Heading into the last week of the race – which kicks off with a 32km-long ITT – we talked with our 23-year-old neo-pro and Grand Tour debutant during Monday's rest day to hear how he has experienced racing his first ever major stage race.
Two weeks into your first ever Grand Tour, how has the ride been?
It has been a really good experience so far. On a personal note, I am extremely pleased with how I have performed until now and of course happy to be part of such a strong team, which has already enjoyed quite the success during the first two weeks. Summing up and keeping it short, it's been a big pleasure to be part of the Wolfpack squad here at La Vuelta.
What were your expectations coming into La Vuelta, both for you personally and for the team?
I don't know if I had any expectations. Instead, I would rather say I was hoping that I could add value to the team and make a difference for my teammates, like Viviani. Of course, I had heard from the other guys that the level in the Grand Tours – or even in races like Paris-Nice, Dauphiné and Tirreno – is higher than other races, so I was curious to see it for myself and learn if I have what it takes.
I hoped – and still hope – that I can do the work that is expected of me and prove why I was selected. Until now, I feel that I have fulfilled my role, and from the feedback I get from the sports directors and my teammates, it seems they are happy with my work as well, which is very important.
You have rode stage races before but never longer than nine days (2017 Tour de l'Avenir). What is the biggest difference racing for so many stages?
The biggest difference is probably the way to calculate your efforts. You need to have a long-term strategy to make sure you have power every day, otherwise you will burn out. That is quite different from one-week races. If it is the first or fifth stage doesn't really matter, you know when you can go full gas. You know precisely where your limits are, after all, you have done it so many times before.
It is very much in contrast to riding a Grand Tour, at least for me. I am actually quite surprised to learn how important it is to not empty yourself every day. On the climbs you can think "I can stay with this group" or "I can hold on for a bit more before dropping", but then you have to ask yourself "what is the point in hanging in?" It is much more important to make sure that you save as much energy as possible when your job is done for the day. It really makes the difference on such a long period of racing – that is definitely something I have learned.
How are the body and mind coping with two weeks of racing then?
I am feeling good, still got some energy left in the tank, which I think is thanks to how I have tried to race it smart. Of course, I am tired and Sunday's stage to Lagos de Covadonga was a mean one. I think I had sort of a half off-day, which of course goes without saying that Sunday's stage was the third hard mountain stage in a row and at the end of week two. I already felt it on the first time ascending the category 1 climb Mirador del Fito. I struggled and as we were dropped quite early I started to worry about the time cut, but fortunately when we arrived at the bottom of Covadonga, we had time to climb it in a steady pace.
Your mother and three brothers have paid you a visit here at the Vuelta and doing so, they told us that you are stubborn as a mule. What do you say about that? Is it something you use as a force?
(Laughing) There might be some truth in that, yes. On a day like last Sunday, where we got dropped with 70 kilometers to go and still facing three climbs, I just try to keep pedaling without thinking too much. If you just keep pedaling, then time and kilometers will pass by and suddenly you have finished the stage. It is easier to say it than do it, but that is how I usually work mentally on the bike, like at the European Championships where more than half of the bunch didn't finish, I think I get a bit stubborn like "it is really silly if I can't finish this race. Just keep pedaling and put those kilometers behind you, Kasper. Nice and steady."
You have already won two stages in the past two weeks with the team. Can you describe that feeling?
It has really been amazing! The bunch sprints are something that is growing on me, as it is probably the closest you get to a team victory, apart from team time trials
In bunch sprints, the success of the sprinter very often depends on the team's performance, on such a day you can make a difference, even though the sprint is not your cup of tea as a rider. Of course, Elia – in our case – needs to have the legs and do the sprint, but the team is also very important as the guys like me, Dries, Pieter or even Enric, who are not the fastest men in the bunch, can still help until the very end. In my case, it has been awesome to be part of these two victories either by reeling in the breakaway or keeping the pace high in the final, before a specialist like Michael Mørkøv took over.
Looking at the last week of La Vuelta, what are your expectations?
On paper, we should have another good chance with Elia on stage 18, which will probably come down to a bunch sprint, and, of course, in Madrid. Enric is also going very strong, so it will be very much about supporting him as much as possible. He really impressed everyone with his ride to the top of Covadonga, finishing sixth among the best GC riders in the bunch and moving up several places in the overall standings.
Do you have any personal ambitions in the final week, like on today's time trial?
I give my best in the time trial but after seeing the route yesterday while doing a recon it is quite clear that it doesn't suit me particularly well. I really like time trials, a discipline where I have scored my best results in the past, and would like to do well in Torrelavega so I will give my best and see where it will bring me but I will race without too many expectations. For the rest, I will try to enjoy the race all the way until Madrid and do my best in every situation I find myself in.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images