Deceuninck unleash powerful youngsters on California peloton

Rather than targeting sprint stages, the Belgian team has targeted the breakaways with its brawny young riders

Photo: Getty Images

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MORRO BAY, California (VN) — Had he been born in Nebraska, Kasper Asgreen might throw a 100mph fastball, or patrol the line of scrimmage as an outside linebacker. But Asgreen was born in Denmark, where gifted athletes kick a soccer ball, chase a hockey puck, or pedal a bicycle.

Asgreen chose the latter, and now, at age 24, he’s one of the best young cyclists in the world.

“My dreams are the classics and maybe the world championships,” Asgreen told VeloNews. “The classics have always been special for me.”

On Monday Asgreen soared through the thin Sierra Nevada air in a long breakaway, eventually taking his first WorldTour victory during the Amgen Tour of California’s second stage. The victory kicked off a winning streak for Deceuninck: Rémi Cavagna won Tuesday’s stage into Morgan Hill with a daylong breakaway, and Fabio Jakobsen won Wednesday’s sprint into Morro Bay.

The average age of the three men is just 23 years old.

These three victories represent a change in focus for the Belgian team at the Amgen Tour of California. In years past, Quick Step has used the event to iron out the kinks in its sprint train in the lead-up to the Tour de France. In 2017 Decuninck won the opening sprint stage with Marcel Kittel just two months before Kittel took five stages at the Tour. Last year Decunink took three stages in California with sprinter Fernando Gaviria.

On the eve of the 2019 race, Deceunink appeared to have the same game plan of targeting sprint stages with Jakobsen. Instead, the Belgian team turned to its powerful youngsters, Asgreen and Frenchman Cavagna, as well. The two were allowed to strike out for personal glory on the race’s two hilly stages.

Wilfried Peeters, Deceuninck’s longtime sport director, said the team’s egalitarian attitude in California sprung from the course’s hilly profile. Riders like Asgreen and Cavagna do not get many opportunities to win, so why not unleash them on the peloton?

“We have a lot of young guys here, and everybody can have his chance,” Peeters said. “Everyday we try to have somebody in the breakaway. The [attacks] are improvised.”

So, who are Deceuninck’s talented youngsters, and what are their true potential in the sport?

‘My confidence was hurt’

Cavagna’s attack on the slopes of Patterson Pass represented a stab at redemption for the Frenchman, who said he suffered in the altitude during the stage 2 climb to Lake Tahoe and finished 17 minutes down. He did not expect the peloton to give him nearly 10 minutes.

“I say OK, today is your day and you need to take your responsibility and try to go as long as you can full gas and I did it,” Cavagna said.

Spectators watched in horror as Cavagna skidded his way down the long, twisting descents of Mt. Hamilton and Quimby Road. The Frenchman nearly skittered off of the road on several occasions. After the finish, Cavagna revealed that he had crashed twice in 2018 and was still struggling to regain his confidence on technical descents. Both crashes occurred in southern France, he said.

“One time was in training camp and the other crash was at home. There was water on the ground and I crashed,” Cavagna told VeloNews. “I lost my confidence. I work hard to improve. It is still hard to come back, step by step.”

Like Asgreen, Cavagna is a powerful rouleur, standing 6 foot 1″ and weighing 171 pounds. He owns two U23 national time trial titles in France, and is a graduate of the Klein Constantia development team that was linked with Quick-Step. Peeters said that unlike Asgreen, Cavagna may not see many opportunities to win big races throughout his career. His strengths as a power rider, however, will make him invaluable as a domestique.

“He can pull for 200km and blow up the bunch,” Peeters said. “He is very strong.”

I was like ‘holy hell’

Asgreen burst onto the international stage in April when he attacked a group containing Peter Sagan and other classics heroes to finish second place in his debut at the Tour of Flanders. The result speaks to potential greatness on the cobblestone classics—the races where Deceuninck-Quick Step thrives.

Asgreen told VeloNews the 300 meter ride to the finish line in Oudenaarde gave him goosebumps.

“I was suffering quite a lot from cramps and I looked back and saw the bunch was not going to catch me,” Asgreen said. “I was like ‘Holy hell, I will be second at Flanders.'”

Asgreen then raced Paris-Roubaix before returning home to Denmark to rest before the Amgen Tour of California. Asgreen’s attack on Monday came as the peloton crested the first summit of the day, Kirkwood Summit. Asgreen then broke away from the 15-man front group in an unsuccessful bid to chase down EF climber Lachlan Morton, who lives part of the year at 9,000 feet in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Asgreen, by contrast, lives at sea level in Denmark. He told VeloNews he was surprised to feel comfortable on the 7,000-foot climbs outside of Lake Tahoe.

“I don’t know why I felt good—I haven’t ever done any altitude camps and I live in Denmark,” Asgreen said. “We don’t have any long climbs at home. I was suffering quite a lot so I was fairly surprised I made it to the final.”

With his second-place finish at Flanders, Asgreen is now on the fast-track to be a cobblestone star in the future. Asgreen will likely require a few more years before he is a protected rider at Flanders. Peeters said he is well on his way.

“He has improved a lot. He learns a lot, and he likes to learn,” Peeters said. “That is important, because he wants to be a man of the classics. What he did here is impressive, and he can good results in the next years.”

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