By David Hunter
Kasper Asgreen is in an elite group, it only has two other members. Only three neo-pros have ever won gold in the World Championship TTT: Stefan Küng, Silvan Dillier and he are the only ones and no one else will ever join this club. For a new pro to be given the opportunity to even ride this event speaks volumes about their ability and the confidence the team has in them.
“That was the one thing I told the team when I joined them, I really wanted to try to make the team for that race.”
Just think of the confidence required to say this to the Quick-Step management when signing. You are joining the best cycling team, yet Kasper was telling them about his hopes for the end of the season. I love this attitude from him and I bet his new bosses also noticed an attitude which appealed to them.
“I got to do some team time trials during the season, to prove myself worthy, and I was of course very happy when I was selected. Especially after feeling so strong in the last week of the Vuelta.”
That was another rare moment in his first season with the team, being allowed the chance to ride a Grand Tour. Teams are usually very wary of throwing a youngster into such a demanding race, but they clearly had been impressed by his performances throughout the season. Once in Spain, Kasper was given the job of controlling the break during sprint stages. Watchers of the race would have gotten very familiar with his shape at the front of the bunch, slowly bringing the break back after hours in the saddle.
“I was thrilled when Brian called me and said I was in the picture for it! It gave me great motivation for the training over the summer. But it wasn’t until a few weeks before that I was sure I was going to go. We did an altitude camp in Livigno in July, where I could really build the base for the demand of three weeks of racing. Then a stage race and a few one-day races before we got started in Malaga. I didn’t really feel nervous, I felt like my preparation had been good, so I was just excited to get started.
The three weeks went by really fast! It was a great experience, everything that I had hoped for. And the results we came home with was more than I had hoped for.
I had been told from the beginning that this would be my role, so I did some specific training to do these efforts; a shitload of long seated efforts in the beginning, then towards the last few weeks a little bit more explosive efforts to simulate the last few kilometres of a lead out. By the end I was confident that I was better than ever.”
To be able to spend such a long time on the front would require some size of breakfast, at least that’s what I thought.
“A bowl of oatmeal, an omelette, maybe a slice of bread with jam.”
Sometimes I think it’s the weird things that I like about cycling! After spending all day controlling the bunch, what happens when you pull over? How much info do you get about who wins?
“Usually I just keep riding as fast as I can until the bunch overtakes me, at that point it’s not really possible for me to go any faster so I’m pretty dead. Usually I could hear what was going on in the radio, but otherwise I would try to ask one of the cars behind, as I was always too curious to wait until the finish line.”
The Vuelta was a brilliant race for Quick-Step, with Viviani taking 3 stages, Mas getting 1 and also finishing 2ndon GC, a beautiful way for Kasper to begin his adventures in the Grand Tours.
“Of course, winning makes the job more fun! I think all bike riders at this level enjoy the taste of victory. That’s how we all got to be at the World Tour, and for me seeing Enric or Elia win was really, really nice!”
And to imagine that all of this almost didn’t happen, but it did due to a series of misfortunate events.
“It was never the plan to join Quick-Step Floors. It came about because of some injuries in the team that meant they were short on riders. Of course, that was very unfortunate circumstances for the riders involved, but I was thrilled to get the chance and have tried to make the most of it since.”
Most observes of the sport started to notice Kasper back in 2016, when he finished 5thin the under 23 World Championship ITT, when just 21. The good results continued in 2017, with a gold medal in the under 23 European Championship ITT and he surprised the sprinters to take the opening stage of the Tour de l’Avenir. This year started with a bang, with impressive performances in the opening races of the season.
“My winter training went very well, I avoided any sickness or injuries. Then I also went on training camp with Trek-Segafredo in December and Quick-Step Floors in January where I got some very high-quality training and tasted a bit of the professional level. After my 6th place in Laigueglia I knew I had done something right, as that would previously have been way too hard a race for me.”
Kasper started the season with the continental team, Virtu Cycling, before joining Quick-Step at the beginning of April. There was no hiding away, he was straight into big races like Scheldeprijs and Brabantse Pijl.
“I was very surprised I actually I felt quite at home with the level and way of racing from the beginning, which was really nice!”
The first of the iconic races came in September, with Clasica San Sebastián. Doing such a race for the first time is a big moment in every rider’s career.
“It was a hard race, probably a little bit too hard for me but I managed to stay with the lead group and try to help Alaphilippe until the big crash where almost half the group went down in the final towards the last climb. That meant I had plenty of time to enjoy the Basque fans on the last climb. I even managed to grab a nice chilled Coca Cola on the way up.”
I’ve already mentioned a lot about Kasper’s debut at the Vuelta, but I haven’t talked about his performance in the ITT on stage 16, a 32km slog against the clock. Remember that this was his first Grand Tour and he’d already spent many hours on the front of the bunch.
“I did my usual preparation for time trials and just went for it when I started. I managed to push about the same watts as my best recovered time trials last year. So, I have added another level for sure.”
This level allowed Kasper to finish 10th, just 20 seconds behind second place. This was a hugely impressive performance and a sign of what is to come in 2019. As you know, the Dane then headed off to Innsbruck to win the gold medal in the TTT, but he also had the chance to ride the road race on the Sunday. Kasper spent the day in the break, soaking up the atmosphere from the very front, before being caught relatively late in the day.
“Having an 8-man team this year, there was room to put some riders out there and l was really motivated to do something in that race and not just be another participant, so I went for it and didn’t hold anything back. When I got to the steep climb, I had plenty of time, so I just rode it my own pace and got to the finish line while taking an amazing day in.”
2018 was quite the year for this young Dane: he moved from continental level to the World Tour, signed for the best team in the world, completed his first Grand Tour and won gold in the World Championship TTT. What would he have said if someone had predicted this at the start of the season?
“No way! That shit doesn’t happen. I probably would have laughed a whole bunch as well.”
What about 2019? Most riders experience a significant improvement after completing their first Grand Tour.
“I already noticed it after I started training again so yes, I look forward to seeing what my level in the first races will be like.”
You have been warned!
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