By Jonny Long
Kasper Asgreen outsprinted Mathieu van der Poel to win the Tour of Flanders 2021, the Dutchman blowing up in the final 100m, shaking his head as the Dane crossed the line victorious.
Van der Poel had attacked on the third and final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, dropping Wout van Aert as he set off up the road, soon to be joined by Asgreen.
The duo worked well together to keep the chasers at bay, with Van der Poel leading under the flamme rouge, checking behind him for Asgreen's eventual sprint.
When the Elegant - Quick-Step rider launched his effort, Van der Poel looked to be matching it, but then pulled up in the final few metres, completely spent as Asgreen took the biggest victory of his career so far.
Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r Citroën) took third after he had attacked the chase group in the closing kilometres. Trek-Segafredo's Jasper Stuyven was fourth, just behind Van Avermaet, while Sep Vanmarcke led the next chase group over the line, Van Aert in sixth behind him.
How it happened
Stefan Bissegger was the EF-Nippo rider to finally get himself free as the pink team tried to initiate breakaway proceedings as the bunch set off from Antwerp, eventually dragging a group of five clear, but the big story over the opening kilometres was the disqualification of Astana's Yevgeniy Fedorov and Alpecin-Fenix's Otto Vergaerde after the former brake checked the former, Vergaerde having chased down Fedorov's attempt to get across to the breakaway, and Vergaerde slamming himself into the Kazakh to make his displeasure known.
Soon things settled down, however, the break gaining a couple more riders as the group of seven began to take their gap out as behind Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r Citroën) and Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel Start-Up Nation) pulled over to greet their families at the roadside.
The break's gap was up to 11 minutes as they hit the first cobbled section of the day at Lippenhovestraat, Jumbo-Visma coming to the front before Tim Declerq took over for Elegant - Quick-Step leading up to the first climb of the day up the Kattenberg. Next was the first of three ascents of the Oude Kwaremont, Jumbo-Visma's Edoardo Affini assisting Declerq.
Michael Schär then suffered the double misfortune of a mechanical coupled with discarding a bidon in full view of the TV and commissaires motos, throwing his hands up in exasperation as he was kicked off the race due to the UCI's new rules on littering.
Tom Pidcock then found himself on the wrong side of the barriers up the Eikenberg, calmly working his way back around and chasing back up.
As Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) crashed Kevin Geniets (Groupama-FDJ) put in an attack, the gap to the break coming down to around seven minutes.
Up the Valkenberg and the peloton fractured momentarily as an attack went off the front including Edvald Boasson Hagen (Total Direct Energie) and Luke Rowe (Ineos Grenadiers).
DSM's Nils Eekhoff then suffered a nasty-looking crash, his team-mate Søren Kragh Andersen attacking with 70km to go, Jumbo-Visma's Nathan Van Hooydonck forced to respond as Elegant - Quick-Step tried to sneak themselves into the move.
Another big crash then followed as the groups came back together, bringing down the majority of Elegant - Quick-Step including Asgreen as Alaphilippe just dodged the fall, a third crash in quick succession then bringing down a number of Alpecin-Fenix riders.
Onto the second ascent of the Kwaremont and the break's gap was under two minutes. When the peloton reached the climb, Elegant - Quick-Step began to stretch things out before Mathieu van der Poel hit the front, dragging Kasper Asgreen with him as Wout van Aert bridged across, brining the remnants of the peloton with him.
Onto the Paterberg and it was again Asgreen and Van der Poel edging off the front, but Van Aert again brought them back into the fold after the climb and as this main group came back together Tim Wellens and Tom Pidcock took a flyer, wrenching a small group free off the front.
As this group of five were joined by another five, Pidcock motioned for Marco Haller (Bahrain-Victorious) to pull through, the Austrian not looking overly keen at the prospect.
With Julian Alaphilippe in this front main group and Van der Poel and Van Aert slightly behind, the Frenchman decided to take his chance on the Koppenberg, going off the front as the race splintered, soon bringing Bisseger back into the fold and Pidcock the next rider in pursuit.
Alaphilippe kept Bisseger around for company with 44km until the line, as the rest of the bunch fought their way over the summit.
Pidcock again was at the forefront of the chase group with 39km to go as the group now numbered around a dozen riders, before Haller kicked on, Alaphilippe only seven seconds up the road.
36km to go and the final selection had been made: Van der Poel, Van Aert, Alaphilippe, Asgreen, Haller and his Bahrain-Victorious team-mate Dylan Teuns.
With the Pidcock chase group close behind, which contained a smattering of talented Belgians including Van Avermaet, Alaphilippe and Asgreen rotated on the front, keen to make the move stick.
Pidcock then started to drop as Alaphilippe came around the front group and attacked, Van Aert and then Van der Poel on his wheel.
Heartbreak followed for Matteo Trentin, the Italian suffering a puncture, as up ahead Alaphilippe continued to work before Asgreen attacked, taking Van Aert and Van der Poel with him, the Dane then flicking his elbow and the Jumbo-Visma man coming through.
Alaphilippe was happy to sit on in the group with Turgis, Haller and Teuns, allowing Asgreen to be the Elegant - Quick-Step rider to take on Van der Poel and Van Aert in this edition.
This front trio soon had a 20-second gap inside 20km remaining, the Alaphilippe group behind only 10 seconds adrift, ahead of a larger chase group containing Pidcock.
As the two chase groups combined, Turgis and Van Avermaet launched their effort to bridge the 15-second gap.
But they hadn't accounted for Van der Poel, who on the third ascent of the Kwaremont with 17km to go launched his attack, dropping Van Aert with Asgreen chasing back up.
Onto the Paterberg and Van Aert was seven seconds behind, the next chase group another 20 seconds in arrears. The Belgian's day looked over, though, as he swerved all over the cobbled climb and was going backwards towards the Van Avermaet chase group.
Into the final 10km and Asgreen and Van der Poel had an advantage of 28 seconds, Van Aert brought back by the chase group and Dylan van Baarle (Ineos) trying to launch off the front but to no avail.
Greg Van Avermaet was leading the chase group of around 10 riders, but the gap wasn't coming down with 7.5km to go and although they soon got organised, it was up to above half a minute with 3km until the line.
As the chase group looked around, riders tightening their shoes and talking on their radios, readying themselves for the sprint, Van Avermaet saw an opportunity and attacked.
Van Aert countered behind as Van Avermaet started to sail out of view ahead, Van der Poel and Asgreen now under 2km to go.
Under the flamme rouge and Van der Poel continued to lead the duo, the Dutchman looking behind to check on the state of affairs.
Van der Poel kept watching, waiting for Asgreen to launch, and had him matched when the Dane made his move, and although the Dutchman looked to have the measure of his opponent, he cracked, shaking his head as Asgreen crossed the line having won his first-ever Monument.
Van Avermaet beat Stuyven to third, with Vanmarcke then leading home the larger chase group ahead of Van Aert.
Tour of Flanders 2021: Antwerp to Oudenaarde (254.3km)
1. Kasper Asgreen (Den) Elegant - Quick-Step
2. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix
3. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Ag2r Citroën
4. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
5. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Israel Start-Up Nation
6. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma
7. Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
8. Florian Sénéchal (Fra) Elegant - Quick-Step
9. Anthony Turgis (Fra) Total Direct Energie
10. Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races. I'm 6'0", 26 years old, have a strong hairline and have an adequate amount of savings for someone my age. I'm very single at the minute so if you know anyone, hit me up.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab, reporting about students evacuating their bowels on nightclub dancefloors and consecrating their love on lecture hall floors. I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
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