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The Belgian team opened up the major block of cobblestone classics with a dominant victory that saw Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert outnumbered and Ag2r-Citroën duo Greg van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen outmaneuvered in a race straight from the textbook of one-day racing.
From as soon as when the race broke open in a red-hot edition of the E3 on Friday, Deceuninck-Quick-Step was there in numbers. When the haymakers started flying at around 90km to go, Patrick Lefevere’s pack of burly hitters dominated the race, moving numbers into attacks while keeping cards in the chase groups.
“I had an amazing team here and they were all so strong I could hear them cheering for me behind and I could hear how well they were blocking the other guys,” Asgreen said after scoring one of the biggest wins of his career. “We always had someone there so it was perfect. A huge thanks to the guys – this was amazing teamwork and it would not have been possible to do a ride like this without them there.”
Asgreen, Zdeněk Štybar, Yves Lampaert, and Florian Sénéchal had been the four animators in the first splits of the race, giving the Danish champ a launchpad to kick away at 66km to go. The 26-year-old rode solo at the front for the better part of an hour, while behind him, chase groups attacked, reformed, and attacked again.
Things we love to see 😃 pic.twitter.com/I4Pbm7fxTa
— Soudal Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team (@soudalquickstep) March 26, 2021
After van Aert ground himself into the floor on the final climb of the Tiegemberg, Quick-Step still had Sénéchal and Štybar disrupting the chase as Asgreen’s escape began to lose steam. And when the Dane was finally caught, he was afforded the luxury of time to sit-in before hitting out on his race-winning move at 5km to go.
When Asgreen motored clear on the roads into Harelbeke, van der Poel, van Avermaet and Naesen all made short-lived efforts at a chase, only for Sénéchal and Štybar to sit as anchors on their wheels.
“I knew after the effort I did today that I wasn’t’ going to have any chance in the last kilometer, so I had to get away and arrive alone if I wanted to win the race,” Asgreen said. “It was all or nothing at that point.”
With three riders flooding the front group of seven, the odds were more-than in the “Wolfpack’s” favor on the final run to the line, and it seemed only fitting that it was Asgreen that took the honors after a winter of playing workhorse and keeping close shadow of van Aert and van der Poel.
— Deceuninck-QuickStep (@deceuninck_qst) March 26, 2021
For Deceuninck-Quick-Step, the dominant victory made for a timely reminder to pretenders to their throne – from Ag2r-Citroën to Trek-Segafredo and UAE-Team Emirates – that they are the team that wrote the script for the trademark “total racing” approach that is being mirrored through the peloton.
And the icing on the cake? Two on the podium, with Sénéchal winning the sprint for second, narrowly edging out van der Poel. Maybe this year’s classics and the rapidly approaching monuments won’t be just the “Mathieu van der Wout” show after all.