Despite a numerical advantage in the day’s main break Etixx-QuickStep lost out on victory in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The race was won by Ian Stannard (Team Sky) who beat three riders from Patrick Lefevere’s team. Lefevere regretted the loss while heralding his team's performance, claiming that the chase group benefited from motorbikes, thus keeping the pressure on the riders. He also added that a team leader like Stannard should not stay on the wheels for 40 kilometres.
Forty kilometres from the finish line in Ghent the Etixx-QuickStep formation steamed forward on the Haaghoek cobbles in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Three of the team’s riders featured in the lead group – including top gun Tom Boonen - with Stannard hanging on for dear life on the cobbles. Few people believed the riders from Lefevere would give away the victory and Boonen seemed destined to win his first Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, filling a hole in his rich palmarès. It wasn’t to be.
Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) kept the pressure on from behind together with Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep). They made the three Etixx riders in the lead group work hard to maintain their advantage as Stannard profited and remained in the wheels.
At 4.5km from the finish Boonen attacked, and Stannard closed the gap. Nikki Terpstra attacked and his teammate Stijn Vandenbergh followed him, joined by Stannard. Ultimately Stannard accelerated and only Terpstra was able to keep up, with an ailing Boonen at short distance. Terpstra led out the sprint but was beaten on the line by Stannard. A head-shaking Boonen crossed the line at a handful of seconds.
Lefevere was very cynical when asked for a reaction at the team bus shortly after the unexpected defeat. His team always features several favourites for the win at the Omloop but they have failed to convert that into a win since 2005 when Nick Nuyens won.
“It hurts, that’s true,” Lefevere said. “I can’t blame the team for anything. I’m proud we added colour to the race. We’re ready but it’s very hard to win. With Stannard on the wheels for thirty kilometres everybody was getting nervous. Maybe they made a couple of mistakes but we decided the race. We excelled as a team.”
After the race Boonen concluded that the Etixx-QuickStep riders should not have attacked. Boonen was the first attacker but he stated that they should have aimed for the sprint. “We gave it away. Those two just had to keep riding for the sprint and then we would have won but everybody always wants more,” Boonen told Sporza.
The attack from Terpstra that was seemingly countered by Stijn Vandenbergh raised questions about the co-operation in the team. “I think Stijn didn’t feel it was an acceleration. I think he just followed to continue his work, as he had been doing before. He clearly had done most of the work in the attack,” Lefevere said.
Once the decisive attack was up the road Stannard sat on the wheels. That tactic and the pressure from behind ruined the day for Etixx-QuickStep. Lefevre felt that a rider like Stannard should’ve worked along, at least briefly.
“Stannard did what he had to do. Then again, I think that a rider from his calibre from that team should share the work until the gap was 40 seconds. He played it hard but tomorrow or next week it’s another race, then we can play that game. Stannard was team leader today. A team leader that was on the wheels for 40 kilometres. A rider of his level, a team leader, doesn’t stay on the wheels for 40 kilometres,” Lefevere said.
“For us it wasn’t possible to play poker. There were three men at 20 seconds then you have to keep riding. [...] They rode away at the Haaghoek with more than 40 kilometres to go. They’re not used to do this effort in these temperatures. Then the light goes out. If you see Tom is flexing his back then you know what’s going on. He tried it but it didn’t work out.”
Then Lefevere didn’t like that a journalist called Vanmarcke the strongest man in the race. He discussed whether Vanmarcke lost contact with the leaders due to a flat tyre or just got dropped.
“Vanmarcke the best man in the race? That’s probably going to be your title. We were the best team in the race. Besides Vanmarcke wasn’t dropped, he didn’t puncture away. He came back after puncturing. They didn’t ride away when he punctured,” Lefevere said. When asked again about Vanmarcke he became sarcastic.
“Vanmarcke? Best man in the race, by far. I’m already afraid. Is he the best rider on the cobbles? Absolutely. But why didn’t he close the gap. If there would be a few more motorbikes then the gap would be even smaller. You should try to watch the race with the eyes of a connoisseur. It’s about time to get rid of the motorbikes between the riders.”
On Sunday, Lefevere’s riders get a second chance to excel during the opening weekend at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne with Mark Cavendish as top favourite. Last year Tom Boonen made up for the Omloop defeat by winning in Kuurne.