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Despite being up against Boonen, Terpstra and Vandenbergh in a 4-rider group, Stannard emerged as the strongest to defend his Omloop Het Nieuwsblad title; Terpstra and Boonen completed the podium

Photo: Sirotti

IAN STANNARD

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NIKI TERPSTRA

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OMLOOP HET NIEUWSBLAD

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TEAM SKY

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28.02.2015 @ 17:27 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Ian Stannard (Sky) did what most had thought to be impossible when he came out on top from a 4-rider group to defend his win at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Despite being up against Etixx-QuickStep riders, Niki Terpstra, Tom Boonen and Stijn Vandenbergh, he managed to drop the latter two before beating the former in a two-rider sprint.

 

Most spectators are likely to have felt a little bad for Ian Stannard who found himself in the worst possible situation in the finale of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Having been the only rider to stay with the impressive Etixx-QuickStep trio of Tom Boonen, Stijn Vandenbergh and Niki Terpstra, he had had a free ride for more than 40km but it seemed that it would be impossible to come out on top against the mighty home team.

 

However, Stannard used a combination of tactical ingenuity and great power to deny the favourites their first win in the opening classic since 2005. First he dropped Vandenbergh and Boonen and finally he beat Terpstra in a two-rider sprint to defend the title he claimed one year ago.

 

The main selection had been made on the Haaghoek cobbles with 43km to go when Vandenbergh put in an attack as Boonen took over, an 8-rider front group emerged, with the Belgian duo being joined by their teammate Terpstra, Stannard, Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Steve Chainel (Cofidis), Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal) and Jempy Drucker (BMC).

 

As Vanmarcke accelerated hard, he whittled the group down to just himself, Stannard and the Etixx trio and showed that he was clearly the strongest rider in the race. However, disaster struck just moments later as he suffered a puncture that saw him drop back to the peloton.

 

Stannard now found himself in the uncomfortable position of being up against three Etixx riders but he allowed himself to follow wheels while the trio worked hard to distance the peloton. In the main group, LottoNL-Jumbo, BMC and Lotto Soudal were chasing hard but they continued to lose ground.

 

Vanmarcke had to use the final climb of the Molenberg to try to get back in contention and he put in a big attack that only Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) could follow. The trio got clear and while Stybar just followed wheels, the two Belgians worked well together. A little further back, Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Sylvain Chavanel (IAM), Marco Marcato (Wanty) and Chainel formed another chase group but the latter quickly dropped back to the peloton.

 

From there, it turned into a big pursuit between those three groups. When the they hit the Paddestraat – the first of the three late pave sectors – Vanmarcke put in an incredible acceleration that put both Van Avermaet and Stybar on their limit. As he kept going over the Lippenhovestraat pave too, he managed to bring the gap down from 30 to 13 seconds but he never got any closer. Unable to maintain his speed, he again had to share the work with Van Avermaet and despite keeping the gap at 20 seconds for a long time, the duo finally lost the battle. A little further back, Gilbert got rid of Chavanel and Marcato but he never got any closer to the front.

 

With 8km to go, the tactical battle in the front group started as Boonen moved to the back of the group and stopped his work. 3km later, Etixx played their first card when Terpstra launched an attack but Stannard quickly brought it back.

 

That was the moment for Boonen to launch a big acceleration and as he quickly got a big gap, he seemed to be taking the win. However, Stannard gradually reeled him in and the front quartet was back together with 3km to go.

 

Of course Terpstra launched an immediate counterattack with Vandenbergh on his wheel but Stannard was quick to respond. As everybody was waiting for the next Etixx attack, however, it was Stannard who took off and surprisingly he got an immediate gap. Vandenbergh led the chase until he blew up before Terpstra took over.

 

Surprisingly, Boonen was now also paying the price for the hard race and the Belgian classics star got dropped while Terpstra got back onto Stannard’s wheel. From there, the Brit had to ride hard to keep Boonen at bay and so the odds were on Terpstra to come away with the win.

 

Surprisingly, Terpstra moved to the front inside the final 500m before launching a long sprint and this turned out to be a bad decision. Stannard had enough left in the tank to narrowly pass him on the right-hand side to defend his title while a disappointed Boonen rolled across the line in third. Vandenbergh took fourth while Vanmarcke won the sprint for fifth.

 

Etixx-QuickStep will get a chance to get their revenge tomorrow when they lines up for the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. With an easier course, a lot of sprinters will join today’s riders in a race that has often been decided in a bunch sprint but has also turned into a hard man’s race.

 

A tough course

The 70th edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was held on a 200.2km course that kept with its recent tradition of both starting and finishing in Ghent. After a flat opening, the riders hit the Haaghoek pave sector after 59km of racing to signal the start of the difficult part and from there, the riders had little room for recovery as they tackled a total of 11 hellingen – short, steep climb in Belgium – and 10 flat pave sectors. The finale was expected to start at the Taaienberg with 61km to go while the final climb was the Molenberg 37km from the line. The final challenges were the Paddestraat, Lippenhovestraat and Lange Munte paves before the riders travelled along flat roads to the slightly uphill finish in Ghent.

 

After last year’s cold and rainy affair, the riders took the start under a beautiful sunny sky and in a temperature of around 7 degrees. Sebastien Turgot (Ag2r) was the only non-starter as the Frenchman was suffering from a knee injury while the rest of the field first held one-minute of silence to commemorate Claude Criquelion.

 

Lots of attacks

The attacking started right from the gun and it was Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Soudal) who opened the action. Wanty-Groupe Gobert were also part of the first move but they were quickly brought back.

 

The attacking continued but after 8km of racing, no one had managed to escape. At the 14km mark, however, two groups went clear as the peloton finally slowed down to take a short breather.

 

The break is formed

Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r), Matt Brammeier (MTN-Qhubeka), Christophe Laborie (Bretagne), Michael Reihs (Cult), Kevin van Melsen (Wanty) and Louis Verhelst (Cofidis) formed the first group while Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal), Albert Timmer (Giant-Alpecin) and Jaroslaw Marycz (CCC) took off in pursuit. After 20km of racing, they were 45 seconds behind the leaders while the peloton had already lost 4 minutes.

 

For a long time, the gap between the two front groups stayed at 45 seconds while the peloton constantly lost ground. At the 33km, however, the junction was made but Marycz had fallen off the pace and so an 8-rider lead group was formed.

 

The chase gets organized

The gap had now reached around 5 minutes and this prompted Etixx-QuickStep and BMC to start to control the situation. The escapees covered 41km in the first hour and as they continued to press on, they extended their advantage to 6.10 at the 47km mark.

 

Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep), Danilo Wyss (BMC), Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar) and Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo) were the early workers in the peloton and they started to stabilize the situation.  At the top of the Leberg, the gap was 6.40 but as the fight for position gradually started, the escapees started to lose ground.

 

De Bie drops out of the front group

De Bie was unfortunate to drop his chain and so he lost contact with the leaders. For a little while, he tried to get back but finally dropped back to the peloton.

 

The Muur van Geraardsbergen didn’t provide much action but Brammeier seemed to be suffering from the hard pace. Meanwhile, Tjallingii, Keisse and Wyss were still working on the front and with 100km to go, they had brough the gap down to 5 minutes.

 

Wiggins hits the front

As the peloton hit the Haaghoek sector for the second time, Sky moved to the front and it was Bradley Wiggins who dropped the hammer. A crash near the front split the peloton and several Etixx-QuickStep riders, including Stybar had to work hard to get back.

 

Wiggins’ pace brought the gap down to 3.25 with 85km to go when Wyss and Keisse briefly got back to work. However, the Brit was quickly back on the front as Sky continued to show their collective strength by gathering many riders on the front.

 

Reihs is dropped

The gap went down to 2.30 but as Sky stopped their acceleration, it was back up to 3.15 with 75km to go. Tjallingii and Wyss again took a few turns but as they approached the Kruisberg, the fight for position caused the pace to go up dramatically. Wiggins, Christian Knees and Bernhard Eisel again started to work for Sky and so the gap was down to 2.40 at the bottom of the climb.

 

Brammeier decided to accelerate and this was too much for Reihs who dropped back to the peloton. Meanwhile, the peloton was hit by several crashes and several riders lost contact with the main group.

 

Wiggins accelerates

As the group slowed down after the top, Stig Broeckx (Lotto Soudal) attacked but as Sky again got back to work, he was quickly brought back. As Wiggins rode hard on the Donderij pave, the gap was down to just 1.30 with 65kkm to go.

 

Salvatore Puccio and Wiggins rode on the front while the battle for position for the traditional key point of the Taaienberg started. Hence, the gap was down to less than a minute by the time they reached the steep ascent.

 

Boonen makes his big attack

Brammeier launched a big attack but was first joined by Timmer and later also by Gougeard. Meanwhile, Boonen made his usual acceleration on his favourite climb and as he crested the summit, only Van Avermaet, Luke Rowe (Sky), Stybar, Stannard and Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) were still there.

 

Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep) led a group with Terpstra, Arnaud Demare and Yoann Offredo (both FDJ) back to the Boonen group and as the pace went down, more riders also got back. As they hit the Eikenberg, Offredo made the first attack but he was quickly brought back.

 

Vanmarcke rejoins the peloton

The front trio was still 42 seconds ahead while the main group had swallowed to around 50 riders. They picked up Van Melsen, Verhelst and Laborie while Gougeard fought his way back to the leader after having been dropped on the Eikenberg.

 

On the Wolvenberg, the Frenchman lost contact for good while Rowe attacked from the main group. At this point, Vanmarcke who had had a puncture at the bottom of the Taaienberg, managed to rejoin the group.

 

Offredo, Vandenbergh, Marcato and Stannard all tried to attack but they failed to get clear. Meanwhile, Rowe managed to catch Brammeier and Timmer byt the peloton was now breathing down their neck.

 

Just as the front trio was caught with 45km to go, Van Avermaet launched an attack with Rowe, Marcato, Chavanel, Trentin, Ligthart and Stybar but that move didn’t succeed. Next Nikolas Maes (Etixx), Vanmarcke, Puccio and Sieberg gave it a go but they didn’t have any luck either. Moments later, they hit the Haaghoek pave and this is where Vandenbergh made the attack that set the scene for the exciting finale.

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