Asgreen wins first Flanders title in thrilling finish

Denmark's Kasper Asgreen (left) raises his arms in celebration after beating Mathieu van der Poel (right) to win the 2021 Tour of Flanders
Kasper Asgreen finished second in the 2019 Tour of Flanders

Denmark’s Kasper Asgreen won his first Tour of Flanders title after beating defending champion Mathieu van der Poel in a thrilling two-man sprint.

Van der Poel kicked with 250 metres to go but Asgreen reeled him in and pulled ahead before the Dutchman cracked and sat up.

In the women’s race, Annemiek van Vleuten won her second title, 10 years after her first victory.

The Dutch rider dropped her rivals with 13km remaining to take a fine solo win.

“I felt good in the last kilometres still, so I decided to try and trust my sprint,” said Asgreen, who won the E3 Saxo Bank Classic last month.

“It was a really hard race and we were both on the limit.

“It’s been an incredible classics campaign this year and I’m so happy to finish it off like this.”

A group of around 20 riders, including Asgreen, Van der Poel, world champion Julian Alaphilippe and Britain’s Tom Pidcock, on his Flanders debut, led heading into the final 30km of the cobbled 254.3km ‘monument’ one-day classic in Belgium.

Asgreen made a decisive attack at 27km to go and only Van der Poel and last year’s runner-up Wout van Aert were able to follow the Elegant-Quick-Step rider, with team-mate Alaphilippe content to sit on in the second group.

The leading trio established a gap of 30 seconds, before Van der Poel attacked on the Oude Kwaremont climb to shed long-term rival Van Aert and initially distance Asgreen.

But the in-form Danish national champion bridged the gap to set up a tense sprint finish.

Van der Poel, 26, was the favourite for victory but Asgreen, also 26, made sure to stay behind him, forcing the Dutchman to lead it out.

The Dane ultimately proved he had more power left as Van der Poel sat up and ruefully shook his head while the winner celebrated.

Greg van Avermaet beat fellow Belgian Jasper Stuyven in the sprint for third from the chasing group.

It is Asgreen’s first victory in one of men’s cycling’s five ‘monument’ classics – the most prestigious one-day races on the calendar.

Another of those races, Paris-Roubaix, was scheduled for 11 April but has been postponed until 2-3 October because of concerns over the coronavirus situation in France.

AG2R Citroen rider Michael Schar was disqualified from the Tour of Flanders after throwing a water bottle towards a group of fans.

Cycling’s world governing body, the UCI, introduced new rules earlier this year that mean riders can be fined, docked ranking points or be given time penalties for throwing bottles or other items outside of new litter zones.

Astana’s Yevgeniy Fedorov and Alpecin-Fenix’s Otto Vergaerde were also disqualified within the first 15km after Fedorov broke suddenly at the head of the race, Vergaerde responded with a shoulder barge and then Fedorov appeared to attempt the same.

Van Vleuten solos to second title

Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten raises her arms in celebration after winning the 2021 Tour of Flanders women's title
Annemiek van Vleuten is in her first season with the Spanish Movistar team

Van Vleuten has been the dominant force in women’s cycling over the past five years but had missed out on a second Tour of Flanders title, despite six top-five finishes since her maiden win in 2011.

The 38-year-old Movistar rider attacked twice with around 45km remaining of the 152km course but was brought back before Audrey Cordon-Ragot went clear.

The French rider built up a lead of 44 seconds before Italy’s Soraya Paladin tried to bridge across but both were caught as the race reached the Oude Kwaremont.

Van Vleuten attacked on the next climb of the Paterberg and none of her rivals could respond, with Germany’s Lisa Brennauer taking the sprint for second place ahead of Australia’s Grace Brown.

Van Vleuten is one of only three riders, alongside compatriot Mirjam Melchers-van Poppel and Germany’s Judith Arndt, to win twice at the women’s Tour of Flanders, which started in 2004.

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