Zdenek Štybar opened Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Classics account at the first opportunity on Saturday (March 2), winning an enthralling 74th edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
The Czech was one of a group of five riders who entered the final of the 200km race, and out-thought his rivals, attacking them with 2.7km remaining, winning with a handful of seconds advantage.
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Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) had been left to counter all the attacks in the closing moments, but proved his tag as the best sprinter in the group by taking second place, with Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) in third.
Along with Tour of Oman winner Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida), the five riders had emerged from the climb of the Muur van Geraardsbergen, 15km from the line.
Before the Bosberg, the race’s final climb, a large chasing group had threatened to catch the five, but a fearsome dig from Van Avermaet saw them enter the final with a lead of 30 seconds.
How it happened
After a hectic start to the 200km race between Ghent and Ninove, four riders eventually managed to get away from the seething bunch. With the peloton happy to sit up, Tom Devriendt (Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Alex Howes (EF Education First), Roy Jans (Correndon-Circus) and Tom Wirtgen (Wallonie Bruxelles) very quickly built a lead approaching five minutes.
By the time the leaders reached the first of nine cobbled sectors, Haaghoek, the leaders led the bunch by 8-40 and there was a risk the rear of the race would be caught by the front of the women’s race, which set off eight minutes after them.
While the women’s race was forced to stop and let the men continue, the break’s advantage extended to 14 minutes, only coming down as they approached the Leberg, the first of 13 climbs, after 42km.
On the Paddestraat, some 20km later, cohesion in the break began to dissolve, with Devriendt attacking his companions as the gap dropped below five minutes.
However, when the chasing bunch passed over the same sector a crash stalled the chase, and a group of around 20 emerged, just three minutes behind the breakaway, who had re-formed.
As they closed the gap to the front of the race the group of favourites built a lead approaching 40 seconds on what remained of the peloton, but seemed unconvinced of their chances, slowing and allowing the bunch to come back to them on the Valkenberg, 63km from the line.
It was then that the race began to play out, with attacks springing off the front. One of those was Baptiste Planckaert (Wallonie Bruxelles) bridging to his team mate in the break, while behind Deceuninck – Quick-Step began to flex their muscles.
First Philippe Gilbert attacked, then Belgian champion Yves Lampaert had his say. Jumbo-Visma were also aggressive, with former cyclocross world champion having a dig on the Molenberg, 42km out, and a group of around 20 soon emerged.
With the breakaway now dispatched, the new leading group’s lead was nearly nullified on the approach to the cobbled climb of Berendries, but the gradient served only to renew their advantage, and a crash minutes later further split that group down to six, representing the same number of teams.
With Bora-Hansgrohe’s Daniel Oss dropped from the leaders on the Muur van Geraardsbergen, the final group of five was left to contest the finish.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Ghent to Ninove (200km)
1. Zdenek Štybar (Cze) Deceuninck – Quick-Step in 4-53-17
2. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC at .09 seconds
3. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal
4. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana
5. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-Merida
6. Jempy Drucker (Lux) Bora-Hansgrohe
7. Yves Lampaert (Bel) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
8. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
9. Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott
10. Oliver Naesen (Bel) Ag2R-La Mondiale all at same time