Omloop Het Nieuwsblad highlights - Video

Van Avermaet defends his title in Ghent

BMC's Greg Van Avermaet took a second straight Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory Saturday in Ghent, defending his title ahead of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) after the trio found themselves in a small lead group late in the race and then dispatched several others from the group.

A six-man breakaway worked up a hefty advantage in the early goings as the peloton bided its time heading into West Flanders from the start line in Ghent. The action heated up around the midway point of the race, with a few attacks out of the bunch and then a critical crash on the cobbles at Donderij. Katusha's Alexander Kristoff, Lotto Soudal's Jens Debusschere and Tiesj Benoot and Quick-Step's Tom Boonen were among the many contenders that were caught in or behind the pileup.

Attacks on the Taaienberg saw the rest of the bunch split, with Sagan among a select group hunting down the main breakaway. Aggressive riding, mostly from Sagan, saw several riders drop back to form a pursuit.

Before long, Sagan's group caught the early break, and then Sagan, Van Avermaet, and Vanmarcke broke clear on the Molenberg.

A strong selection of 12 riders gave chase, but the trio refused to give ground, maintaining a 30-second advantage for a while before growing the gap to nearly a minute as it became clear they wouldn't be caught.

Rather than attacking in the closing kilometres, all three leaders decided to dig in for a sprint. Vanmarcke was the first to launch, but defending champ Van Avermaet sailed past and held off Sagan to take the win.

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