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The Brit attacks with Van Avermaet at the end of a hard, wet race and the duo stays away to the finish where he narrowly edges out his companion in a close sprint; Boasson Hagen makes it two Sky riders on the podium

Photo: Sirotti










01.03.2014 @ 17:46 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Ian Stannard made sure that Team Sky got the best possible start to their classics season when he took the team's second ever win in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. In a hard, rainy race, the Brit escaped with Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) inside the final 20km, managed to stay away to the finish, and finally beat his companion by doing a long sprint while Edvald Boasson Hagen made it two Sky riders on the podium by winning the sprint for third.


Team Sky have been under criticism for their lack of ability to shine in the classics but today they proved that things may improve in 2014 when Ian Stannard took an impressive win in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. With Edvald Boasson Hagen also finishing on the podium, it was a dominant display from the British team in the race that was also the scene of their first big one-day win for Juan-Antonio Flecha in 2010.


Stannard made the decisive attack when a dangerous duo of Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Boasson Hagen had been caught inside the final 20km. Only Greg Van Avermaet could respond to his fierce acceleration that came at the end of a cold and rainy race that had evolved into a hard man's battle.


The duo worked well together to build up a 20-second gap over the small group of favourites where everyone seemed to have burnt their matches earlier in the race. Despite a hard chase effort from Johan Le Bon (FDJ) who tried to set up his teammate Arnaud Demare for a sprint win, the group kept losing time.


Instead, an ever-aggressive Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) launched one of his countless attacks and he got company from Terpstra and Boasson Hagen. The trio got to within 10 seconds of the front duo but failed to get any closer.


Boasson Hagen was content with following wheels as he had his teammate Stannard in the front duo that continued to work well together. Inside the final 3km, the chasing trio started to lose ground and it was now apparent that the winner would be one of the two leaders.


Van Avermaet was clearly confident in his sprint and kept the pace up when the game of cat and mouse started after the passage of the flamme rouge. However, he made a big mistake when he looked back at the crucial moment 300m from the line.


Stannard was quickly to exploit the opportunity, launching a long sprint on the uphill finishing straight. He quickly got a gap of a few bike lengths and even though Van Avermaet came fast at the end, he just had enough of an advantage to take the win.


A few seconds later Boasson Hagen had no trouble beating his fatigued rivals to make it two Sky riders on the podium while Jempy Drucker (Wanty) led the group of favourites home a little later. For big favourite   Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), it was a bad day as the Belgian finished in a group even further back.


Most of the riders will be back in action tomorrow when the Belgian opening weekend ends with the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Most team are bringing in their sprinters for the race that typically ends in a bunch kick.


A true classic

As usual the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad kicked off the Belgian classics season with a race on a slightly modified 198km route that started and finished in Ghent. The riders had to tackle 10 of the famous hellingen, with the Molenberg being the final one 37km from the line. The pave sectors of the Paddestraat, Lippenhovestraat, and Lange Munte offered the final launch pads for attacks on the flat run-in to the finish in Ghent.


The race was off to a very fast start as several riders were keen to be part of the early breakaway. Many attacks were launched but for some time no one had any success in getting clear.


The break is formed

The race travelled more than 12km at a rapid speed before a group was finally allowed to take off. Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis), Ramon Sinkeldam (Giant-Shimano), Christophe Laborie (Bretagne), Stijn Steels (Topsport), Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty), Aliaksandr Kuschynski (Katusha), Andreas Schillinger (NetApp), and Maciej Paterski (CCC) started to build up a gap but Omega Pharma-Quick Step were not intent on letting this big, strong group get too much of an advantage. The gap reached four minutes as Iljo Keisse set a steady pace on the front of the main group to control things.


As the riders neared the first couple of climbs, the peloton accelerated furiously as the battle for position heated up. As a consequence, the gap cam down to 2.20 by the time, the riders finished the second climb, the Hostellerie. However, the peloton slowed down afterwards and not even the fact that they climbed the Muur forced the pace to go up significantly.


Keisse leads the peloton

The gap reached 4.20 before Omega Pharma-Quick Step again started to bring it down. Keisse was still doing all the work as the gap gradually dropped to 2.45 with 92km to go.


At this point, Thor Hushovd (BMC) had a solo crash that took him out of the race. While the Norwegian was sitting at the side of the road, assessing his injuries, the peloton hit the Haaghoek cobbled sector where Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Keisse set a fast pace for Omega Pharma-Quick Step.


Punctures for Keisse and Demare

After the cobbled section, the pace again slowed down and the gap was allowed to go back up to more than 3 minutes. Keisse had bad luck when he suffered a puncture, leaving it to Van Keirsbulck to set the pace.


Arnaud Demare (FDJ) had a disastrous puncture, just as the pace was ramping up during the run-in to the Kruisberg which signalled the start of the finale. The Frenchman spent the next many kilometres in chase mode but would later play a prominent role in the race.


Several crashes

The break started the climb with a 3-minute gap, with Steels setting a hard pace all the way up. Meanwhile, it has started to rain and as the peloton was now battling hard for position, several crashes happened on the slick roads, with Chris Sutton, Adrien Petit, Viacheslav Kuznetsov some of the riders to come down.


Garmin's Jack Bauer hit the front as they approached the Kruisberg but on the climb it was Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol) who attacked. At the top, he had created a small front group that also included Bauer and Taylor Phinney (BMC) but it was quickly neutralized.


Bak attacks again

Bak made another unsuccessful attack but as Phinney responded, he got nowhere. His teammate Jens Debusschere was the next to try but he got nowhere either.


As the riders approached the first key climb, the Taaienberg, Belkin hit the front with four riders as Jos Van Emden set a fierce pace. With teammates Robert Wagner and Tom Leezer also making a contribution, they made sure that Sep Vanmarcke entered the climb in a perfect position as the team battled with Garmin-Sharp for control.


Vanmarcke accelerates hard

Johan Le Bon (FDJ) had a short-lived attack but when they hit the climb, it was Vanmarcke who accelerated hard. The Belgian opened a big gap to all his rivals while his teammate Maarten Wynants and Stannard chased behind.


The trio joined forces but Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra brought a 10-rider group of favourites back up to them. A big peloton gathered behind but had a big gap to close to get back in contention.


Le Bon tries again

Wynants was the only rider eager to work in the Boonen group and this allowed Le Bon to make another attack. He was joined by Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) on the Eikenberg while Schillinger fell off the pace in the front group.


Stannard, Vanmarcke, Boonen, Van Avermaet, and Drucker clsoed the gap but it soon came back together. Terpstra was the next to attack and he was joined Le Bon just as they passed Schillinger.


Devenyns takes off

Dries Devenyns (Giant-Shimano) set off in pursuit and on the Wolvenberg he made the junction. However, Terpstra was now riding full gas and he quickly left both of his companions behind.


The front group split up as Veuchelen, Sinkeldam, and Steels fell of the pace and they were quickly passed by Terpstra. At the top of the climb, they latched onto the wheel of Devenyns who managed to rejoin the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider and a little later Le Bon also made the junction.


Vanmarcke with another attack

Sinkeldam fell off the pace while behind Vanmarcke accelerated hard on a pave sector. Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) responded and the duo managed to join the Terpstra group.


The Terpstra group caught the front quartet with 48km to go but behind a big peloton had now gathered. Sky set a hard pace and with 47km to go, it was back together.


Chavanel tries his hand

Terpstra made an immediate counterattack but had little success. Instead Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) gave it a go on the Haaghoek cobbles but as he was also caught, it was again Vandenbergh and Vanmarcke who attacked. Van Avermaet and Boasson Hagen joined them but the move was quickly neutralized.


On the Leberg, Van Avermaet tried to attack but as he was joined by Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar who were unwilling to do any work, that move didn't get anywhere either. Instead, it was Kenneth Vanbilsen (Topsport) who attacked and he was joined by Terpstra, Boasson Hagen, and Demare.


Offredo works hard

Lars Boom (Belkin) and Egoitz Garcia (Cofidis) also made the junction and a little later Yoann Offredo (FDJ) also made it across. The latter quickly hit the front to work for his teammate Demare while Garmin had started to chase behind with Johan Vansummeren doing the work.


Just as the riders hit the Molenberg, Offredo crashed. At the same time, Terpstra accelerated hard and he crested the summit as the lone leader.


A front duo is formed

Boom managed to get across and the duo started to work together while behind Demare, Boasson Hagen, and Vanbilsen formed a chase trio. An embattled Offredo was caught by the peloton that had quickly neutralized an attack from Phinney and Van Avermaet.


The peloton had now been reduced to a select group of favourites and it was left to BMC and Garmin to do the work, with Phinney, Van Avermaet, and Sebastian Langeveld all taking turns on the front. The gap to the front group was now 48 seconds as Boasson Hagen attacked on his own to bridge across.


More riders join the front

Just as the riders hit the Paddestraat with 30km to go, Vanbilsen and Demare also made it across. Boom rode hard on the cobbles while his teammate Vanmarcke attacked in the peloton.


The peloton splintered on the pave and surprisingly Boonen was one of the riders to get dropped. Meanwhile, Terpstra launched and attack and only Boom and Boasson Hagen could respond.


The break splits up

Vanbilsen gave up and was quickly swallowed up by the peloton that had again caught Vanmarcke. The main group was again gaining ground on the front trio as the gap had now come down to 35 seconds.


Disaster struck for Boom who punctured out of the lead group and he was suddenly back in the peloton. Meanwhile, Terpstra and Boasson Hagen stopped cooperating and certainly disagreed about who had to do the work.


No cooperation

Boasson Hagen attacked when they hit the Lange Munte pave while Vanmarcke led the peloton back up to Demare. Phinney tried to attack but got nowhere.


Boasson Hagen made another attack and this time Terpstra had to dig really deep to close it down. As they exited the cobbles, it was the Dutchman who tried his hand but he got nowhere either.


The decisive attack

With no cooperation in the front duo, it came as little surprise that they were caught with 16km to go. Stannard and Van Avermaet made an immediate counterattack and that proved to be the right one as they quickly opened up a 10-second gap.


With 13km to go, Vanmarcke made another attack and there was an immediate response from Terpstra and Boasson Hagen. The trio started to build a gap, with Vanmarcke and Terpstra doing all the work.


An exciting pursuit

From there it was a pursuit all the way to the finish in Ghent and the chase trio managed to close the gap down to 10 seconds. However, they never got any close while it was soon apparent that the peloton would get nowhere.


In the end, the race had to be decided in a two-rider sprint and Van Avermaet made sure to keep the pace fast enough to not allow the chasers to get back inside the final kilometre. However, he made a big mistake by looking the wrong way in the finale, allowing Stannard to open his sprint and take an impressive win.



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