Kasper Asgreen never had the chance to take his Tour of Flanders winning form at Paris-Roubaix this spring, but the Dane feels confident ahead of the rescheduled race, despite his illness at the recent world championships and despite the threat of rain and mud on Sunday.
Asgreen, who beat Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) in a two-man sprint to win Flanders in April, aims to become the 11th rider in history to “double”, albeit under very different circumstances .
“I’m in a completely different phase of my form right now,” Asgreen said at a Deceuninck-QuickStep pre-race press conference on Thursday.
“If it had been a week apart, as usual, you could use the confidence that your form was where it was supposed to be, but now it’s been so long, it’s like starting over.”
After this triumph for Flanders, Asgreen won a stage at the Volta ao Algarve and the Danish time trial title before touring the Tour de France and placing seventh in the time trial of the Olympic Games. More recently he prepared for Paris-Roubaix and the recent world championships, where he finished fourth in the time trial but did not finish the road race despite being among the favorites.
He was instrumental in sending Michael Valgren through a crucial selection gap as his compatriot won the bronze medal but later revealed he fell ill the night before the race.
“I don’t think that will affect me,” Asgreen said Thursday. “I had a little stomach ache and it hit me on Saturday night before the Sunday race. Since Tuesday I feel good again, and it hasn’t affected me this week, so I think that my preparation went like I don’t expect this to influence Sunday’s race.
“I tried to approach the race the same way I do any other race. I haven’t done anything different from what I know to work,” he added. “Obviously it’s a completely different part of the season. A lot of time has passed since then. [Flanders]. I may have rebuilt again and I think I am where I want to be, so I look forward to Sunday. “
One of the main talking points leading up to the weekend revolves around the weather, with rain forecast for the days leading up to Sunday, if not the same day. The cobblestones have been dry and dusty for the past 20 years, with the last race going in wet and muddy conditions in 2002. The forecast will be apprehensive to some, but it doesn’t seem to Asgreen.
“I’ve only done Roubaix in the dry so I don’t know what I prefer, but normally I don’t care if it’s wet or dry. I’ll try to adapt to the conditions that are there and do the the best, ”he said.
“If it’s raining, it’s going to be a lot slower. You have to restart the bike from a really low gear a lot of times, whereas in the dry you can handle the speed a bit more in the corners. will of course make it a lot harder and you also have the element of collisions, which will be much higher in the rain, so that’s something you should also avoid. “
Deceunink-QuickStep is still heading to Paris-Roubaix with a multitude of options and, even in this unique edition of ‘L’Enfer du Nord’, it is still the case this Sunday. Asgreen lines up alongside double runner-up Zdenek Štybar, 2019 podium Yves Lampaert, fit and local youngster Florian Sénéchal, and champion Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Davide Ballerini, as well as support runners in the form of Tim Declercq and Bert Van Lerberghe.
Former cyclo-cross world champion Štybar has always looked home at Paris-Roubaix since his full-time stint on the road, placing sixth in his debut in 2013, fifth in 2014, then second behind John Degenkolb in 2015. He was again beaten in the sprint on the velodrome in 2017, this time by Greg Van Avermaet (now with AG2R Citroën Team), and placed in the top 10 in the next two editions.
“Honestly, a lot of times I thought about the Roubaix I did. For the first one, I learned something when I lost against Degenkolb, then I thought I would do it better when I was against Greg [Van Avermaet] two years later, but it didn’t work. I have learned something again and I hope it does not happen again. Maybe I have to arrive on my own, “he said.
Štybar had the spring of his life in 2019, winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3-Harelbeke, but he didn’t have much of an impact in the rescheduled 2020 Classics and this spring was derailed by illness. He finished fifth at E3, but was diagnosed with a heart rhythm problem after Gand-Wevelgem, and was forced to miss the Tour of Flanders and be absent until June. He then rode and finished the Vuelta a España, but before suddenly announcing himself as a contender of Roubaix with seventh place in the World Championships road race.
“It took me a long time to get to where I am. Also, I think a lot of people didn’t believe that I would come back to my level after the operation I had, but I’m back. at my best, “Tybar said.
“After last weekend I’m again confident that I can compete with the best. I think I’m in good shape to race for the win again.”
In terms of conditions, it was speculated that a wet and muddy course would give a former cyclo-cross world champion an advantage, and there will be two more on the pitch at Van der Poel and Wout van Aert (Jumbo -Visma). Štybar, however, doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
“It’s hard to say. I think the biggest advantage you get is having strong legs, so I’m mainly hoping the legs will be there,” he said. “In the end, at Paris-Roubaix, there aren’t many corners where you can really gain the advantage, but I hope for a good day and good legs.”
As for the age-old question mark over QuickStep’s executive hierarchy, the general consensus was still that it doesn’t matter who wins, as long as it’s a blue jersey.
“We try to put as many riders as possible in the final and then we play the game like we always do,” Lampaert said. “We try to attack and never be in defense.”