Kasper Asgreen had something of a breakout year in 2019.
Second at the Tour of Flanders, winning a stage of the Tour of California and placing 3rd on General Classification, second on Stage 17 of his first Tour de France, and winning the Danish national Time Trial Championships were just some of the highlights in what was his first full season at the highest level of the professional sport.
At the World Championships in Yorkshire earlier this year he was part of the Danish team that helped Mads Pedersen to an unlikely victory in the men’s Elite Road Race, battling brutal wet conditions and forcing an early selection on the finishing circuit around Harrogate.
A strong time trialist, one day specialist and super-domestique on the mighty Belgian team Deceuninck-Quick-Step, the laid back young Danish rider’s impressive results this season have certainly caught people’s attention.
With World Tour riders assembling for their first pre-season training camps this month ahead of the 2020 season, it seemed like a good moment to talk to Kasper about his 2019 season, find out more about him as a rider and what makes him tick, as well as look ahead to 2020 – and what promises to be another exciting year for the supremely talented young Danish rider.
How did you get into cycling, and then into bike racing?
I had lost interest in my previous sport and was looking for something new to do. I was 14 years old, and then in the summer I was watching the Tour de France and decided to give cycling a try. It stuck…
From what age did you decide that you wanted to be a professional cyclist?
I think the dream came pretty quickly after starting cycling. I have always been quite ambitious with things I set out to do. But actually believing it was possible didn’t come until 2016 when I started to get some results in international UCI races, and especially my 5th place at the World Championships U23 time trial in Doha. That result really made me believe.
Aside from racing on the road, do you ride any other bikes / disciplines?
I got a mountain bike and a cross bike this year. The cross bike especially has been alot of fun in the off-season. I like that it’s a bit more challenging technically, but mostly I think I just enjoy doing something else. With the amount of hours I spend on the road it’s just nice to mix it up sometimes.
What’s the longest single ride you’ve done?
The Tour of Flanders this year, which was a 267km race. It was quite a fun day on the bike actually (Kasper finished 2nd behind Alberto Betiol of EF Education First), full gas racing around the concrete roads and cobbled climbs of cycling’s capital.
This year was a bit of a breakout year for you in terms of results, with wins in some big races and lots of strong performances for your team. What are your reflections on your season just gone?
It has been an awesome season. One that only dared to dream of. Taking such a leap forward in one year is not really something I expected to do.
“I always prefer to ride outside. Inside it’s too boring. I don’t even own a home trainer that fits my bike now that I’ve switched to disc brakes.”
What are your goals for the 2020 season?
I had so much fun this year that I hope to be able to more or less copy my race calendar for next year, with the main goals being similar – the Classics, the Tour de France and the World Championships. There’s a lot of really good riders in the team, so I’ll have to see what is possible once I receive my calendar for the 2020 season at the training camp in December.
You were part of the Danish team who helped Mads Pedersen to victory in a very wet, difficult World Road Race in Yorkshire a few weeks ago. What was it like to play a part in that victory?
It turned out to be an awesome day! But honestly, it started really rough. I had a very disappointing performance in the time trial three days before, which was very hard on me mentally. I tried to pick myself up the best I could, but I just wasn’t at the physical level that I wanted to be, so I did my best to help my teammates. When we reached the first few laps of the local circuit I forced an early selection, and then unfortunately a few laps later my race was over. I completely blew up on one of the small climbs and just rolled to the finish and took a hot shower.
Other than Yorkshire, have you ridden much in the UK?
I did the European Championships in Glasgow last year. The conditions were very similar conditions to Yorkshire – rough weather and a really hard city circuit.
Tell us about the hardest day you’ve had on the bike.
Paris-Roubaix this year. I think that after everything that happened a week earlier at Tour of Flanders I was tired and the legs were just not there. Paris-Roubaix with bad legs is just a very hard experience! I was so dead and disappointed once I reached the velodrome. Gilbert having won the race did cheer me up quite fast though…
“People always say that being a professional cyclist is so hard and you have to sacrifice so much, but I don’t agree. I love what I do and a lot of people have it way worse than me, so I don’t really like to complain.”
What is your favourite race to ride?
The Tour of Flanders.
What race would you most like to win?
The Tour of Flanders or the World Championships.
You rode the Tour de France for the first time this year, with your team leader, a Frenchman, in yellow for 14 days. It must have been some introduction to the Tour! How was the whole experience?
Incredible! Truly the most awesome experience I have had with cycling. The support Julian had from the fans all around France really struck me. A really cool thing I noticed a few times was that even if I hadn’t seen that Julian was sitting in my wheel, I was never in doubt as I could hear the fans at the side of the road screaming the loudest just as I was passing. It wasn’t for me, and sure enough every time I checked he was right there in my wheel.
Do you have any cycling heros or people that you looked up to as a kid? If so who and why?
Growing up I was always really fascinated by Fabian Cancellara. It was always my dream to perform in the same races that he did, the Classics and time trials, and I was always a big fan of his style of racing.
What do you make of the Alternative Calendar that EF Education First and a few others are starting to look at, outside of the World Tour races?
It’s not for me at this time in my career, but if they think it’s fun and the team benefits from it, then I think it’s great.
“Build your base. If the base is there the rest will come easily.”
What’s one thing would you change about the World Tour?
TV rights. The teams should have a cut of them, to make it more sustainable to run a cycling team.
What do you enjoy most about being a professional cyclist, and conversely, what do you find the hardest?
I really enjoy the whole lifestyle as a professional athlete, and I have a lot of fun when I’m racing. People always say that being a professional cyclist is so hard and you have to sacrifice so much, but I don’t agree. I love what I do and a lot of people have it way worse than me, so I don’t really like to complain.
What do you do away from cycling to relax and get away from the intensity of the World Tour?
I try to have as “normal” a life as I can, spending time with my girlfriend, my family and friends and just enjoying not having a tight schedule to follow.
What’s your favourite item of cycling clothing currently?
Well, it’s December and I live in Denmark, so that’ll be my rain jacket…
Do you ever train inside when the weather is bad, or do you always prefer to ride outside?
I always prefer to ride outside. Inside it’s too boring. I don’t even own a home trainer that fits my bike now that I’ve switched to disc brakes.
The weather in Denmark is similar to the UK, with cold winters and not much daylight. How do you stay motivated to keep training in the deep of winter?
I just think about the cobbled Classics in Flanders a few months later and how much fun I’m gonna have if i can just push it a bit harder, and get a bit stronger.
What’s the one bit of advice you would give to an amateur rider about how to improve?
Build your base. If the base is there the rest will come easily.
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?
Cycling has to be fun. It’s just sport, so you should be doing it for the fun and the passion.
Photos copyright of Sigfrid Eggers and Getty Sport.