Wout van Aert won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2022 with a stinging attack at the foot of the Bosberg, sailing away from his rivals and solo-ing to the finish line.
The Belgian champion played down his chances before the start, this being his first road race of the 2022 season, but Van Aert could barely help himself at the business end of the first big race of the year, launching from a whittled down bunch after Jumbo-Visma team-mate Tiesj Benoot had worked well to soften up the other contenders.
Behind, the group that had either been unable or unwilling to chase Van Aert saw Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) emerge as the best of the rest in the sprint for second, with Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r Citröen) claiming third.
How it happened
Ben Healy (EF Education EasyPost) was an intriguing name amongst the early break of seven riders, which was formed by Juri Hollmann (Movistar), Alexander Konychev (BikeExchange-Jayco), Quentin Jauregui (B&B Hotels-KTM), Ruben Apers (Sport Flanders-Baloise), Donovan Grondin (Arkea-Samsic) and Morten Hulgaard (Uno-X).
Very quickly they took out a gap of above eight minutes, as Jumbo-Visma’s Edoardo Affini and local lad Iljo Keisse (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) marshalled proceedings at the front of the bunch.
Into the final 100km and the gap was slowly starting to come down as they continued across the cobbles, soon down to under five minutes with 10 classified climbs still on the menu.
Victor Campenaerts suffered a mechanical on the Paddestraart as his Lotto-Soudal team-mate Brent Van Moer led the peloton, shadowed by Quick-Step’s Kasper Asgreen. EF’s Tom Scully then attacked from the bunch, soon brought back in.
More moves then came, Groupama-FDJ’s Brit Lewis Askey trying to get involved, Quick-Step’s Zdenek Stybar attentive to the action. Kasper Asgreen then suffered a hiccup and was forced to chase back on, Ethan Hayter the back marker of the peloton for now.
Leading up to the Valkenberg Ineos’ Magnus Sheffield then set off, making a good go of trying to break free, as the escapees up ahead were coming back down the road quickly, the gap under two minutes now.
After youth experience followed, Philippe Gilbert making a move, the pressure building all the time now, Jumbo-Visma soon asserting themselves on the race as it began to reach the business end, numbers dwindling now from the bunch.
Approaching the Holleweg Michael Valgren suffered a mechanical, Ben Turner leading team-mate Tom Pidcock onto the cobbles, before a crash in the peloton brought down Campenaerts, Luke Durbridge (BikeExchange) and Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates).
John Degenkolb (DSM) was the next to launch an attack, Turner and Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal) following, Vermeersch then going off on his own with Intermarché’s Loic Vliegen as Tiesj Benoot led the peloton’s pursuit behind up the Wolvenberg.
Kasper Asgreen could then be spotted off the back before Mike Teunissen attacked, heading off after Vliegen and Vermeersch. Teunissen’s move failed but Küng then went, the riders lapping up the opportunity for some proper Belgian racing into the final 50km, with the breakaway only just ahead now.
Küng made the junction as that trio started to pick off members of the original breakaway, making the catch on the Marlboroughstraat, now holding half a minute’s advantage over the peloton.
Campenaerts then suffered yet another bike problem, Fernando Gaviria suffering a painful-looking crash soon after.
Turner was once again at the front of the bunch for Ineos, soon joined by Jumbo-Visma’s Nathan Van Hooydonck, Küng leading the enlarged break onto the Lenberg, 51 seconds ahead, Matej Mohorič then trying to jump clear with Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) tracking.
Onto the Berendries and Benoot accelerated, Pidcock on his wheel, Ineos’ Jhonatan Narvaez also going clear as well as a certain Wout van Aert, Sonny Colbrelli realising the strength in numbers Ineos and Jumbo-Visma had in this move and getting himself involved.
Sagan was then dropped from the bunch behind, having not looked comfortable all day, as the Van Aert group began to move across to the leaders, Asgreen chasing at the front of the peloton back down the road.
With 25km to go the Van Aert group had caught the Küng group, eleven riders now up front with a gap of more than half a minute.
Under 20km to go and Tiesj Benoot attacked, giving team-mate Van Aert some breathing room behind, but subsequently taking the initiative out of that group, the bunch behind soon closing in.
Up the Muur van Geraardsbergen and Benoot was soon brought back in after the summit, Mohorič having set off in pursuit, Van Aert on his wheel, the Belgian champion then accelerating alongside Trentin and Mohorič, Campenaerts also impressively still in contention.
Oliver Naesen then made a move, the front group ebbing and flowing with the attacks coming and going, before who else but Wout van Aert but in a stinging attack at the bottom of the Bosberg, sailing alaway quickly, Fred Wright trying to chase as the peloton hesitated.
But that was it, Van Aert was away, despite the chase looking like it was getting organised it was of no use. The Belgian champion crossed the line and got off his bike to greet his family as if he had barely broken a sweat despite the speed with which he ate up the kilometre markers en route to Ninove.
The sprint then unfolded behind with Sonny Colbrelli taking it ahead of Greg Van Avermaet, his Ag2r team-mate Oliver Naesen in fourth.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2022: Ghent to Ninove (204.2km)
1. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, in 4-50-28
2. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious, at 23 seconds
3. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Ag2r Citroën
4. Oliver Naesen (Bel) Ag2r Citroën
5. Victor Campenaerts (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
6. Rasmus Tiller (Nor) Uno-X
7. Matteo Trentin (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
8. Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Intermarché- Wanty-Gobert-Matériaux
9. Florian Sénéchal (Fra) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl
10. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo, all at same time
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