November 01, 2018
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2018 – Gent – Ninove : 196,2 km
The 2018 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was a road cycling one-day race that took place on 24 February 2018 in Belgium.
November 01, 2018
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2018 – Gent – Ninove : 196,2 km
The 2018 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was a road cycling one-day race that took place on 24 February 2018 in Belgium. It was the 73rd edition of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the fourth event of the 2018 UCI World Tour.
Astana might be in trouble behind the scenes, but on the road they have been pitch perfect this month. Michael Valgren added to their February success with victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after a late solo attack.
Łukasz Wiśniowski (Team Sky) had been distanced on the Muur van Gerardsbergen but fought back to take second place ahead of Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac).
“After the Muur we got away in a big group,” Valgren said. “We had three guys and we needed to do something because we had some fast riders. We had Oscar there and Lutsenko who is also fast, so it was up to me to attack. I counter attacked Sep Vanmarcke and they were looking at each other for just five seconds and I was away.
“It was bloody hard and I am super happy. I would like to be up there in the big ones like the Tour of Flanders. It’s the only the second time that I’ve done these races, last year was the first time and I was 11th in the Tour of Flanders. You also need to be lucky about the crashes and these races are stressful and full-gas, but they are a lot of fun.”
The finale of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad had been tinkered with to something that mirrored the old finish of the Tour of Flanders, but with plenty of youth in the bunch there were many that hadn’t raced on that parcours.
Most had expected the race to detonate as early as the Mollenberg, but a headwind out on course made it nigh on impossible. It wouldn’t be until the Muur van Gaardsbergen that it really began to take shape.
A group of 13 riders emerged the other side following a stinging attack from Vanmarcke, with Astana holding the cards with three riders in the move. They played their advantage by sending Valgren up the road on several occasions, leaving Oscar Gatto and Alexey Lutsenko to sit in the wheels behind.
Each dig was brought back but Valgren went again with just over two kilometres to go and this time it stuck. The chasers looked at each other, none wanting to be the one to blink first. Vanmarcke finally cracked but it was too late and Valgren already had his first Belgian Classic wrapped up.
How it happened
The temperature in Gent on Saturday morning was just above freezing point but the skies were clear, making for a perfect crisp winter’s morning to usher in the 2018 Classics and the traditional ‘start of the season’. The crowds steadily built in Gent’s Citadel park and the ‘t Kuipke velodrome, home of the Gent Six, where the men’s and women’s teams were presented together ahead of a joint start.
It was a fast start but it didn’t take long for the day’s early breakaway to form. At first it was made up of Marco Mathis (Katusha-Alpecin), Michael Van Staeyen (Cofidis), Kenneth Van Bilsen (Cofidis), Brian van Goethem (Roompot), Edward Planckaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Michael Svendgaard (Fortuneo-Samsic), Dries De Bondt (Veranda’s Willems Crelan) and Ludwig De Winter (WB Aqua Project Veranclassic) and they were soon joined by Aleksejs Saramotins (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Tim Ariesen (Roompot) to make a group of 10.
After 41 kilometres and an hour of racing, the gap stood at five minutes, but it would soon start to deminish. The Haaghoek sector of cobblestones, shortly followed by the first ascent Leberg climb, represented the opening difficulties of the day. On the tarmacked, and largely flat, roads of the subsequent 30 kilometres, the gap came down to the 2:45 mark, with each of the big teams sending a rider towards the front to help police the situation.
As the first proper string of cobbles and climbs unfolded, the tension increased and we saw the first crashes of the day, Michael Matthews (Sunweb) coming down round a tight corner before Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) was forced to abandon after a collision with a Wanty-Groupe Gobert rider.
The pace really ramped up on the approach to the second helping of the Haaghoek-Leberg combination, this ascent being the fourth of the 13 hills on the parcours. Near the top of the Leberg, Gilbert put in a big acceleration. It wasn’t enough to create a selection but it certainly signalled that things were getting serious. Up ahead, the break was fragmenting, and Mathis, Ariesen, and Van Staeyen were all left behind.
On the undulating approach to the Kokkerelle, Gilbert tested his rivals with another brief acceleration, while his teammate Stybar put in a more serious attack, only to be chased down by BMC and Lotto Soudal.
The first exchanges
After the Wolvenberg, it was time for the Molenberg, a key danger point highlighted by Gilbert ahead of the race. The climb itself didn’t do too much damage but the subsequent narrow lanes did. The peloton split before groups clipped off the front. Stybar, Silvan Dillier (AG2R), Stefan Kung (BMC), Boy Van Poppel (Trek-Segafredo), Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha-Alpecin), and Chris Juul Jensen (MItchelton-Scott) found themselves in a group and they were soon joined by a second small group containing Oliver Naesen (AG2R), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Michael Matthews (Sunweb), Armund Jansen (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Dries Van Gestel (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise).
Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) bridged across alone but the main bunch remained close and onto the Haaghoek-Leberg for the third and final time, the race came back together. Alexis Gougeard attacked and joined the final remnant of the breakaway, Saramontins.
They didn’t last long as Wellens attacked on the Berendries, the ninth climb of the day. Van Avermaet was quick to close him down and then accelerated away himself, which triggered big splits in the bunch. Up front, Van Avermaet and Wellens found themselves with Stybar, Theuns, Colbrelli, Benoot, Vanmarcke, and Thwaites. The strung out bunch soon reformed and came back, but Benoot went again and, after being briefly tracked by Theuns and Thwaites, used the Valkenberg climb to go solo.
Benoot built a lead of 30 seconds but the peloton bunched back up on the wider roads and Quick-Step and BMC were able to put domestiques on the front to chase. Benoot’s lead fell up the short Tenbosse climb and he was caught with 26 kilometres remaining, leaving a sizeable peloton of just under 100 riders intact for the approach the all-important Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg.
With a lengthy run from the Tenbosse to the Muur, there was a brief cease-fire in the bunch. After non-stop action over the preceding kilometres, the run towards the Muur was taken at a slightly more leisurely pace as the peloton collectively caught their breath. Winding through Geraardsbergen, Jempy Drucker went off the front for BMC but it was Vanmarcke’s move ahead of the rise to the chapel that did the real damage. Zdenek Stybar and Greg Van Avermaet tried to follow, but the EF Education First rider had the pace on the toughest part of the climb.
Vanmarcke crested the climb on his own, with a severely diminished group chasing hard behind. A group of 10 riders, including Van Avermaet, Matteo Trentin, Stybar and Wout van Aert, joined up with the Belgian before Lukas Wisniowski and Yves Lampaert joined them on the run towards the Bosberg. Lampaert would eventually drop back, when Naesen started attacking off the front. With three riders, Astana sought to put the hurt on and they did with several attacks from Valgren.
Each move was reeled back in until Valgren shot off the front with around 2.5 kilometres to go. Behind him, the other riders glanced at each other, urging them to make the move, but nobody did. Vanmarcke finally went with a kilometre remaining but Valgren was too far ahead.
1 Michael Valgren (Den) Astana Pro Team
2 Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team Sky
4 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale
5 Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
6 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
7 Edward Theuns (Bel) Team Sunweb
8 Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
9 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ
10 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe