Tour of Flanders U23 - Sprint victory Andreas Stokbro
Updated: May 1
Tour of Flanders U23, Oudenaarde. On the climbs, Tom Pidcock and Mathieu Burgaudeau had been impressive. In the last two kilometres, Mikkel Bjerg lead the peloton and finally closed the gap to Patrick Haller (Germany). Anyway, it all ended in a sprint with a crash that left Pidcock, Kooistra and others eliminated. Interview five riders after a race like this and you get five different stories. That's what we did. We talked to Andreas Stokbro (winner), Jake Stewart (third), Jonas Rutsch (fifth), Tobias Foss (13th) and Niklas Märkl (early breakaway)
Andreas Stokbro – 1st (Denmark)
Andreas, you just won the Tour of Flanders U23. You won the group sprint. Did you decide to wait for the sprint?
“I know I’m a fast guy, but actually I wasn’t waiting for the sprint. I like races that are as hard as possible, so I tried to go in some moves after the Oude Kwaremont. To make the race hard, I was also in a six-man-group in the last lap. Everything came back together on the climbs. We knew I was one of the fastest guys in the group, so Mikkel Bjerg set me up for the sprint.”
Winning this Tour of Flanders is actually your first top ten result of the year. Was it a big goal for you?
“I was focusing a lot on this race. I’ve done a lot of hard races this year with my pro continental team Riwal Readynez Cycling Team. Pro continental is a higher level than what I did last year. I’m really glad to get my first win this season.”
What is the story of your sprint? You were in the wheel of Bjerg and then...
“... Great Britain brought their sprinter Jake Stewart with 400 metres to go and took over, because Mikkel had done a lead out of 2.5 kilometres.” (laughs) “Then I got in the wheel of Jake who opened the sprint. I just went full gas to the line.”
Did Jake go too early?
“I don’t think so. He actually went with 200 metres to go, so it was quite a short sprint.”
Cédric Beullens was also there and finished second.
“I only saw him after the finish line to be honest.”
Denmark came here with a really strong team: you, Mikkel Bjerg, Julius Johansen, Andreas Kron, ... How did you decide on the strategy? Did you ride on intuition or did you plan the attacks?
“We planned to go after the Oude Kwaremont.”
Not on the Oude Kwaremont?
“No, we wanted to let the others play out there. Afterwards we would follow our intuition. We knew I was the fastest guy of the team when it came down to a sprint.”
Was it only you and Mikkel Bjerg who were left in the peloton at the end?
“Yeah, I don’t know when the others got dropped. We also lost Andreas Kron quite early due to a crash."
Now you’ve reached your first goal of the season, what other races are you looking forward to?
“The World Championships in Yorkshire. I think it’s a really good route for me. With the Riwal team, I have a lot of races to look forward to. I’m doing the Brabantse Pijl next Wednesday, that’s the priority right now.”
It’s your fourth year as an U23 rider, probably you want to turn pro next year?
“Yeah, for sure. This year I am already doing a lot of races on professional level.”
What is the difference you experience with races on continental level?
“The finales are a bit faster.” (laughs and corrects himself) “A lot faster than the races I did last year, so it’s harder to get a result.”
Who did you look up to as a 14-year-old?
“Actually I looked up to the climbers, like Alberto Contador.
You still believed you were a climber then?
“I didn’t believe I was a climber, but I thought it must have been pretty cool to be one.” (laughs)
Jake Stewart – 3rd (Great Britain)
You came third again today. Are you happy with that new top result, after three podium finishes in Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux?
“I’m happy with it, it’s bittersweet again. I was a bit unlucky. I had a problem and it took me a while to get back in the bunch after that. Then I did a bike change. And as if that wasn't enough, I punctured.”
You must have had good legs to still get away with podium?
“Yeah. In the sprint as well, I was feeling good in the wheels. Then I kicked and just cramped up so I had to sit down. I had really good legs, maybe I just did one effort too much.”
Do you know the winner well? Andreas Stokbro.
“No, no, I don’t. I think it’s the first time I’ve sprinted against him. But he came around me fast today in the sprint.”
I heard that Stokbro was in a breakaway in the last part of the race.
“The race was moving quicker in the last two laps. There was a coming and going of attacks, it was looking close if we were going to catch the German or not.” [the German Patrick Haller was caught in the final kilometre - Ed.]
Tom Pidcock did a really good race and regularly appeared in the front. But he crashed?
“He crashed at the finish. He was there in the last kilometre and we had a discussion about who was going to sprint.”
So you pushed him? (laughs)
“Nooo, we had a conversation and we said we’d go for me in the sprint. So Fred Wright lead me out and Tom was doing his own kinda thing.
You both did your own sprint?
“Well, I think it was a bit of miscommunication, really. When it’s the last two kilometres and you’re having a conversation like that, it’s always difficult. I think that if he would have been in the lead out for me, he probably wouldn’t have crashed.” (smiles) “But he clearly had good legs today.”
Was he in some attacks?
“Yeah, he was riding hard on the last two laps and joined in some moves. They kept being brought back. I was just following the wheels. I wasn’t strong enough to put in attacks. But I tried ao follow a couple of moves to back up Tom and give him a rest. People weren’t going to let Tom go solo, so he couldn't get away.”
Who were the strongest guys in the peloton today, on the hills (bergen) for example?
“For sure Tom was the strongest on the bergs today. The way he rode them bergs looked easy. There was a French rider as well, from Direct Energie. [Mathieu Burgaudeau – Ed.] Mikkel Bjerg too, which is quite funny, because in Triptyque he didn’t seem to climb too well, but today he was flying. He accelerated on the Ladeuze climb and then attacked on the cobbles at the end of that hill. I went after him because Tom had been on the road just before and I couldn’t get him. Jarno Mobach was strong as well, he was riding like ten men.”
Why didn’t those guys stay away till the end?
“The parcours was hard enough, but there were always too many nations that had missed the moves."
Not many of the journalists on Twitter believed you would get a crack at the win, but you were there in the front group.
“I’ve kinda flown under the radar a bit. Last year I was second in Ghent-Wevelgem and third in Trofeo Piva, but those were my only big results. I proved in Triptyque that I have good legs and I’ve definitely proven that here.”
You didn’t finish in Ghent-Wevelgem this year. What happened?
“I found myself too far back from the start. Then I got behind the big crash and chased for 40K. Then a group of 16 guys went off and me and Tom Pidcock bridged across to that group. So I burned up my matches too early, my legs just blew up in the end.”
Jonas Rutsch – 5th (Germany)
After your victory in Ghent – Wevelgem, you came fifth today. How did you feel?
“I'm a little bit ill, I have a cold. I didn’t feel good, but the team did an amazing job. My teammate who went solo, Patrick Haller was caught only 500 metres from the finish line. I think I can be happy with my result in the classics: finishing first and fifth.”
In Ghent – Wevelgem, you were the strongest guy in the front group on the Kemmelberg. Today it finished in a sprint, was the course too easy for you? Or was that good, since you felt sick?
“That was good, today there wasn’t enough energy in the tank. Normally I’m a bit better in the sprint as well.”
Did you also go into a breakaway?
“Yes, two times. One time I had to catch the front group because the German team had missed out on the attack. Then I tried with a solo, but...” (laughs) “... they know me since Ghent-Wevelgem.”
What were your fans’ reactions on winning Ghent – Wevelgem? Your parents, for example?
“They were very happy because I worked very hard in winter. Now the work pays off.”
Apart from the U23 races, will you also do a lot of pro races this year?
“Last week I did the Route Adélie Vitré. But it wasn’t my day, I tried one attack, but in a pro race you only have one shot. After that shot, I was finished. I still arrived in the front group, but I didn’t have a good sprint anymore.”
Niklas Märkl – Early breakaway (Germany)
What is your story of the day, Niklas?
“I did not feel very well due to my crash last week. So I tried with an early attack on the Kanarieberg, we made it until one lap to go. Then it was just going too fast for me. The bunch came from the back and the real race started.”
You’re known as a sprinter, but today you wanted to try something?
“I thought it was good to try an early break that comes quite far. In the end it didn’t work out. You need to be in a really good shape to win, because the climbs are demanding.”
What were the tactics of the German team? You came here with a lot of quality riders.
“We were motivated and strong, I think we had already shown our strength in Ghent-Wevelgem. Today Rutsch was a bit sick and I wasn’t feeling too well, so our main leader was Georg Zimmerman. Me and Rutsch were shadow leaders. Jonas (Rutsch) was fifth, so we can be happy with our performances.”
It must feel good to know you’re making progress after that crash.
“Today was the first race after the crash that I felt okay again. Now I’m taking a week off and at the end of April, I’m riding the Tour de Bretagne. So now I’ll take a week off to make sure I perform well there.”
You ride for the Sunweb Development team. How is that?
“It’s really nice. The team has faith in me. This year I also get my freedom, I think it’s the best environment for me to develop as a rider and as a person.”
Will you be the leader for the sprints in the Tour de Bretagne?
“Me and Nils Eekhoff share that role this year.”
Your brother Lukas Märkl is also a talented rider, he rides for the same team as Jonas Rutsch.
“Yeah, for Lotto – Kernhaus. He’s a puncher, we will see how he performs this year.”
Tobias Foss – 14th (Norway)
Tobias, how was your race?
“I was actually pretty empty in the end and suffered with cramps. I just tried my best, but short climbs are not my strongest point. In the end I felt better than in the beginning, so I tried a little attack on the Wolvenberg.”
Even though you had cramps?
“Yeah.” (laughs) “All the other guys were also exhausted, so why not?”
You had good results in Triptyque (fourth overall), Volta ao Alentejo (fourth overall) and Ghent-Wevelgem (seventh), so you probably came to the Tour of Flanders with high ambitions.
“We were aiming for the victory, but I didn’t have the legs today. We did an okay race.”
I see your name everywhere in the results. Time trial, classics, climbing races like Tour de l’Avenir,...
“My favorite races are in the mountains, but I’m pretty heavy so I also have the power. My body is made for the climbs more, but I think these cobbled classics are the most fun races of the year.”
How old were you when you started cycling?
“I was 14 years when I borrowed a road bike and started to compete. Before doing competition, I rode my mountain bike in the summer and did biathlon and cross-country skiing in the summer. A typical Norwegian story.”