Dylan van Baarle marked his Jumbo-Visma debut with a stunning solo victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday afternoon.
The Paris-Roubaix winner launched his attack with 38km to go, before finding himself alone on the road over the race’s final two cobbled climbs.
Aided by his team-mate Christophe Laporte, who disrupted the rhythm in a chasing quartet, Van Baarle was able to hold onto a 20-second gap to claim the season’s first WorldTour race on European soil.
"I don't know what to say," Van Baarle said after the race. "Our plan was to make it a hard race and the guys rode incredible."
Asked why he attacked when he did, the Jumbo-Visma rider said: "Instinct. The team told me to use my instinct and that's what I did. I saw a moment, it was quite a hard section of the race, so I decided to go."
The victory is the Dutchman’s third in the cobbled classics, and his first since joining Jumbo-Visma from Ineos Grenadiers at the start of the season.
Arnaud de Lie (Lotto Dstny) won the bunch sprint for second, with Laporte taking the final podium spot.
Last year's race winner Wout van Aert and one-day specialist Mathieu van der Poel were both absent from the race, and will start their road seasons at Strade Bianche next weekend.
How it happened
The peloton cut the ribbon on the road calendar's Opening Weekend, rolling out of Ghent on a 207.3km route through the Flemish countryside. On their way to Ninove, the riders would tackle 12 hellingen - short, sharp climbs - including the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg, often the site of the decisive attack.
A seven-man breakaway, containing four Belgians, formed in the race’s opening kilometres and stretched out a seven-minute lead over the bunch.
After the first hour of racing, a crash in the peloton brought an abrupt end to both Ben Turner’s (Ineos Grenadiers) and Michael Shär’s (AG2R Citroën) days, with both forced to abandon. The former was considered an outsider for the race win, having taken his first professional victory at the one-day Vuelta a Murcia earlier this month.
Into the final 100km, Jumbo-Visma took up policing duties at the front of the peloton. Two of the Dutch team’s riders, Jan Tratnik and Nathan van Hooydonck, then attacked up the road, joined by British duo Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) and Connor Swift (Ineos Grenadiers).
As the cobbled climbs began to rack up, though, the gaps to the two escapee groups fell. The chasing pack was quickly swallowed up, while the leaders saw their advantage slashed to just 30 seconds with 50km to go.
Just 10km later, on the Molenberg climb, the race came back together, but not for long. Initially towed by Groupama FDJ’s Stefan Küng, Paris-Roubaix winner Van Baarle countered, taking Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious), Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa Samsic) and Florian Vermeersch (Lotto Dstny) with him on his wheel.
Sensing the move might last, Kevin Geniets (Groupama FDJ) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segfredo) set off in pursuit, but were soon reeled in. 30km then remained, with the finale starting to build towards its crescendo.
Up ahead, Van Baarle ploughed on. So strong was the Dutchman, that only 21-year-old Le Berre could follow him, taking shelter behind and refusing to pull through.
By the time they reached the Muur van Geraardsbergen, the day’s penultimate climb, Van Baarle was alone. His French companion fell victim to a mechanical, while much of the peloton were forced to step off and push their bikes up the double-figure gradients.
The Jumbo-Visma rider led solo onto the Bosberg, too. Behind him, a quartet of De Lie, Laporte, Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates) and Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) began to bear down on him, but the gap held steady at 15 seconds.
As he rode alone under the flamme rouge and down the finishing straight, Van Baarle shook his head in disbelief. The 30-year-old then sat up in his saddle and held his arms out wide, showcasing the yellow jersey of his new team as he savoured his hard-fought victory.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2023: Ghent to Ninove (207.3km)
1. Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, in 4-55-15
2. Arnaud de Lie (Bel) Lotto Dstny
3. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Jumbo-Visma
4. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Uno-X
5. Tom Pidcock (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers
6. Davide Ballerini (Ita) Soudal Quick-Step
7. Nils Politt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
8. Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Bahrain Victorious
9. Rui Oliviera (Por) UAE Team Emirates
10. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Israel-Premier Tech, all at 20 seconds
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