Garmin-Barracuda are starting their own little Classics tradition of putting a guy in the breakaway with race favourites and crossing the line first! Today’s surprise winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was Sep Vanmarcke, who outsprinted a super-strong Tom Boonen and Juan Antonio Flecha.
The race started in crisp sunshine – perfect spring weather – with a seven-man breakaway that clocked up a 12-minute advantage before Sky, BMC and Omega Pharma-Quick Step took up the chase. And chase they did. OPQS’ Stijn Vandenbergh did an enormous amount of work on the front, picking up the pace, keeping it fast and focused.
With 80km to go in this 200km race, the boys started falling off their bikes at regular intervals – a misjudged corner here, a gutter ride there. Around the 75km mark, Cofidis’ Arnaud Labbe went down in a nasty crash that left Nikolay Trusov of RusVelo with practically no shorts and Labbe with two broken ribs and an ambulance ride off the race course. He’ll be out for a month.
But perhaps the most spectacular crash was Lars Boom, who made the mistake of trying to get around Boonen on the Taaienberg. Boom tried to shoulder his way into the pack, Boonen was immovable … so Lars went boom, flipping his bike into the air and unbelievably not taking out a whole swathe of riders in doing so. With a little look over his shoulder, Boonen then put the hammer down and rode away with a small select group, including Thor Hushovd (BMC), Sky’s Flecha and Mathew Hayman, Matti Breschel (Rabobank), Garmin’s Vanmarcke and Boonen’s OPQS teammate Dries Devenyns. They quickly made time on the peloton and started chasing the breakaway – which was now down to two men, TVM’s Sven Vandousselaere and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM).
About this time, Philippe Gilbert‘s dreams of winning the race for a third time fell through the cobbled cracks. A flat that took what seemed like forever to get changed and he had to chase to catch the back of the peloton – for all intents and purposes, particularly with Hushovd in the breakaway, that was PhilGil’s race done. Or was it?
On the Leberg climb with 41km to go Boonen’s group caught Vandousselaere and Westra and officially becomes ‘The Breakaway’ themselves. Vanmarcke hit the gas on the Molenberg, shaking the little group up a bit and then, bizarrely, PhilGil went to the front of the peloton and led the chase. With Thor in the breakaway. Did he know that Hushovd was about to be spit out the back of the leading group? Because he was and he took Breschel back with him and it was down to five: Boonen, Flecha, Vanmarcke, Devenyns and Hayman. Soon Devenyns and Hayman get left behind.
With 17km to go the team cars rolled up beside the front three, talking tactics. A few half-hearted surges amongst the three to see if they could get away from the others came to nothing. It came down to the sprint. As a betting woman, I wouldn’t have put money on anyone but Boonen for this sprint but he wound up just a little too early, Vanmarcke went with him and took him by a bike length. Flecha came in third, followed by a peloton sprint won by birthday boy, Heinrich Haussler.
Here’s what big Tom said to Velonation about the finish:
I launched a long sprint because I knew that in the last 200 metres there were two corners where it would have been difficult to pass, but I miscalculated the effort. At 80 metres from the finish my sprint was over, I had no more power in my legs. I had also a cramp in my right leg.
It’s a pity but I was beaten by a good rider who deserved the victory.
Overjoyed winner Vanmarcke sounded like a man who was still having to pinch himself to convince himself this wasn’t all a dream, telling cyclingnews.com:
I still can’t believe that I’ve won but I figure it’ll be true. This is unbelievable. As a 14-year-old you start to race and you admire the Belgians who ride the classics and win. You grow, each year you improve and now I’m here, winning my first classic.
This was my first classic win. That’s why I started to race and finally I achieved my goal, and in such a way. I’ve just beaten Boonen!
If this sets the tone for the rest of the races this spring, it’s going to be a fast and furious, bone-shaking, gut-wrenching, bike-flipping season of fierce joy for both the riders and the spectators. Bring it on!
1. Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) 4:52:34
2. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) same time
3. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) s/t
4. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) +0:25
5. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) s/t
6. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
7. Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale) s/t
8. Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ-Big Mat) s/t
9. Alexandre Pichot (Europcar) s/t
10. Staf Scheirlinckx (Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda’s) s/t