HOME ADVANTAGE Kasper Asgreen is just the latest in a long line of Flanders winners from Deceuninck-Quick Step. Why are they are so dominant?

- Writer Edward Pickering Image Nico Vereecken/ Getty Images

Recent history tells us that to win the Tour of Flanders, you need to be one of two possibly overlappin­g things. You must either be the strongest rider in the race, or you must be a Deceuninck-Quick Step rider. Since the route changed to the circuit-based parcours finishing in Oudenaarde in 2012, the strong non-DQS riders to have won are Fabian Cancellara in 2013 and 2014, Alexander Kristoff in 2015, Peter Sagan in 2016, Alberto Bettiol in 2019 and Mathieu van der Poel in 2020. Philippe Gilbert won in 2017 while not being the strongest rider; however, he was riding for Quick Step. Tom Boonen in 2012 and Niki Terpstra in 2018 are examples of the strongest rider also being a DQS rider.

And since this spring, we can add Kasper Asgreen to that last category. Though he was not the favourite in the two-up finishing sprint against Mathieu van der Poel in Oudenaarde in April 2021, he was clearly the strongest. In a sprint between these two riders in almost all imaginable circumstan­ces, the Dutchman would be a clear winner; however, the attritiona­l nature of the climbs of the Flemish Ardennes and Asgreen’s excellent form on the day didn’t just level the playing field, they tilted it hugely in the Dane’s direction. Van der Poel simply gave up 50m before the finish. The strongest rider won.

Asgreen is a born Tour of Flanders rider. It helps that he rides for Deceuninck-Quick Step, but he immediatel­y took to the race. In his debut in 2019 he came second. The following year he was marooned in the chase group behind Van der Poel and runner-up Wout van Aert and came 13th, just eight seconds behind. And in 2021 he won by constantly being at the front. It was not a simple race - breaks kept forming and breaking up, but Asgreen was involved in nearly all of them. The crucial one happened on the final climb of the Oude Kwaremont, with Asgreen, Van der Poel and Van Aert away together. Van der Poel made the initial attack two thirds of the way up, but Asgreen was able to follow.

From that point, Van der Poel was the favourite, all the way until the moment he wasn’t, but there was a little hint of the

comparativ­e strength of the two leaders: on the Paterberg Van der Poel searched out the more forgiving line of the right hand gutter in the early part of the climb and punched his pedals at a high rate of revolution­s. Asgreen powered up more smoothly in a bigger gear, not deviating from his line. His style on the Paterberg whispered of his greater power; in the finishing sprint this built to a shout.

Asgreen’s win in the 2021 Tour of Flanders was his team’s eighth win in the 19 times they have contested their home race since the team was set up at the start of 2003. There have been a further five races in that time where their best finisher came second. There is simply no team as successful as Deceuninck-Quick Step in the Tour of Flanders.

The top division in cycling is fluid, but by comparison, the next most successful outfit since in that time period is CSC/ Saxo Bank/Tinkoff, who took three wins between Cancellara in 2010, Nick Nuyens in 2011 and Sagan in 2016. Trek-Segafredo also won it twice, once as RadioShack, once as Trek, but both times with Cancellara. A few other teams have won it a single time.

There are two primary reasons for Deceuninck-Quick Step being so good at the Ronde. The team is based in Wevelgem, on the edge of the Flemish Ardennes where the race’s action is concentrat­ed, and in the heart of Flanders. Their local knowledge is profound and first hand. Knowing the idiosyncra­sies and complexiti­es of the local roads in the Tour of Flanders is probably more important and helpful than for any other race, save perhaps Amstel Gold. The organisers tweak and alter the details every year, so knowledge gained in previous years might not be as helpful as an encycloped­ic knowledge of the approaches to each climb and cobbled sector.

The second is more obvious, and it is that they both hire specialist­s and make specialist­s of some of their other riders. (Julian Alaphilipp­e is an example of a nonspecial­ist who has neverthele­ss been encouraged to try his hand in Flanders, to the point that he was part of the racewinnin­g move in 2020 before he crashed out, but Paolo Bettini, further back, was another example.)

Largely, the team is packed with specialist­s. Over the years, they have enjoyed success at the race with Frank Vandenbrou­cke, Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder, Sylvain Chavanel, Stijn Vandenberg­h, Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar, Philippe Gilbert, Yves Lampaert and Asgreen, and that’s just the riders who can realistica­lly win it. Their domestique­s have also been world class.

This strength in depth means that they can dictate the shape and rhythm of the race. They could deploy a rider like Stijn Devolder in 2008 and 2009 to go in the breaks in the final quarter of the race and their rivals had a direct choice: chase

Asgreen’s win in the 2021 Tour of Flanders was his team’s eighth win in the 19 times they have contested their home race since 2003

Devolder and take Tom Boonen, the best Flanders rider in the world at the time, to the finish, or don’t chase, and Devolder wins. (There were very well founded rumours that Boonen was less pleased the second time this happened than the first, but a win for the team is a win for the team.) When Philippe Gilbert won with a long-range solo attack in 2017, it wasn’t just that he was strong enough to undertake such an exploit, it was also that he had Boonen and Terpstra ostentatio­usly sitting in behind.

Of course, sometimes they get it wrong. In 2011, Sylvain Chavanel, who had already been away for almost 100 kilometres in one break or another, infiltrate­d the final split with 3km to go, along with Cancellara and Nuyens. He was too wasted to compete with Nuyens in the sprint (as was Cancellara, whose own long-range effort had also failed), but the much fresher and faster Boonen was marooned in the group behind, unable to chase his own teammate down. In 2015, Terpstra made the winning move of two riders, but had no answer to the sprint of Alexander Kristoff at the finish.

However, whether they win or lose, Deceuninck are always a factor in the Tour of Flanders because of their strength in depth. Kasper Asgreen may be their latest winner, but with Alaphilipp­e and Lampaert to back him up, plus the usual capable support cast of domestique­s, they’ll continue to be the biggest influence on the race.

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 ?? ?? Philippe Gilbert powers up the Oude Kwaremont on the way to victory in the 2017 Tour of Flanders.
Philippe Gilbert powers up the Oude Kwaremont on the way to victory in the 2017 Tour of Flanders.
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 ?? ?? Stijn Devolder leads Filippo Pozzato and Tom Boonen in the 2009 Ronde, which he won
Stijn Devolder leads Filippo Pozzato and Tom Boonen in the 2009 Ronde, which he won

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