A few months after his fourteenth place as a rookie on the Tour of Flanders, Valentin Madouas was again able to fight at the front of the race in the Belgian Monument this Sunday, for the 2021 edition. Alongside some of the favourites for a long time, the Frenchman only came short in the last time up the Oude Kwaremont and could not therefore finish off his good day with a nice result. As for Stefan Küng, he could not join in the fight due to a crash with 50 kilometres to go.

“That’s a big disappointment”, Stefan Küng

While the third Monument of the season – Paris-Roubaix – has been postponed until next fall, the second was surely scheduled for this Easter Sunday. The Tour of Flanders, its 255 kilometers and its 17 cobbled hills, was therefore on the riders’ menu today. Unfortunately, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team was down to six riders at the start of Antwerp, as Fabian Lienhard was unable to line up. Shortly after 10:15 a.m., the Flemish Monument kicked off and it took about 30 minutes for a breakaway to really make a gap. It then included Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo), Jelle Wallays (Cofidis), Mathias Norsgaard (Movistar), Mathijs Paaschens (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles), Fabio Van Den Bossche (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), and expanded with Nico Denz (Team DSM) and Hugo Houle (Astana) joining the leading men. For nearly a hundred kilometers, no team actually led the chase and the breakaway’s advantage could thus go up to thirteen minutes. It was still of ten minutes when they went over the Oude Kwaremont for the first time, about 130 kilometers from the finish. The peloton then kept getting closer because of the fight for position but also because of the first attacks. After a good first series of hills, Kevin Geniets actually tried his hand in the Berendries, making a small gap with a dozen riders.

“We told the guys to be very attentive in this part of the race in case there would be some moves,” said Frédéric Guesdon. “In the end, Kevin was the one who attacked and it could have potentially worked”. “I wanted to be a step forward and that’s what I did,” said the Luxembourg champion. “I went out with a nice group but unfortunately the peloton did not let it go. It’s a shame, but at least I tried”. In the end, the attempt only lasted a few minutes before the peloton began a long but nervous transition phase towards the Oude Kwaremont, set to be climbed for the second time with 55 kilometers to go. “We had to be in very good position,” said Frédéric. “It was first very close for Kevin, who suffered a puncture just before. He got back just in time. At the bottom, everything was fine eventually. Unfortunately, on the climb Stefan crashed and started again from too far back. For him, it was over”. “I had a good position in this second time up the Kwaremont but a rider caught my handlebars and I ended up on the ground,” Stefan added. “It was certainly not the moment to crash. In addition, my handlebars were twisted and my cleat was broken. Once you drop back in this race, it is very hard to come back. Even more considering that the race really started at that point. Unfortunately, this incident ruined my hopes of a good result. It’s a big disappointment, especially since I had very good legs today”.

“It’s really a pity”, Valentin Madouas

Without the Swiss champion, Valentin Madouas then proved to be the best card for the Groupama-FDJ cycling team. The Frenchman made a good climb up the Paterberg and then followed some of the favourites in the Koppenberg. After the Kruisberg a little later, three men (Asgreen, Van der Poel and Van Aert) broke away while Valentin Madouas joined the first chasing group, of around fifteen riders. He could then still hope for a good result approaching the last sequence of Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg, with less than twenty kilometers to go. “It was a good day … until the Kwaremont,” said the young man. “I felt good physically, but I did not have the legs in the end anymore. I’m missing a little something. I was dropped 200m from the top. It’s really a pity because I felt good all day long. For some reason, I missed a bit of rhythm in this final. It’s a real shame because there was a nice top 10 to go for in this great Classic”. Dropped from the pursuit group together with the world champion Julian Alaphilippe, Valentin Madouas was later caught by a small peloton.

Two minutes after Kasper Asgreen’s victory against Mathieu van der Poel, he was then unable to score a result to match his performance (39th). “It’s surely not the place I was hoping for, but at least I got some positive signs physically speaking,” he said. “In the short term, I hope to be able to go for top-5 in this race. I think I showed I’m able to do it. Everything has to go well and I still need to improve a little bit”. “Today, we are disappointed”, still said Frédéric. “We hoped for better because we had the riders capable of doing much better. However we know that it’s not just about the legs in the Classics. You also need to be lucky, which we are not really at the moment. Stefan would have been able to be in front but his crash prevented him from doing so. The record of the Classics is therefore mixed. We certainly have a sixth place in Ghent-Wevelgem, but that’s it. That’s not enough for a group like ours, which has high hopes for the Flemish Classics”. This group should anyway meet again at the very end of the season, for an autumnal Paris-Roubaix.

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