Bank Classic ahead of an elite chasing group, led home by his teammate Florian Sénéchal ahead of Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix).
Asgreen attacked first on the Taaienberg and then again with 70km to go on the Boigneberg before snapping the elastic. His team then marked all the attempts to chase from a revolving door of formations behind until finally, with 12.3km to go he was caught by a group of Classics titans: Van der Poel, Greg van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen (AG2R Citroën) and Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) in addition to defending champion Zdenek Stybar and Sénéchal.
With Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) having lost contact on the Tiegemberg and in a chasing group behind, the seven leaders cooperated until the gap to the Belgian was too large to close and then, with 4.6km to go, Asgreen attacked again.
It was a canny dodge to force Van der Poel to expend his energy but Asgreen found himself with enough energy left and, with his teammates again disrupting the chase, the Danish champion came across the line with no one else in the picture.
“I knew after the effort I did today that I wasn’t going to have any chance in the last kilometre, so I had to get away and arrive alone if I wanted to win the race. It was all or nothing at that point,” Asgreen said.
“I tried to use the traffic island to put some distance between them and myself so I could get a gap before they could react. I don’t know if that made the difference. I think everyone had a hard day and everyone was on the limit.”
An attack from a rider who had already spent more than an hour off the front alone but Asgreen said he still felt good. “I was really motivated to go out and create a hard race – that’s where I have my biggest strength. I was not afraid to open up the race early. To go solo for that long was not the plan but in the end when you’re off the front you just have to put your head down and make the most of it.
“We had an amazing team here. Everyone was so strong. I could hear them cheering for me behind and I could hear how well they were bluffing the other guys. We always had someone there. It was really perfect. A huge thanks to the guys. It’s really amazing teamwork. It would not be possible to do a ride like this without my teammates, that’s for sure.”
How it unfolded
Overcast skies greeted the peloton for the E3 Saxo Bank Classic in Harelbeke as the pro peloton left the flatter, windier roads of Brugge-De Panne and headed deep into the Flemish Ardennes for a much lumpier 203.9km of racing with 17 hellingen on tap.
The race went off without the Bora-Hansgrohe team, who withdrew after Matthew Walls tested positive for COVID-19.
Some surprising names pushed their chips in on the first climb of the Katteberg, just 23km into the race, including 2018 winner Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie) and top sprinter Andre Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation) along with some usual suspects: Taco Van Der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Marco Haller and Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious), Jelle Wallays (Cofidis), Julius van den Berg (EF Education-Nippo), Alexys Brunel (Groupama-FDJ), Johan Jacobs and Lluís Mas (Movistar), Lindsay De Vylder (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Rasmus Fossum Tiller (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team) forming a 12-man breakaway.
The leaders gained three and half minutes on the peloton but the Deceuninck-QuickStep team whittled that down before the next series of climbs – La Houppe and Kanarieberg before the halfway point. Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) crashed with Jhonatan Narvaez (Ineos Grenadiers) and both had to abandon.
The race heated up on the Hotondberg with 94km to go with Qhubeka-Assos’ Victor Campenaerts and Dries de Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) following. The attack didn’t work but the effort of the Hour Record holder created the first serious gaps in the peloton behind. Campenaerts continued to push the pace and Van der Poel had to expend some effort to close down a gap.
Between the wind, the surges and the brisk first two hours of racing, there was a definite selection with 88km to go as the crosswinds and constant switch of direction split the peloton in two but with most of the favourites in the first group.
The breakaway began to come unravelled on the Taaienberg with 80km to go, while behind Deceuninck-QuickStep ripped the peloton apart even before the climb with a huge surge, launching Zdenek Stybar into the steep, cobbled ascent along with Kasper Asgreen. Van Aert and Van der Poel had to chase the pair themselves and the huge turn of pace brought the breakaway’s advantage down to just 47 seconds by the time the shattered leading group headed down the other side.
Eleven riders came together to form the first chasing group, with Asgreen, Sénéchal, Lampaert and Stybar (Deceuninck-Quickstep), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) and Van der Poel catching Milan and Van den Berg, who’d been dropped from the breakaway.
The air went out of the lead group and with 70km to go, the chasers closed down the gap just before the next climb, the Berg ten Stene, making the leading group 19 strong. Van Aert punctured and, dropping back to the much larger chasing peloton, Jumbo-Visma committed fully to the chase to close down the 18 seconds to the leaders.
It was up to Deceuninck-QuickStep to keep the breakaway moving since they had the numbers, and Sénéchal led the way on the Boigneberg before first Stybar and then Asgreen surged. The Danish champion opened up a slight gap on the other side but Jumbo-Visma were hot on the heels of the lead group. Van Aert used the rapid chase as a springboard and came across along with Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM).
Just as he made contact, Van der Poel countered with 65km to go in pursuit of Asgreen, pulling away a group of six – Haller, Wallays, Van der Hoorn, Stybar, and Lampaert. The move sparked new life into Wallays, who had Asgreen in sight and opted to push the pace. Van der Poel sensed the huge peloton coming and drifted out of the back of the group to shelter within it.
On the Eikenberg – paved now and less selective – there was a general regrouping behind Asgreen, who had 22 seconds with 62km still to go.
The next climb, the Stationberg, still with its cobbles, proved to be a tougher ascent and Terpstra used the steepest part to put in a dig and was followed quickly by Van der Poel, Van Aert and Stybar as Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) lost touch with the peloton. Race on! Küng scrambled across as the gap to Asgreen came down to 10 seconds.
However, The four leaders weren’t quite ready to commit and as Van Avermaet and Lampaert closed the gap there was yet another regrouping. Then, Anthony Turgis (Total Direct Energie), Oliver Naesen (AG2R Citroën), Haller, Markus Hoelgaard (Uno-X), and Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix) put in a counter-attack that was marked by Sénéchal.
This group was given quite a bit more leeway and with 48km to go, Asgreen had 36 seconds on the chasers with the third group taking a breather at just over a minute from the Danish champion. Ahead of the Paterberg with 43km to go, the second group inched closer to Asgreen. He had a 24 second lead at the start of the famed hellingen and 1:09 on the peloton.
The Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont
The favourites kicked off on the climb behind, with Van Aert pulling away Stybar, Van Avermaet and Van der Poel and setting off in pursuit of the Naesen group. It was an advantage for Deceuninck-QuickStep and AG2R Citroën to be dragged across to their teammates but Van der Poel, who also had Vermeersch ahead, was keen to close down the gap.
As Asgreen hit the Oude Kwaremont, he had 22 seconds on the Naesen group with Van Aert reeling in the chasers almost singlehandedly on the climb. The chase succeeded with 38km to go but it wasn’t time to pounce quite yet. The group, led by Hoelgaard, could see Asgreen before the top and Van Aert came over the top of the Uno-X rider and proceeded to halve Asgreen’s gap.
Van der Poel took over the chase on the smoothly paved road beyond and, isolated from his teammates, Van Aert partnered with his Dutch rival and Naesen to keep the gap to Asgreen going in the right direction while the Dane’s QuickStep teammates enjoyed the free ride. The cooperation inspired the rest of the group to work as behind, Lampaert and Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) tried to come across.
They Van Aert group had Asgreen in sight on the wide highway but could only watch as the gap just began to open. Asgreen reached the Karnemelkbeekstraat with 31km to go and 18 seconds in his pocket. With 27km to go, Lampaert and Van Baarle impressed with a successful bridge, giving QuickStep another rider in the mix.
The end game
Deceuninck-QuickStep were more than happy to play the tactical numbers game and slow the chase heading into the flat cobbled section at Varent, knowing that the Tiegemberg was still to come with 20km to go. Without Van Aert or Van der Poel pushing the pace, the gap ballooned to 36 seconds and more riders trying to get across: Milan-Sam Remo winner Stuyven and Tiesj Benoot (Team DSM).
Lampaert punctured out of the group before the climb and had a slow rear wheel change from Shimano neutral support and never saw the front again.
On the Tiegemberg, Van Aert put in a big attack but when Van der Poel came over the top with Stybar, he cracked Van Aert. Van Avermaet and Naesen were marked by Sénéchal as they came across, making it five riders in pursuit of Asgreen, two of them the Danish rider’s teammates.
It was a surprising failure by Van Aert, who coasted as Van Baarle leapt away in pursuit, but he wasn’t giving up, and partnered with Haller, Vermeersch, Turgis and Hoelgaard to try and rejoin.
Asgreen proved startlingly difficult to catch as Naesen, Van Avermaet and even Van der Poel were all pulling faces as they worked to reel him in. With 14.5km to go and no more climbs or cobbles, the Dane still had an aggravating five-second gap and someone would have to burn their last match to erase it.
It was Naesen who drew the short straw and finally, after 57.7 kilometres of solo effort, Asgreen finally could sit on with 12.3km remaining. Still, QuickStep had the numbers in the front group but they helped to set the pace to keep Van Aert – still dangling at 16 seconds – from rejoining. Once the seven leaders began a smooth rotation, Van Aert’s chances went out the window.
With 8.8km to go, Van Aert had a 20-second gap that only kept yawning out ahead of him. By the time the leaders gained 30 seconds – with 6.5km to go – his hopes were all but dashed.
Asgreen hadn’t used up all of his matches and took off with 4.6km to go, forcing Van Baarle, Van der Poel and Van Avermaet to chase. Naesen took a breath and then launched on the outside but Van der Poel quickly nullified the move. With the QuickStep riders marking the rest, Asgreen stubbornly forged another 10-second gap with just 2.5km to go.
Van der Poel attacked with 2.1km to go and again, marked by Sénéchal and Stybar, could only sit up in frustration as Asgreen sailed to his first win of the 2021 season.
1 Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck-QuickStep 4:42:56
2 Florian Senechal (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:00:32
3 Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix
4 Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team
5 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Deceuninck-QuickStep
6 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team
7 Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers
8 Markus Hoelgaard (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team 0:01:28
9 Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix 0:01:30
10 Marco Haller (Aut) Bahrain Victorious
11 Wout Van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma
12 Anthony Turgis (Fra) Total Direct Energie 0:01:34
13 Yves Lampaert (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:02:12
14 Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
15 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Team DSM
16 Florian Vermeersch (Bel) Lotto Soudal 0:02:47
17 Jasper De Buyst (Bel) Lotto Soudal
18 Matteo Trentin (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
19 Dimitri Claeys (Bel) Team Qhubeka Assos
20 Stefan Küng (Swi) Groupama-FDJ
21 Jelle Wallays (Bel) Cofidis 0:02:49
22 Joris Nieuwenhuis (Ned) Team DSM 0:02:56
23 Johan Jacobs (Swi) Movistar Team
24 Taco van der Hoorn (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
25 Thomas Pidcock (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers
26 Davide Ballerini (Ita) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:03:04
27 Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spa) Movistar Team
28 Jonas Koch (Ger) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
29 John Degenkolb (Ger) Lotto Soudal
30 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Israel Start-up Nation
31 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain Victorious
32 Michael Gogl (Aut) Team Qhubeka Assos
33 Mikkel Bjerg (Den) UAE Team Emirates
34 Rui Oliveira (Por) UAE Team Emirates
35 Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
36 Arjen Livyns (Bel) Bingoal WB
37 Damien Touze (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team
38 Jake Stewart (GBr) Groupama-FDJ
39 Loïc Vliegen (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
40 Lindsay De Vylder (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise
41 Dries Van Gestel (Bel) Total Direct Energie
42 Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team DSM
43 Owain Doull (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers
44 Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education-Nippo
45 Victor Campenaerts (Bel) Team Qhubeka Assos
46 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Total Direct Energie
47 Michael Schär (Swi) AG2R Citroën Team 0:03:09
48 Rasmus Tiller (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team 0:06:30
49 Nathan Van Hooydonck (Bel) Jumbo-Visma 0:10:18
50 Stan Dewulf (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team
51 André Greipel (Ger) Israel Start-up Nation 0:10:50
52 Dries De Bondt (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
53 Juri Hollmann (Ger) Movistar Team
54 Luis Mas Bonet (Spa) Movistar Team
55 Pascal Eenkhoorn (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
56 Robert Stannard (Aus) Team BikeExchange
57 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain Victorious
58 Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
59 Jonas Iversby Hvideberg (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team
60 Timo Roosen (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
61 Kévin Geniets (Lux) Groupama-FDJ
62 Alex Kirsch (Lux) Trek-Segafredo
63 Alex Edmondson (Aus) Team BikeExchange
64 Stefano Oldani (Ita) Lotto Soudal 0:12:47
65 Yevgeniy Gidich (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech
66 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
67 Kristoffer Halvorsen (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team
68 Tim Declercq (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep
69 Fabian Lienhard (Swi) Groupama-FDJ
70 Mads Würtz Schmidt (Den) Israel Start-up Nation
71 Ryan Gibbons (RSA) UAE Team Emirates
72 Piet Allegaert (Bel) Cofidis
73 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Total Direct Energie
74 Milan Menten (Bel) Bingoal WB
75 Olivier Le Gac (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
76 Benjamin Perry (Can) Astana-Premier Tech
77 Simone Consonni (Ita) Cofidis
78 Artyom Zakharov (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech
79 Erik Nordsaeter Resell (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team
80 Ward Vanhoof (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise
81 Jenthe Biermans (Bel) Israel Start-up Nation
82 Alex Colman (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise
83 André Carvalho (Por) Cofidis
84 David Dekker (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
85 Brent Van Moer (Bel) Lotto Soudal
86 Michal Golas (Pol) Ineos Grenadiers
87 Maarten Wynants (Bel) Jumbo-Visma
88 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Bingoal WB
89 Leonardo Basso (Ita) Ineos Grenadiers
90 Jack Bauer (NZl) Team BikeExchange
91 Boy van Poppel (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
92 Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team
93 Quinn Simmons (USA) Trek-Segafredo
94 Frederik Frison (Bel) Lotto Soudal
95 Alexys Brunel (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
96 Szymon Sajnok (Pol) Cofidis
97 Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team
98 Emil Vinjebo (Den) Team Qhubeka Assos
99 Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
100 Otto Vergaerde (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
101 Remy Mertz (Bel) Bingoal WB