Kasper Asgreen was untouchable in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne as he soloed to victory after a hectic day of racing in Belgium.
Spending most of the day working for the team, the Dane then launched his move with around 20km to race as he bridged across to the fading breakaway, forcing the sprint teams to pursue desperately to be in with a chance at victory.
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But after Asgreen rode the remains of the breakaway off his wheel over an attritional final few kilometres, the 25-year-old Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider denied the peloton with the narrowest of margins at the finish in Kuurne, taking by far the biggest win of his career.
Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling) was the best of the rest as he won the bunch sprint for second, with Alexander Krist0ff (UAE Team Emirates) looking strong to take third.
Earlier in the day, Team Ineos rider Gianni Moscon found himself in hot water yet again as he was disqualified from the race for throwing a rival’s bike following a crash. He was later filmed taking off his race numbers and tearing them up.
How it happened
Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is the closing race for the men’s Opening Weekend and is another chance to shine for those riders who missed out in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Annemiek van Vleuten coming out swinging to take victory in the men’s and women’s Omloop’s, with Stuyven lining up once again in Kuurne ready for the 201km loop of West Flanders.
The 2020 edition of the race covered the same distance as 2019, but featured one less climb that last year’s edition won by Bob Jungels (Deceuninck – Quick-Step).
Riders faced 11 walls that they had to climb, the most significant of which came in the final 60km with Oude Kwaremont at the 143km mark followed by the Kluisberg at 150km.
The final 50km featured a few uncategorised lumps before the final 25km fast, flat but winding run to the line.
Racing was rapid at the start with the battle for a breakaway raging for 30km, before five riders finally made it clear, as Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates) Huge Houle (Astana), Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X Norwegian Development Team, Roy Jans (Alpecin-Fenix) and Boris Vallée (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles) building their advantage to around three minutes with 150km to race.
That gap continued to extend out as the break hit the fourth climb of the day, Mont Saint-Laurent with more than six minutes to spare over the bunch, as the race entered the pivotal middle section with seven climbs in 40km, including the Kwaremont and the Kluisberg.
The gap began to fall slowly of the rapid succession of climbs, as Bjerg suffered a mechanical and slipped out of the break, as the Dane was swallowed up at the foot of the Kwaremont.
Onto the iconic climb, which is 2.2km-long and 4.2 per cent average gradient, and the break still had 4-22 over the chasing bunch, which had split over the course of the testing climbs prior.
Matteo Trentin (CCC Team) put in a shift on the front of the bunch for Greg Van Avermaet, who looked comfortable near the head of the race.
The surge in the bunch resulted in 20 riders breaking away from the rest over the top of the Kwaremont as the breakaway saw their advantage diminish to 3-30.
That front group featured some phenomenal talent, including Van Avermaet, Kasper Asgreen, Luke Rowe (Team Ineos), and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), while last year’s winner Bob Jungels was left behind.
The peloton did come back together however, and the four breakaway riders were almost caught with around 30km to race, but Asgreen put in a dig from the bunch and joined Jans and Vallée to form a new three-man escape.
Asgreen’s motivation helped the trio pull out a 36-second gap with 20km to race, but it was up to the Dane to do all the work as his companion’ sat on the wheel after a long day in the wind.
Quick-Step also had sprinter Fabio Jakobsen back in the bunch, while Kristoff was also looking for a bunch finish along with Sunweb’s Cees Bol.
As the break crossed the line to start the local lap, Jans’s legs gave out and he slipped back to the bunch, as Asgreen continued to ride with Vallée on his wheel, the pair holding a 27-second advantage.
Just inside 10km, Asgreen kicked and Valée finally had to concede defeat as the Quick-Step rider pressed on alone with 20-seconds in hand over the bunch.
Into the final few kilometres and it looked like the catch was inevitable as Asgreen’s advantage began to tumble rapidly, and into the final kilometre he was in sight of the bunch.
But with just an eight-second advantage, he kept pushing as the sprint teams behind were indecisive.
With 500m to go Asgreen was still clear as the bunch began to ramp up the effort, but down to 100m he was still clear alone.
Asgreen crossed the line with both arms raised as the bunch sprinted for the line just three seconds behind.
Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne 2020 (201km)
1.Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, in 4-47-18
2. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) NTT Pro Cycling, at 3s
3. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
4. Fabio Jakobsen (Ned) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
5. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
6. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-McLaren
7. Ben Swift (GBr) Team Ineos
8. Jürgen Roelandts (Movistar)
9. Kristoffer Halvorsen (Nor) EF Pro Cycling
10. Fabian Lienhard (Sui) Groupma-FDJ, all at same time