Jonas Rutsch beats Andreas Leknessund after tough Ghent-Wevelgem U23
Updated: Apr 6
On Sunday, a remarkable rider won Ghent-Wevelgem U23. Jonas Rutsch is his name. Rutsch (Team Lotto - Kern Haus) was incredibly strong and is a well-deserved winner, which is surprising as not even one journalist had seen him as more than an outsider. Also the number two was quite unexpected, as Norwegian youngster Andreas Leknessund (Team Uno-X) is known more for climbing and time trialling skills than for riding cobbled classics: it was his first classic as an U23.
That being said, a lot of riders were involved in a big crash and abandoned the race early. [among others ex-world champion U19 Jakob Egholm - Ed.] Only 37 riders finished, so it's no surprise that the top ten only consists of strong riders. The Young Peloton was at the finish line and had a chat with the two guys of the decisive break. Jonas Rutsch, the proud and unknown winner, and Andrean Leknessund, the Norwegian with mixed feelings about his race.
Jonas Rutsch (winner – Germany)
I just heard from Andreas Leknessund that you were attacking a lot and that you were really strong. Is that true?
Jonas: “Yes.” (visibly proud of his race)
Was that a surprise for you? You weren't one of the big favourites, so maybe you've grown stronger this year?
Jonas: “I think I’m better this year, because my winter preparation was very good. After the winter, I did a stage race where I had good legs, Tour of Rhodes. [Greek stage race where Rutsch won the young rider classification – Ed.] That’s a hilly race where I managed to get some good results."
How did you manage to win today?
Jonas: “I knew I had very good legs. I tested them a few times on the Kemmelberg, but of course it was still a surprise to be able to win.”
So on the Kemmelberg, it was you who rode on the front of the group and dropped other riders?
That must have given you an amazing feeling.
Jonas: “Yes, the feeling was great.”
You have also tried to go solo in the race, how did that happen?
Jonas: “After the first time we did the Kemmelberg, I managed to go solo for five kilometres. In the second lap, I stayed away for seven kilometres.”
So if I’m correct, on both times nobody could follow you on the Kemmelberg?
Jonas: “That’s true.” (laughs) “And at the end of the race, near the finish, also no-one could follow me. I went alone and then Andreas Leknessund joined me. That he came back was tricky, because in the sprint, my chain didn’t do what I wanted. But I started my sprint first and could hold him off.”
I actually thought Germany was going to ride for Niklas Märkl, the strong sprinter.
Jonas: “Niklas crashed last week, so he was a bit tired today and he wasn't in his optimal form. Luckily for the team, I had the legs to win at the end.”
Jonas, you’re already 21 and you’re not riding for one of the biggest U23 teams [he rides for Team Lotto – Kern Haus – Ed.] Probably you want to show yourself more this season and then take a step up?
Jonas: “That’s my goal.”
What are your other objectives for this season? The classics?
Jonas: “The classics are definitely my main goal. So the Tour of Flanders and then Eschborn-Frankfurt [where he finished second in 2018, the year Rutsch also finished second at the German Championships U23 - Ed.]
Andreas Leknessund (second – Norway)
You’re still only 19 years old, but you took the second place today. Are you happy with your result?
Andreas: “We had two guys in the group that was fighting for victory until two kilometres to go. [Tobias Foss and himself - Ed.] So I really hoped to win, but the German guy was too strong.”
He escaped a few times, I heard.
Andreas: “Yeah, he attacked a lot and also did a good sprint. I don’t know what I could have done different. Right now, I’m feeling a bit in between disappointed and happy. For sure, the second place is a good way to start the season, but you always hope to win, especially because there were two of us in the group.
Yes, Tobias Foss was there with you in the group.
Andreas: “Yeah, Tobias was really strong. On the Kemmelberg, the two of us were among the strongest riders, but...”
Can you tell us your race story from the beginning?
Andreas: “In the beginning, I felt really good. I was in the front, but then I fell a behind and there was a big crash. So I ended up in the third group. I tried to stay calm and not to rush anything. When our group joined the first group, we were on the attack and tried to stay in the front. Then people had to let go of our group, so the race was quite tough. With 3K to go, I went after the German who attacked and finished second.”
Second is a great result, do you feel like you made a step this winter and became stronger?
Andreas: “Yes, I’m feeling stronger, especially because this is only my second race of the year. Normally I’m not in my best shape this early. It feels good, and this is my best result in an U23 Nations Cup so far, so my winter has been good.”
Your good result is quite surprising, as you’re not known as a classics rider. You have been European Champion TT U19 and last year you were only seven seconds slower than Boasson Hagen in the Norwegian Championships TT. What kind of rider would you say you are?
Andreas: “I would say I’m a climber and a time triallist. But when races as Ghent-Wevelgem get this tough, you need to have power and that also suits me. It was only my first classic in the U23 category though, so I was a bit nervous, but the result is good.”
How was it to ride the Kemmelberg?
Andreas: “It was tough, I did it twice as a junior, but by the time we got there, I wasn't even in the peloton anymore, I was far behind.” (laughs) “Now I did it in the front of the race, so that was fun.”
Was it decided before the race who was going to be the leader of the team? Your teammate Søren Wærenskjold finished second in last year's junior edition.
Andreas: “Søren was our sprinter for today. Because it was my first classic, I was one of the two guys who would go in the early attack. But being in the early breakaway is also a way to stay at the front.”
Are you starting in the Tour of Flanders U23?
Andreas: “I’m not sure actually, the national team has to select me first, but I hope so.” (laughs)