The Moment The Race Was Won: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Ian Stannard (Team Sky) launches his sprint with 300 metres to go. It’s a long range effort but just enough to distance Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) by a few metres and take an advantage which he can keep to the line. This was the moment the race was won.

It was a thrilling race that was worth a winter’s hibernation with outcome that wasn’t certain until Stannard’s cheeks puffed in relief as he beat Van Avermaet by a wheel.

The early break went and its riders had extra incentives to get stuck in. First, it was cold and in time it started raining so if they weren’t going to win, the fugitives might as well keep warm. Second, the Muur was back on the course and riding up is always going to be a special moment.

Not everyone got to enjoy the early part of the race, notably Thor Hushovd who crashed out and went to hospital, some tweets said a broken arm but the team says he’s ok. If the breakaway never got much of a lead the bunch took its time to warm up and it was on the Kruisberg that the first moves happened with Lotto-Belisol’s Lars Bak and later FDJ’s Johan Le Bon trying to soften up the race.

Vanmarcke > Boonen
Onto the Taaienberg and normally the scene of Tom Boonen’s trademark attack to gauge his form but instead it was young pretender Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) who took off with Ian Stannard and Belkin accessory Martin Wynants along for the ride. Vanmarcke rode a furious race and if there was a most aggressive rider award he’d be the unanimous pick. But there wasn’t.

De Ravage
New moves from OPQS’s Matteo Trentin and Le Bon again led TV commentator Renaat Schotte, perched pillion on a motorbike, to pronounce “de ravage in het peloton is fenomenaal” which shouldn’t need much translation. More moves were happening and with hindsight we saw the names who’d feature later. Greg Van Avermaet went on the Leberg, marked by Niki Terpstra (OPQS).

With 41km to go a serious move went clear with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Lars Boom (Belkin), Terpstra, Cofidis’s Spanish flahute Egoitz Garcia, Ken Van Bilsen (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and FDJ tandem of Arnaud Démare and Yoann Offredo. The group looked good but it splintered with Offredo crashing at the foot of the Molenberg and over the top Terpstra and Boom went clear. They were chased by Boasson Hagen and joined soon after by Démare and Van Bilsen.

The Lippenhovestraat cobbles were decisive. Terpstra got in his low tuck and Démare and Van Bilsen got stuck to leave a trio of Terpstra, Boom and Boasson Hagen. Tactically it was solid because there was not much of a chase behind. But like a cheap criminal under interrogation the story kept changing every five minutes. The first deviation from the script was a puncture for Boom. This left Terpstra and Boasson Hagen to start arguing and eventually the Norwegian said no way and took off solo. It looked brave at best because EBH would normally smoke Terpstra in the sprint, both are fast but the Sky rider is that bit faster. Going solo meant Boason Hagen would tire and OPQS behind could start chasing. But the solo bid was short lived as Terpstra dragged himself back up so they could resume arguing again. By now the lead two were merely marinating in the rain as the chase group began to bear down on them.

Textbook move
Just as they were caught Stannard counter-attacked. Textbook stuff and Greg Van Avermaet jumped on the Briton’s wheel. Once described as “a docker” by Belgian TV, Stannard’s bulk meant Van Avermaet was being motorpaced to the finish. The two co-operated with the Belgian riding with one hand in a glove and one without. Presumably this was misfortune rather than fashion. Behind Terpstra surged again with Vanmarcke and Boasson Hagen. If Van Avermaet was getting a tow up front, Boasson Hagen was sat in a sedan chair carried by Vanmarcke and Terpstra. But if the lead pair were in sight of the chase, they never got closer than 10 seconds and as the race swept into Gent the lead pair had 20 seconds.

Power vs sprint
Normally Greg Van Avermaet is a fast sprinter. Normally Greg Van Avermaet is a runner-up. Which scenario would run true? Stannard’s is immense but has a weak spot and it’s his sprint. But powerful riders without a jump just have to use their power and that’s exactly what Stannard did. He jumped before the 300m sign and turned on the power. It looked like a slow motion sprint but no, Stannard was just in a huge gear. He got a gap and if “Raymond” Van Avermaet was faster in the final 50 metres it was too late as Stannard crossed the line in relief to win.

Perhaps Van Avermaet with his one glove wardrobe malfunction was frozen to the bone, certainly he was shivering after the race. Riding in wet temperatures like this can render your exposed hand as dexterous as one of those litter-grabbers, you can open and close the fingers but no more. But dealing with the foul weather is half of what racing is about.

The Verdict
Stannard proved the toughest of the lot. He was active in several moves in the last two hours and his late attack saw him give everyone the slip except for Van Avermaet who he duly beat in the sprint. It was also a team victory with Boasson Hagen playing policeman to Terpstra and Vanmarcke and thus increasing the odds for Stannard. Belkin had a good day and the same for BMC although Hushovd’s crash dampened things. But what of OPQS? If Terpstra was very strong, Tom Boonen took it easy and the team was not as visible as predicted.

An entertaining race with surprises throughout the final 90 minutes and a deserving winner in the end this was a great start to the season.

45 thoughts on “The Moment The Race Was Won: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad”

  1. I love the classics season, easily the best part of the cycling calender. I have been secretly reading the cycling news live feed on my phone all day. Bring on San Remo, Flanders and Roubaix!

  2. I would have seriously loved for Greg to win, but for a local who lives a few kilometers away he should know better about having warmer clothing on, while Stannard said in his post-race interview that he knew the right clothing would be critical!
    My first two season races last year were also about clothing choice. Temps were +/-6 degrees with winds at +/- 40km. In the 1st race I dressed too warm and over-heated in the first 15km. In the 2nd race a week later I dressed too light and ended up using too much energy to try to stay warm, leaving me with nothing in the tank at the end. Lesson learnt!

    • Maybe I missed something…but from the photos I’ve seen, if it weren’t for the lost glove, Stannard &Van Avermaet were both dressed nearly identically So your comment is lost on me.

      • Both riders commented on their clothing in the interview while they were changing into fresh clothing for the podium ceremony. Greg was shivering so hard he could hardly talk. If you look better at the photo’s from the last km you will see that the crease lines in Greg’s jersey are thinner than those of Ian’s. Greg had lighter gear on. Full stop.

          • The clothing issue had to do with the weather half way the race.
            Before they hit the hills the weathers was still good and dry, so a lot of riders took off their jackets or they would overheat on the hills. And then it started to rain, and it didn’t stop. So a lot of riders got wet wet wet

  3. Love Stannard, love his aggression throughout, and love the fact he didn’t celebrate ostentatiously (either through exhaustion or cos he isn’t that kind of guy).

    Great result.

  4. vanMarcke’s efforts were a surprise, especially as he was talking down his chances all week, unsure of where he was compared to the rest of the classics favourites. He’ll be marked out of PR and Flanders now….

    • …Would have been anyway…
      I guess he really wasn’t unsure about his racing form comparing with the others who have already won something (or who have raced a bit more, anyway), so maybe he was pushing to test himself, too.

  5. Brilliant write up as normal, great race to watch unfold whilst sat on the turbo! So pleased for Stannard also, deserving after the aggressive rides and top 10’s last year in the classics.

  6. I have a lot of fondness for both of them and the valiant way they ride. Today was a feast. I hope (and think) Greg is going to win bigger this year.

  7. Winners are always right, but I think Sky went near to throw away a race that they got wrapped, assuming a big risk purely out of bad tactics.
    But as inrng pointed out, the fact of being a runner-up many times affects you more than any other factor: thus, despite the races he won, I imagine that B-H could arrive second in a five man sprint with Stannard launching him… just as easily as he won the third spot sprint.
    However, this is just bla bla bla, obviously.
    Happy for Stannard, he deserved it.
    Besides, I must say he used a great *tactic*, at a certain point: V-A was motorpaced by Stannard, but Stannard was being motorpaced by… motos!… having on his back wheel the only Belgian left 😉

      • They were in good eyesight: EBH collaborating, IS giving a look behind and seeing his teammate on the front and holding the pedals back. They went with 15kms to go or something like that, there was plenty of time to do something like that. However, even if I knew there were no radios, I admit I was thinking a little “radiowise”: so, even riders must get used to that. Personal character mattered the most in this situation, I guess.
        Anyway, as I previously said, winners are right, not only since it’s a set phrase, but also because IS could possibly observe how GVA was feeling/freezing, and 1/2 can be better than 2/5 even though you’ve got a good sprinter back there.

  8. This is great news. Gutted I have apparently missed the race, but Stannard has been threatening a win like this for a while now. Has ridden aggressively when he’s allowed, usually only on the off-brand races. He’s one of the few riders who genuinely relishes shit conditions, and he clearly also enjoys putting himself through levels of hell. You’ll rarely see him sitting-in. Him and Chavanel off the front last season was a great sight. Total comittment. Warriors. Delighted he’s finally got a big win (maybe Chav can get one now too).

    Seriously though, was this on Eurosport? If it was I need to up my game, big time.

    • C’mon let’s relish it in full: “like a cheap criminal under interrogation the story kept changing every five minutes”.

  9. Great write up, I didn’t see the race but your write up gives a good idea of the effort and tension of the race. Great to see Stannard win after so many almosts but not quite .

  10. Watched it on Sporza and bang on with your write up. Chuckled with the “Raymond van A” and “2nd/2nd” lines. Love it when the only option you got is go long and try and feck the sprinters advantage toward the line . Hope IS gets another tilt at a win whilst he in this rich vein of form. Honest as the day is long that fella

    • History says winning today means no more wins in the spring classics but that’s a rule to be broken.

      But the long sprint is what made Merckx so successful, he didn’t have the jump so he just turned on the power and kept going. Not to equate Stannard with Merckx, more that it’s what you do if you’re bigger than your rival.

      • That was also how Wiggins won his only sprint a couple of years ago (Romandie?) — started a long way out, and basically TT’d to the line. Nobody was able to come around him at top speed.

      • Uhmmm… okay, but that’s true when you drop your rivals along the way, or they just can’t come out of your draft.

        Here the problem is that GVA misjudged the situation or had some kind of problem (couldn’t shift properly because of icy hand?): if we look at the helicopter camera, we can see that he leaves a significant gap which he has to close, and *then* gets the back wheel of Stannard – and nearly outsprints him.

        Against a more explosive rider it’s simply impossible that a less fast rider, with a big gear, creates such a gap, unless he’s allowed to do so.
        You can TT as powerfully as you want, but the difference granted by drafting at high speeds will permit that someone with less Watts sits more or less comfortably on your wheel.
        After all, on the contrary the likes of Tony Martin and Cancellara would have been able to win many more races, and in particular many races they actually lost.

        Anyway, when I say that GVA may have misjudged the situation, I mean that he could have been afraid to go full throttle 300mts away from the finish line, as it would have been required to follow immediately Stannard, holding is wheel.
        No doubt that it was possible for GVA to do it, both from a theoretical point of view (he has more acceleration) and from an empirical ex post perspective (he closed a significant gap without the considerable advantage of drafting, at least for the first hundred of meters).
        “Fortuna audaces iuvat”… luck helps the brave.
        Bravo for the brave Stannard!

  11. Exceptionally entertaining race today !

    Sepp VM rode to win and just came up short. Loved his performance. Hopefully the K-B-K will be just as entertaining.

  12. “Belkin accessory Martin Wynants”? Either a very witty autocorrect or a very witty pun, considering Belkin’s line of business. Bit harsh on old Wynants though.

    Great coverage – thanks.

  13. Curious what The Inner Ring thought about the OPQS rant about the motorcade getting in the way? Some days there seems to be more motor bikes than riders in the peloton. We know that photographers, videographers, journalists and the guy with the timing splits board need to be in the fray, but why is TV commentator Renaat Schotte in there? I know why he is in there and I understand ratings, viewership and all but… that seems excessive. I’m sure there are lots of examples of excess in the “moto-loton.” Less cars ‘n motos and more racing would be nice, but luckily, the bicycle world isn’t too worried about burning gas and having a small carbon footprint. {insert sarcasm}

    • Well, I think Terpstra had every reason to complain when he had to chase Boasson Hagen. The Norwegian clearly had advantage of the motorcycles there.

    • The TV moto with Renaat (or his equivalent same in Italy, France etc) is almost always behind the riders. This way the commentator can see what is happening ahead.

      What’s needed is good commissaires to ensure nobody interferes with the race.

  14. Maybe something not everybody knows: this was a race without radios and Terpstra admitted in his thick Amsterdam accent that when he was in the lead with Boom and Boasson Hagen he didn’t want to race, because he thought Boonen and Stybar where in the chasing group. When the group got them, he discovered his only team mate was Van den Bergh, his thoughts were: “F*ck, what have I done…”

    If you speak Dutch (or rather Amsterdams), you can see the interview with Terpstra here:

  15. Gva looked like death after the race, so I think the sprint was decided by body fat keeping Standard warm. Reminiscent of that cannondale rider winning the giro stage last year in the cold rain, beating all the stick thin climbers.

  16. Church of Inrng, a wonderful liturgical prelude to the classics season ahead.
    Keep up the wonderful exposes, we cherish more.

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