A new classics star in Asgreen is born
A triple star system is one in which three celestial bodies are in orbit around the centre of mass of the system. The most common kind are organised in a hierarchical system, in which two of the bodies form a close binary arrangement, with the other orbiting at a distance. But the key to it all is distance, mass and gravitational pull - stability comes from the tension and forces at play between the three stars.
Examples of triple star systems include Alpha Centauri and Polaris, the North Star. Also Algol, whose entry in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was: “pretty neat”.
We might also add the current classics peloton to that, with the 2021 Tour of Flanders a case in point. Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel have been orbiting each other in a binary system for years, while Deceuninck-Quick Step, riding the Ronde as ElegantQuick Step, are a counterweight to the two stars.
The thing about celestial bodies, however, is that the larger they are, the more gravitational force they exert. It’s possible that the tension which holds Van Aert, Van der Poel and Deceuninck in perpetual orbit is holding races together far more than they might be without such dominant influences on their shape.
The 2021 Ronde split properly for the first time on the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, when Elegant’s Kasper Asgreen and Van der Poel rode away from their rivals.
It looked like it could be a winning move, and with the pair riding in their national champions’ colours, was reminiscent of the two-up escape by Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen in the 2010 Ronde. But Van Aert chased them down, pulling a group of riders to them. The attack was not strong enough to break the bonds which were keeping the race together, even if it gave race fans vital information - that the Dane and Dutchman were the strongest riders in the race - and a sneak preview of the denouement.
Bike races often consist of long periods of stability, before decisive moments give the race a definitive shape. But the 2021 Ronde never quite settled, nor did it ever quite break up. Asgreen and Van der Poel’s attack was followed soon after by a split over the Paterberg which put 12 riders away, including Van Aert, Van der Poel and three Elegant riders (Asgreen, Alaphilippe and Sénéchal). This group split before Alaphilippe attacked on the Koppenberg and was caught on the descent, and once again the race settled with a group of nine riders at the front - and again it included Van Aert and Van der Poel, though on this occasion Asgreen was not there.
On Steenbeekdries, while Marco Haller of Bahrain slipped away, there was enough stability for 20 riders to coalesce behind him, and almost as soon as the race had settled into that shape, the Taaienberg broke it up again. Asgreen attacked, and pulled Van der Poel, Alaphilippe, Van Aert, and Dylan Teuns up to Haller, but even then, the gap to the next group never grew beyond 20 seconds, and was narrow enough for Anthony Turgis to bridge up after the Kruisberg to make it seven at the front. Every time it looked like the race was breaking up, it still just held together.
But physics, and the second law of thermodynamics, tells us that all systems eventually tend towards entropy and disorder, and when Asgreen attacked with 26km to go with Van Aert and Van der Poel, it was clear that the bonds holding the race together were getting weaker.
Van der Poel attacked on the Oude Kwaremont, and only Asgreen could follow: the pair rode together to the finish in Oudenaarde.
It’s an almost immutable law of cycling that a power rider will always beat a diesel in a sprint, and defending champion Van der Poel was the favourite at the finish. However, the delicate balance which had held the race together had been upset, and as Asgreen drew level with and passed Van der Poel the Dutchman gave in and freewheeled in behind the Dane. The laws of physics may be immutable; the laws governing bike races are altogether more flexible.
Bike races often consist of long periods of stability, before decisive moments give the race a definitive shape. But the 2021 Ronde never quite settled