The Moment The Omloop Was Won

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Michael Valgren has gone solo and Sep Vanmarcke gives chase in the final straight. The strongest rider didn’t win, the strongest team did.

An early break of eight riders went. A forlorn move in terms of race tactics but good for the TV airtime, to satisfy the organiser who gave them a wildcard and for several local riders in the breakaway a moment to enjoy the adulation of the public. Besides it was a way to keep warm too given the arctic conditions; Niki Terpstra told TV he’d smeared his face with Vaseline to help battle the cold.

100km later and the clothing was peeling off and the action started. No this isn’t the start of an erotic diversion, instead riders were rolling off their leg warmers and removing jackets and gilets, a literal sign things were hotting up. With the early breakaway up the road splintering the peloton looked dense, a sign riders were jostling for space on the narrow roads. Philippe Gilbert attacked on the Leberg with 77km to go. He won in 2008 with an attack Eikenberg and staying away solo for the remaining 49km but this time he wasn’t so incisive, a theme for several other moves. Quick Step were trying to control things but looked like a walker with an untrained dog. Several riders kept pulling on the leash, like BMC’s Stefan Küng.

The Molenberg mattered and there was a sprint to the start of the climb. Bryan Coquard surged up as if he was after the Strava segment for quickly as he appeared he’d vanished. Still the acceleration had the effect of forcing a selection as Van Avermaet and Zdeněk Štybar. As they were brought back Silvan Dillier attacked and was joined by a serious looking group with the likes of Michael Matthews, Tim Wellens, Arnaud Démare and Oliver Naesen among others and they took 25 seconds at one point but were hauled back.

With an hour to go Ag2r La Mondiale and Lotto-Soudal were all over the race but there are no prizes for showing early. Alexis Gougeard and Tiesj Benoot took a flyer but this part of the course was open and exposed. On the Berendries Wellens attacked and a serious move of ten riders went clear with Van Avermaet, Štybar, Sep Vanmarcke and a confident Edward Theuns among them. Wellens and Benoot did the old 1-2, a tactic that’s worked well before and Benoot launched into the lead solo and adopted his familiar style with his back arched. He was to stay away for a while but all by himself and duly ran out of energy.

Sep Vanmarcke

The race thundered into Geraardsbergen with Arnaud Démare dropped into place by Ramon Sinkeldam, a useful signing by FDJ. Sep Vanmarcke launched up the climb and quickly got a gap as a serious group of contenders closed in over the top of the climb. This was the move that was going to stick but it wasn’t a happy one as riders took turn to fire themselves clear. The presence of Sonny Colbrelli and Matteo Trentin meant several feared the sprint. Astana took turns to attack and with 2.5km to go Valgren made his move. Trentin gave chase briefly, the others looked at each other and the Dane was away for the win.


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The Verdict
The jury’s out on the new route, previous editions have seen constant action and selection, this time the winning move went very late in the race. Did the new route work? Nostalgia is often taken to mean a fond yearning for the past, the good old days. But once upon a time it was a medical diagnosis, an illness that thwarted marching armies. Yes the old Ronde was great but the route was in danger of delivering a bunch sprint and if they’d persisted with the course it probably would have happened by now. The Muur-Bosberg combo is good but preceded by a lot of flat roads and tarmac climbs and there was a definite lull on the approach to the climb. Still this was a lively race with attacks flying for two hours, compare that to the desert(ed) processions of late.

For Valgren it’s his biggest win. Belgian TV resorted to explaining “he’s not come from nowhere” and “he’s a big talent” and they’re right but having to explain this live on air is evidence it was a surprise triumph. Astana worked well together with Alexey Lutsenko suggesting his stage win in Oman was not the result of weight-loss or a different focus but brute force and Oscar Gatto was in the mix too. Solidarity in the face of their shock financial woes? More likely the result of their form really. Valgren says he’s totally confident in the team’s financial situation but unless he’s an expert in Kazakh politics in his spare time this is probably something he needs to say. More on this subject on Monday.

Quick Step didn’t deliver and already the Belgian media are asking questions of them. Lampaert tried to haul himself across to the lead group but cracked within sight of it. Newspapers need to be sold and pages clicked but there’s worthwhile subject to explore after their relative discretion over the weekend. Štybar was strong but if he makes the kopgroep can he finish the job?

Among the others Wout van Aert had a very good Ronde too and we’ll see more of him in the coming weeks with with Strade Bianche and then more spring classics but can he keep the form up, he’s been on an intense cyclo-cross season for months. Sep Vanmarcke was very strong but didn’t win, the story of his career perhaps but if he can stay lucky then a trophy awaits. Meanwhile Greg Van Avermaet looked strong but not the strongest and he’s a marked man. The same for Oliver Naesen and to a lesser extent Arnaud Démare who are instantly recognisable with their national champions jerseys. Łukasz Wiśniowski has been Team Sky’s cherry on the openingsweekend‘s icing with his podium on Saturday and a top-10 on Sunday.

32 thoughts on “The Moment The Omloop Was Won”

  1. Trentin can’t win the bunch sprint if he doesn’t chase Valgren and he didn’t. I’d be disappointed if I were Michelton. Would have probably been guaranteed a podium if he continues that chase for more than a few pedal strokes.

  2. I felt more than slightly underwhelmed with the race in the end actually.
    I don’t know what it was – the headwind that thwarted ambitions, but also the lack of Sagan.
    The race missed the drama that his presence brings.

    Why did Trentin leave Quick Step, when Lampaert remained (I remember Lampaert failing to go with moves in past seasons too)?
    Which Quick Stepper was on Gaviria watch?

    • Re: Lampaert & Trentin
      Lampaert, whom I consider a notable talent, last year was struggling a bit to find his best form maybe still as a consequence of the accidents which plagued the first part of his 2016. He sure won some relevant races, but a couple of them were to some point “courtesy” of his teammates, and he really looked on the back foot in most races. That won’t help to switch teams.
      And he’s Belgian, which means that he’ll always be valued over his weight in QS.
      Trentin had a blazing 2017 finale, which is even more impressive given that he had announced his future team change in August.
      He sure felt he could deserve a different role than the one QS was ready to offer him.

  3. I have to agree with you Ecky in that it was underwhelming, it just kind of felt stale. But I think that the headwind must’ve played a huge part as many smaller breaks went but just couldn’t stay away even if it had riders of a high calibre. But I have to disagree with you with it being due to the lack of Sagan, I’ll just state I didn’t watch last year’s classics season so I wouldn’t actually know, but I feel that there was a lot of aggression early on especially from Sep and even to the end he continued attacking, and was rewarded slightly.
    I might be wrong in saying this but I think trentin left to get now opportunities as QS have two major sprinters already who’ll take most of the schedule and their classics team is colossal so he might have wanted more opportunities for himself. Gaviria was left, I believe he was left alone, because he crashed on the descent off the geraardsbergen and it hampered him today as he pulled out due to pain and not injury.
    I personally preferred KBK to omloop just due to the aggressive nature of it and the amount of breakaways that occurred and the near success of vermote in the last kilo. However, I’m happy with the result of omloop with it being a Danish winner from a largely Scandinavian team, and Danish DS, and it being a Danish winner from a Danish team led by a Danish DS, bjarne Riis, in the womens.

  4. The finale was interesting, more so on replay because you notice the import of each event.

    Valgren was pretty lively before his winning jump. His opposition clearly underestimated him as he wasn’t being watched by any of them.

    Naesen on the other hand was being watched like a hawk. GVA surprised me because he didn’t seem like he wanted to jump after the group caught him.

    Stybar looked to be a big loser in this because he looked like he had the legs, but knew he too would be followed.

    Valgren won purely because he had the legs, but not the reputation. Felt sorry for Vanmarke who tried repeatedly to make a break. But he too is well marked.

    The race was diminished by Sagan’s absence, and a few other big hitters (e.g. Stannard).

  5. Enjoyed the race. I welcome the new retro take on the Muur/ Bosberg route finale. The run in was a bit scrappy to Ninove this time, but it was often the case on the RVV.

  6. WT or not, it’s a race most high-level riders won’t give their all to win. Generally speaking, they’ll do their *relative* best and they won’t let an occasion slip away if things develop like that *naturally*, but at the same time they won’t engage in desperate fights requiring you to dig deep at your 110% and beyond. It’s also a question of middle-term strategy, making the rest know you won’t be the one doing the chase alone even if you might be deemed a fast man.

    However, Colbrelli and Trentin lost an occasion, IMHO: they were by far the fastest there, neither has won big in the Classics and even a semi-classic like Het Volk should have been good enough for them; moreover, they could have found some sort of agreement to stop one attack each and then play it out among the two of them. Especially as after the Muur the action wasn’t really on until the last 3-4 kms, probably because before everybody was thinking about the main group rushing behind.

    Interesting details: it looks like Colbrelli was marking Van Aert, peculiar as the latter is a newcomer albeit hugely talented. Maybe he expected that CX build-up was going to make WVA the perfect candidate for a full-gas late surge. Anyway, Van Aert’s race was impressive, indeed, especially the ease he apparently showed.
    Trentin stopped when he noticed Lutsenko clearly working as a stopper on his wheel. That was probably a mistake: if he had got to the front, there was a chance that the two Astana would have worked together allowing him to recover while facing a potential win-win situation: if the Astana couple went on pulling, which isn’t unlikely at all, he was going to be by far the fastest man there and in less than 2 km he could probably manage alternate attacks by the two rivals, even more so given that Valgren was going to be tired, too; he could as well risk not to share turns, assuming that he’d get decent chances even if the chasers came back to the front. He’d just need to be careful while closing in towards Valgren, given that Lutsenko was surely going to try the immediate counterattack.
    QS could perhaps sacrifice Stybar for Gilbert, but it’s a hard call and, as I said, they probably felt it wasn’t worth the desperate effort.

    The race was really good from -75km to -40 km, then the Muur became too cumbersome a presence in everybody’s calculations. In itself, it was good enough, and the finale wasn’t bad either, although it was surely more about strategy and tactics than pure action.

      • Yes but Gilbert was behind the crash, which is itself indicative. He wasn’t on the front leading them up like in the Ronde last year.

        re Trentin and Colbrelli. I thinl Trentin already as a pretty decent palmares – stage wins in all 3 grand tours, a couple of Paris-Tours – so I don’t think this race was the be all and end all for him. But Colbrelli’s is much thinner and as he fancies himself as a bit of a classics man this might have been an opportunity for him to lay a marker down, if only for his own confidence. Either way they both have plenty more opportunities left, like everyone else. And that is perhaps why this race doesn’t get the do or die 110% efforts, because everyone knows thet have a few more goes – starting the day after!

    • I agree on the fact that this route is maybe not the optimal one. The Muur/Bosberg combo is fine, but before getting to it you have kilometers of descending tarmac with in between the false flat of Parike. The last climb before getting to that section is the ten Bosse (tarmac too), which in the early 90 was even not considered as a climb officially – it is Museeuw who made it famous by attacking repeatedly in it a bit as Boonen in the taaien.
      In any case, Geraadsbergen is too far from the other climb, and the combo makes everyone waits for it before serious action. It was already the case in the last editions of the Ronde using this route. It is a pity as it was really scenic, but this is how it is…

  7. Vanmarcke was looking like the strongest rider, and if anyone is going to follow Sagan on the Hellingen in the Ronde it looks to be him. But why was he so insistent on the Kapelmuur? It looked like he was testing himself or putting on a show rather than trying to win the race. He must have known that he was going into a freezing headwind on the top? Seriously, with the cold we’re having in Europe these days, when you’re riding into the wind it just feels like sticking your head into a bucket of icewater.
    Anyway, Valgren looked super strong in the final. He attacked so many times compared to the others, so he definately deserves the win. His last move was just superb timing; wait for the move from the biggest threats, then counter with full force. I’m looking forward to following his spring campaign this year. I mean, 11th in his first Ronde last year? That is remarkable. And if you can take 2nd in Amstel that means your anaerobic engine is made for these races. I wonder why he never raced the cobbles before last year.

    OH YES, Finally the real races are on! Rejoice, people!

    • In the post race interview with Sporza Vanmarcke was genuinely surprised he dropped everyone at De Muur. He said something along the lines of “Oh, that is really good, isn’t it” when they showed him the pictures of his attack. He just wanted to shake the tree and get a good group for the finish stretch.

      • Cool. Well, he must have gotten a good boost of confidence from that then. Exciting to follow him again this year, I do hope he gets a good win on his Palmáres.

  8. Again and again I watch these races won not by a very strong rider, but because the chasers would rather come nowhere than risk towing someone else up to the line for the win. In past times I would have said it was because money had changed hands.

    • How many teams were represented in that final group? I can’t see how they managed to agree on anything between so many parties in such little time.
      Watch it again and try to convince yourself that it it doesn’t take a very strong rider to attack multiple times in a final like this, and then deliver the final blow like that afterwards. Yes you can argue that Van Avermaet should have been able to react if he is on form, but seemed to choose not to chase. But the others were on the limit or gambling for someone else to chase. Thus they lost the bike race.
      It seems like Sagan has chosen not to show up to this weekend of racing because of last year, and who can blame him – But I don’t see where the money part enters the equation.

        • Astaba was always in the big chasing peloton begore geraardsbergen, only after the attacks of the 60k attackers stopped and the peloton stopped they went to the front of the reunified peloton with i think 5 guys. They were very well positioned at the muur and comparatively fresh. Managed to get 3 guys into final group. Seems the race was absolutely in line with their plans.

  9. Really enjoyed the race i wonder how many other people were watching and waiting for Astana to pull defeat from the jaws of victory?

    Fair play to them they got it spot on

  10. I thought Trentin and Colbrelli were a bit conservative in the break. I was paying especially close attention to Trentin and he was really soft pedalling when he came through and then he obviously didn’t want to pull in order to chase Valgren. If he had have tried to jump across at that point I think it would have came back together for a group sprint. It’s all so easy watching from the living room, of course, and to be fair to Trentin you have to be willing to lose in order to win. This time the dice didn’t roll for him.

    Overall I felt the race was probably the weakest edition in recent years. Whether that was because of the new course or wind direction is difficult to say, I think it’d take another year or two to know for sure, but it did look like a course that would deliver pretty big bunch sprints which doesn’t really do it for me when it comes to the Classics. That’s why I’m glad they changed Amstel Gold which seemed a big improvement to me last year.

    Speaking of Classics which end in bunch sprints I thought yesterday’s Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne was a significant result. I’ve said before on these pages that Dylan Groenewegen has been overlooked with all the hype surrounding the likes of Caleb Ewan, Arnaud Démare, Nacer Bouhanni, Bryan Coquard and Fernando Gaviria. Obviously Démare is already a MSR winner and I expect Gaviria to do great things but Groenewegen looks the real deal as well.

    • Agree re Groenewegen. It’ll be interesting to see how he goes over the climbs at Sanremo. If he gets to the finish straight in the front group he’ll be hard to stop. I think he’s going to be a strong rider in the coming years in difficult sprint finishes on tough courses and in cold weather, a bit like Kristoff.

      • He looks a very stocky, compact rider to get over Poggio to my eyes, although Kristoff is a big man and he’s managed it before. Hopefully DG can as well. Bouhanni has competed the finale in recent years too and I suppose he’s a similar build. One thing that might not play in his favour is the sheer number of puncheurs around who’ll attack en masse at that point. Kwiat, Sagan, GVA, Gilbert, Alaphillipe, Colbrelli, Trentin, Wellens, Matthews, Moscon etc will all make it so hard that I can foresee another small group win. But if it does come back together I fancy Gaviria…

    • DG benefitted greatly from the Astana-led chase when the GVA lead group had nearly a minute with 40km to go… there was one Lotto-Jumbo domestique and 3 Astana pulling it back. Still, he conserved energy and had a final sprint. Demare, who had made the front groups on each of the echelon splitting moves, came up short looking like he went too early and without his usual zip.

  11. Its early in the season, I would guess you wont be seeing Valgren and Co when we get round to Flanders and Roubaix, which is what a lot of the big men are chasing.

    Also, and I know the races are only as hard as they are raced, 199km for these guys always gives a different selection to the selection you get after 250kms.

    Take nothing away from Valgren or Groenewegen, great wins for them and a nice line in their palmares.

    Into the season we go 🙂

    • Yeah, Roubaix will be too much for Groenewegen but Scheldeprijs must be a target, possibly MSR too. Valgren’s still pretty young so I wouldn’t entirely write him off for bigger wins, although it’d obviously still be a shock if he won Roubaix or Flanders. He was very strong in the last 10km, it wasn’t just a case of hanging at the back of the group and launching a big attack at the right time – he was taking big turns on the front and had already tried to get away before the winning move. I’d not paid that much attention to him beforehand, despite his high placings at in previous years at Amstel and E3, but it was a very impressive win.

    • Valgren is still relatively young but has already come second in Amstel Gold as well as twice winning the U23 Liège–Bastogne–Liège. This result could be a ‘break out’ win and a sign that he will be a player in many of the Classics for years to come.

  12. Because Valgren was taking big turns on the front and had already tried to get away before the winning move is why he got away.
    Everybody thought he would be tired and was working for the other Astanas, so they did nothing.

  13. Astana where looking like Quickstep and where able to use their numbers,Daniel Oss looked really good which is positive for Sagan, he finally as a strong captain by his side. Wout looked SUPER STRONG! Calm and relaxed.They showed him slip to the back of the field to take off is vest before the muur talking to the car and right after he was at the front and ready for the last part of the race. He will be a force to be reckoned with before long.

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