Nine days before the “Ronde”, the Classics’ riders had the opportunity to test themselves on quite a similar course with the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, on Friday. Alexys Brunel took the opportunity to spend part of the day in front of the race, while his leader Stefan Küng took 20th place on the line. Kasper Asgreen took the win.

“I needed to gain back confidence”, Alexys Brunel

“It was a very fast day,” summed up Frédéric Guesdon right away. “This was almost full gas from km 0 to the finish”. This Friday on the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, the day’s breakaway then established itself only after thirty kilometers and the first climb, namely the Katteberg. Alexys Brunel actually initiated the break and eleven riders, including some experienced ones, went with him: Johan Jacobs, Luis Mas (Movistar), Rasmus Tiller (Uno-X), Lindsay De Vylder (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Jelle Wallays (Cofidis), Marco Haller, Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious), Julius van den Berg (EF Education-Nippo), Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie), Andre Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert). “It was planned that Alexys would try,” Frédéric explained. “So it was a good thing he succeeded. He keeps discovering the Classics. He’s not so comfortable fighting for position, but his condition is good and we told him to try going into the breakaway to gain confidence. Also, you never know, it can sometimes go quite far”. In the lead, the young man and his breakaway’s companions enjoyed a 4 minute-gap for just a short time as the bunch decided to keep them well under control.

“It was nice to be in front,” Alexys still said. “I needed to gain back confidence after three races where I was not at my best. I had fun on the bike and had very good legs today. These are races that I have always loved”. After about a hundred kilometers in the front, Alexys Brunel was caught by the main favourites with 70 kilometers to go, following a massive attack from Deceuninck-Quick Step in the Taaienberg. Left behind in a first place, Stefan Küng found himself with Jake Stewart and Kevin Geniets in a second group before he bridged across to his main contenders together with Wout van Aert. However, he was not yet in Kasper Asgreen’s wheel when the latter started a long solo with more than 60 kilometers to go. The Swiss champion then tried to go in counter-attack, especially at the top of Eikenberg, but it did not prove successful. “We held on, we fought well,” said Frédéric. “Stefan was not so lucky, as he tried 2-3 times but the good move proved to be the next one. It is kind of a shame. He may need to surprise better with his attacks, but we’re not going to blame him for racing aggressively. At least he tried and has no regrets. I prefer him to go on the attack and not succeeding than hear him on the bus saying: “I was feeling well but I didn’t try”.”

“Everyone remains motivated”, Frédéric Guesdon

The Groupama-FDJ’s leader also followed Mathieu van der Poel and Wout Van Aert in the next kilometers, before he asked Alexys Brunel to pull the bunch. “When they came back, I tried to help Stefan as much as possible,” said the young man. “I did the best I could to help the team. I am very satisfied with this day, I was able to put in a good effort”. “He didn’t blow right away,” Frédéric said. “He gave his teammates a hand and tried to limit the losses to Asgreen and the chasing group. He did a very nice E3, it will give him confidence for the future”. Alexys Brunel was eventually done with his job 45 kilometers from the finish, and the big fight started just a little later, in the Paterberg. Stefan Küng could not hold the wheels of the very best and thus found himself in the second main group. In the lead, a dozen men caught Kasper Asgreen with twelve kilometers to go but the Danish champion managed to attack again seven kilometers later to secure a solo victory. About two minutes later, Stefan Küng made it to the home stretch to take 20th on the day. “Behind the fifteen guys up front, there were about thirty riders with Stefan and Jake,” Frédéric said. “They attacked each other with 2-3 km to go and Stefan managed to make a gap and get this place.”

Already 20th on Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the European time trial champion set another “decent” result, but he obviously wants more. “He did not miss much to be in that leading group”, said Frédéric. “He’s doing well, but in these races, you can drop back a bit far if you miss a little something. The level is very high this year. Having said that, we did what we had to do. We are obviously a little disappointed because we want to be higher in the rankings, but everyone remains motivated. We have a few races left, and we have to keep moving forward. As soon as we’ll have the opportunity to attack, to get one step ahead, we must not hesitate, not think too much. Stefan is in good form, Kevin just did not have his best day today, Jake is going well too and the teammates also do their job. We just have to raise our level a bit and keep believing.”

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