The Moment The Omloop Was Won

Jan Tratnik floats away on the descent off the Bosberg with only Nils Politt giving chase as both Matej Mohorič and Stefan Küng dip their heads, too tired to chase. Visma-Lease a Bike won, just not in the manner we expected.

The wind was up and it was cold. Several riders at the start presentation said they expected the race to explode early.

Early, but not the start. The usual “morning breakaway” went clear. The longshot move had Samuel Battistella (Astana), Lars Boven (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Sander De Pestel (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale), Alexis Gougeard (Cofidis), Manilo Moro (Movistar), Elias Maris (Flanders-Baloise), Jelle Vermoote (Bingoal WB) plus Sean Flynn and Frank van den Broek (DSDM-firmenich-PostNL).

Early meant 130km to go and in the crosswinds but on some normal roads, no bergs or cobbles, a group of just over 20 riders were clear with plenty of big names. Visma had five riders in the move, Ineos three and they drove the pace to sweep up the early breakaway and make a move of over 30 riders clear.

Races in Flanders often have a different time scale. Chapatte’s Law has only ever been a rule of thumb but the TV presenter’s idea that the a chasing bunch can take back 1 minute for every 10km has held as a guide. Never here though, a gap of 45 seconds can be impossible for a chase group to close, partly because of the twisting roads but mainly because when a move goes it’s packed with strong riders. With 100km to go this wasn’t the winning move itself but it looked like they were away for the day and the winner was among them.

Visma got to work on the Wolvenberg with Christophe Laporte and Matteo Jorgenson accelerating and Wout van Aert following. Over the top only Tom Pidcock (Ineos), Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny), Gianni Moscon (Soudal-Quickstep) and Toms Skujiņš (Lidl-Trek) could follow. Moscon was soon dropped.

The race looked like it was settled with six riders clear, three of them Visma riders. It was a predictable outcome but astonishing all the same. Many teams had missed the move. Everyone knew Visma were going to fire riders forward in the final hour but few could react. It was now Visma’s race to lose and it wa here the plot twists started. Visma had three solid riders and Laporte and Jorgenson were making moves but nothing stuck.

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Toms Skujiņš attacked over the Berendries, this was more than an acceleration to keep the pace up, it seemed to put Pidcock into trouble and Visma collectively had it hard bringing the Latvian locomotive back. Skujiņš might have burned a match here but it was like doing so in darkened room, just a flickering glimpse but Wout van Aert wasn’t as strong as expected.

This impression was bolstered because Visma had numerical superiority but weren’t using it. Geraardsbergen and its Muur was getting ever closer and if they didn’t move before this crunch moment they risked one of the other three rivals punching away up the climb, the race reduced to each rider for themselves. Just as riders reached into their back pockets for a last energy gel before the Muur, Jorgenson took flight. A clever move as the feeding saw the others hesitate, mouths full with sap.

In no time Jorgenson was away with a 25 second cushion going through Geraardsbergen with two team mates behind containing the chase while the rest of the peloton was adrift at one minute. If you’d seen the last couple of editions then this looked like a repeat with a lone Visma rider heading to the finish. This time it was going to be Jorgenson for the win.

Only as race climbed past Geraardsbergen’s square with its fairground rides a white jersey burst into frame, it was Tim Wellens. Look at the screengrab above. The yellow circle shows the Van Aert group on the corner into the climb. The blue circle shows the reported time gaps but look behind, that’s Tim Wellens in the white circle and obviously the bunch in red. So the Van Aert group of five didn’t have 30 seconds, they barely had 30 metres . All afternoon the TV time gap captions had been dubious but only in their precision, a few seconds off here and there. But here it was completely wrong and so were our sofa-side assumptions of a repeat Visma win.

Onto the Bosberg and everything came together like a concertina being pushed at both ends. Jorgenson was coming back while Ivan Garcia Cortina charged up the climb to finally bring back the American. Van Aert had a go, as did Tim Wellens but these moves lasted seconds. Then with 9km left Jan Tratnik got to the front, he had come back in the group led by Garcia Cortina. At first he seemed to drift to the front as if he was going to put some order back in the group with a steady pace but this was an attack. It just didn’t look like it as he never got out of the saddle, he didn’t dive across the road. Devoid of the visual clues the rest of the group watched and didn’t react in time. Only Nils Politt decided to move with a flyer on the right, instantly recognisable thanks to the rictus that seems to have more teeth than Tobias Foss’s UAE TT chainring. Behind Matej Mohorič and Stefan Küng seemed to sense the danger but couldn’t or wouldn’t move, their heads dipping with fatigue.

Tratnik and Politt shared the work but as the finish got closer Politt kept pulling. Politt’s lost a two-up sprint before, it was Paris-Nice stage in 2018 and Jérôme Cousin played on Politt’s nerves – he used a cruder phrase at the time – but this time there were no games. Too generous? Perhaps the German could have played it finer but as long as the move kept clear of the chasing group he his team were heading for second place at worst. The rise to the line showed Tratnik was simply stronger and he had time to sit up and celebrate.

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The Verdict
The O Gran Camino race might take its name from the famous route but the last Saturday in February sees a different sort of pilgrimage with many in Belgium coming out to the roadside and plenty more perched on pews in front of the TV. This is the kind of racing we venerate, hours of sport where the key moves being made 130km from the finish.

This year’s race was enjoyable for hours thanks to the big move with 130km to go and more so in the finish because of the way the script got ripped up, aided by both a determined peloton and a dozy TV producer. Is it promising for the rest of the cobbled classics? Visma looked strong, they had the numbers at each key moment and as Arnaud De Lie said “they had more cards than my two hands”. But they didn’t look so dominant, De Lie himself looked a match for Van Aert, Skujiņš too. Tratnik’s win was a function of their strength in numbers but also a salvage operation after a scenario where the team had three out of six riders up the front but were not able to win from this.

58 thoughts on “The Moment The Omloop Was Won”

  1. Rain kept me inside all day so I sat through IMHO a vastly different race than the one you report on here. But as everyone knows I’m waiting for the real season to start…less than 3 weeks and counting! 🙂

    • I went out and rode 200KM on a cool rainy day thinking of the event in Belgium while attacking the hills. Caught a replay of Omloop after the post-ride beer and pizza. Pretty good day.

    • I need to walk back what I wrote after watching KBK…in comparison Omloop was a edge-of-my-seat, spill-the-popcorn, barn-burner!!!
      OTOH the final of that sandbox stage race was kind of interesting…who would have bet on stage and GC win by the Lotto guy? Did UAE have the “bad fish at the team hotel” situation? Or was it the mustaches? Don’t let your razor get rusty Pogacar! 🙂
      “200 KM on a cool rainy day” is either for pros who get paid or masochists, not for me!!!
      Counting the days until MSR….

  2. Thanks for the write-up.
    Does van Aert spend too much time pulling when he’s in a group? I don’t spend time with a stopwatch while watching, but it seems like his pulls are longer than his group-mates. Does this burn him out early? Even in Kuurne today it seems to be the case.

    • Team managers sometimes count the time spent when they’re sat behind the break, apparently Cyrille Guimard used to insist on measuring this when he was a DS in the 80s. There’s always the effort involved but a rider pulling for five seconds longer than the others is doing many minutes more work. Van Aert certainly pulls his share, watching at the moment Wellens is as well with Lazkano doing shorter rotations.

    • That’s sort of obvious and necessary if you’re the fastest rider up there… and if you have an interest in the break sticking. It’s a narrow balance, of course.
      A fast rider who doesn’t necessarily want to win might say to the rest “now pull, I’d win a broader sprint anyway”, but such decision normally leads to the break… just breaking up (or not, it depends on the characters involved!).
      OTOH, the rest will say to the fast man: “bringing you along only to have you sweep the sprint? No way. So you need to grant us just that little hope to keep us motivated, like, if the gap is big enough we’ll be able to play some cat and mouse with alternate attacks, or like… if the fast man pulls long enough, than he’ll be slower than usual in the sprint”.
      As I said, it’s a matter of balance, as a sprinter you must convince the rest that it’s a good deal to pull a little, having them working hard enough not to bring them fresh to the finish, showing that you’re spending more than them, but at the same time really keeping that small amount of dry powder which will make you able to win.
      Some riders are better than others doing it, those who aren’t (or who’re just too famous) often end up their career being more than anything a great tactical card… which enables the team to win anyway, only with other teammates.
      Then, lots of other factors come into play, notably the points thing in recent years. As in, “I’m doomed in a sprint but I’ll pull anyway to the end because being granted a 2nd or 3rd place is great anyway for the team”. This is actually not-so-good news because it will make all races more and more similar to the TDF, often lacking any tactical interest because the yellow jersey, instead of suffering attacks from every side, gets extra support by those interested in merely defending their whatever top 10 placement. That is, instead of having a general mood of the strongest being limited by the need to face more opposition, and lacking more support among rivals, which is normally “the spirit” of cycling, you’ll see stronger positions being rewarded by the importance of points even in defeat.
      I guess this won’t happen in the big races, or will it?

      • “I guess this won’t happen in the big races, or will it?”
        I hope not, but in a sport where so much seems controlled by men in automobiles watching video coverage of the race and barking orders into a rider’s earpiece my optimism is probably misplaced. But that’s why I celebrate riders like Pogacar, MVdP, etc. who often still seem to race on instinct and desire rather than radio-control or by looking at some gizmo on their handlebar stem.

  3. »Jan Tratnik floats away on the descent off the Bosberg with only Nils Politt giving chase as both Alexey Lutsenko and Stefan Küng dip their heads, too tired to chase.«

    That was Mohorič, not Lutsenko.

  4. I strongly believe Mohorić let the gap open out of sheer compatriotic solidarity. I also do not rule out Politt selling the race. Call me paranoid. Or experienced spectator.

      • With Van Aert behind in the bunch Pollitt had no realistic expectation his team would win a sprint. He got the most out of the situation he could unless Tratnik did some crazy move and pulled him to the line. And the visma ds would not have allowed that to happen i presume.
        He made the right decision to settle for 2nd with a small chance of a win.

  5. Also surprised to see so few comments here?

    Is this par for the course in this race in recent seasons? Just feels like declining interest in these races in the English speaking world from my very small sample size of cycling friends, none of whom watched? As always happy to be proved wrong.

    I would be extremely interested in an INRNG analytics post of changing interest levels over time since you’ve been writing.

    As always a loyal reader and thank you for the review.

    • In the US this race is on Flobikes. Considering they are now $30/month with a pretty limited schedule, nobody is buying that until later when you get Gent-Wevelgem and Flanders on it. Also GCN+ being gone in other places can’t help.

        • $150 a year is still too much for Flo. It’s poor quality and terrible announcing. I would have paid that for GCN+ with good commentary and pre and post race coverage, but Flo is garbage.

          • I know it’s not for everyone because of the language barriers but a VPN can be a lot cheaper per month/year and lets you get more races than even GCN had. If you can get Eurosport to work, great but you can often get free-to-air TV from the local broadcaster Sporza, RAI, FranceTV, L’Equipe, EITB, RTVE, NOS etc.

            One thing I’ve noticed anecdotally – haven’t measured it – is that English-British GCN/Eurosport talks a lot, it’s as there has to be voice 100% of the time.

            But in other languages you can get periods of silence and so with this less of a feeling that you are missing out if you don’t understand the conversation. Flemish TV might identify the rider attacking and who jumps on their wheel but can then let the action breathe. It’s not totally different, more subtle. But like this you can hear who is involved without needing to know much Dutch, likewise on other channels.

            All of this isn’t a substitute for the ease of GCN though, it’s a compromise, it’s a barrier. But suggesting it in case it helps.

          • No options for us here in Australia. Even with a VPN it’s impossible to buy Eurosport / Discovery + (as they won’t accept out of jurisdiction credit cards/debits) and while you might be able to get “live” Sporza free to air, that’s at 2am with no catch-up ability. I know the audience size isn’t huge outside the European “heartlands” but perhaps this is an option for the UCI to mandate unrestricted availability for “rest of world” viewers to world tour races, who would then pay a subscription fee to get access?

    • I thought it was a really good edition of Omloop but couldn’t add anything meaningful to Inrng’s analysis so didn’t bother commenting! Onwards and upwards now with Le Samyn (which I have a soft spot for), Strade Bianche, P-N and T-A all on the horizon before we even get to the Monuments.

    • I think no MdvP and Pogacar makes a different. Opening weekend but the winners of 2023 Flanders and Roubaix don’t turn up. What does that say about the races. Less attractive to watch, less important, less of a star draw.

      (No GCN+ also a killer)

    • It’s a minor race, hadn’t anyone noticed for the last 15 years at least? (Probably more)

      It’s good because it’s a starter, an aperitivo, nothing more. It’s harsh to ask the race to be what it isn’t, just enjoy it if you feel like watching.

        • Tongue in cheek, I guess? It was great fun… but precisely because it was a (very good) minor race, a classic no doubt, but not even close to Gent-Wevelgem or even Harelbeke, although probably above Waregem or Le Samyn. Making it WT is one of those ‘peculiar’ decisions, anyway just from 2017 on – also the dreaded date from which the Driedaagse was destroyed. However, those decisions will indeed probably shift the value of the race in the middle term.

    • One of the “Riders to watch” picked here and because he is so strong, and not just on the flat but climbs well, it’s how he won the Spanish champion’s jersey he’s got and held off Ayuso last June.

  6. Agree. The NA coverage change from GCN to Max (and now inadvertently FLO as well) is a cluster. So crappy. And all at the last minute. It’s wild what it costs the US fan to watch every race now. I have purchased it all because I’m a sadist. But ugh.

    • I don’t think there is any option here in Aust yet to replace gcn. It would not suprise me if there never is an option because the market of cycling coverage may be too small to bother with the corporate taxes and stuff.

    • Is there no way around this in the USA? I just had a friend there ask me about it. Even with a VPN it seems you run into territory/rights issues when you pay for Eurosport with a US bank credit card. Reminds me of the daze when we lived there and were always looking for pirate feeds via various VPN’s, even dedicating a cheap laptop to the task so the virus infections, etc. wouldn’t destroy any valuable files on the ones we used for important things. Any suggestions for my friend? Thanks!

      • unfortunately we have taken a many-years step back here in the US Larry w regard to coverage. I purchased Max and Peacock for the bulk of it but won’t sub to Flo. however, the closer it gets, the more I may spend the 1 month $30 just for Flanders. Max had Oomloop highlights for both men and women but hoping the full race gets posted on YouTube soon which Flo does at times 4-5 days later.

        • Sad to read. Anyone else old enough to remember dialing-up a US 900 number ($1 minute) to hear a recorded same-day recap of a big Euro bike race? Louis Viggio used to provide the commentary…most recently he was involved with DUAL sunglasses…the ones for old-geezers who need magnification to read the wine list, etc? But NO, I didn’t ride bikes when the wheels were wood..but the shorts WERE wool 🙂

        • I’ve been watching Eurosport cycling coverage for several years, living in US and using a VPN. I pay for the Eurosport sub using US credit card… hard to imagine the credit card payment connection being relevant or available to Eurosport team in terms of territory/rights issues. But Eurosport has definitely become much more aggressive about the VPN topic– the trick that I’ve found to be essential is to use a dedicated browser only for watching Eurosport, and ONLY open and close that browser while the VPN is active. That seems to dodge the cookies or other clues that bring up the dreaded “Eurosport is not available in your country” window. Posting this in hopes it helps other people based in US enjoy excellent cycling coverage with european commentary : )

          • Appreciate the tip Anon. I’ll try the dedicated browser bit. To date my VPN efforts have been frustrated by the “Eurosport not available….” notification. Am willing to foot the bill for Max + BR but would love to watch Flanders and avoid Flo.

          • Thanks! I copied your comments and forwarded to my friend in the USA. I hope he can duplicate your successful scheme. At one point we were nabbed by the US bank thing since we live in Italy. We eventually opened an Italian bank account and used that card to satisfy Eurosport and were damn glad we did as RAI’s TV coverage gets worse and worse…if they even have any! And now the right-wing govt pulled-the-plug on Giro di Sicilia 2024! GGGRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

          • FWIW, most browsers have a command-line argument to specify a non-default user profile directory. E.g., Chrome/Chromium has –user-data-dir=…. You can use this to setup short-cut icons to launch your browser with alternate profiles that are completely separate from your main profile. No need to install more browsers.

        • I had such an issue in Europe itself (!) and with GCN+ (!!!), trying to pay with an Italian credit card in order to get my subscription in Spain. Can’t get their logic since rights appeared to be more or less the same, but I suppose there was some small difference or whatever. Customer service told me… to get it paid by some Spanish acquaintance O__o strange enough, but, well, that’s what I duly did…

  7. Thanks for the review!
    An interesting race on Saturday. A sort of grinding down the opposition by superiority of numbers rather then sheer speed and endurance. Just early season mayhem maybe but we’ll see how things pan out.

  8. Isn’t Van Aert not being as strong here, but still able to win KBK at a relative canter, all part of the grand plan? You don’t want to win Omloop if you want to won Flanders (and Roubaix).

  9. I was suprised to see such a large group come to the line, just behind the winner. Seemed like a bunch sprint was on the cards at one point. Unusual for this race. Could this have been a result of teams collaborating to beat Visma. Instead of the ussual tactics of every team for themselves.

  10. Another young gun winner in UAE. I was looking forward to an Australian 1,2 but after I read the interview with the winner I couldn’t stay unhappy.

  11. Thanks for the great summary, INRNG. It was a great race to watch. Always nice to have the script torn up.
    Being Norwegian I must thank you for the nugget”the rictus that seems to have more teeth than Tobias Foss’s UAE TT chainring”. Pollit raced for podium just like Lidl-Trek did in the women’s race. Good to see that The Cannibal isn’t quite satisfied yet.

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