Greg Van Avermaet wins Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Sagan and Vanmarcke round out podium

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) successfully defended his Omloop Het Nieuwsblad crown when he saw off world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) with a powerful sprint in Ghent.

The winning move was formed in installments, beginning with Sagan’s fierce accelerations on the climb of the Wolvenberg and the cobbles that followed at Haaghoek, efforts that helped peg back the early leaders and whittle down an already reduced group of favourites.

Only Sagan and Van Avermaet could then respond when Vanmarcke attacked on the final climb of the Molenberg, and the trio quickly established a lead of 30 seconds over the chasers. They would scarcely hand back an inch of that advantage thereafter, despite the efforts of Sky and Quick-Step in the group of twelve riders that formed behind them.

In truth, the three leaders looked a rung or two above everyone else in the opening race of the Belgian season, though it must be noted that a number of contenders, including Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), were eliminated by a crash ahead of the Taaienberg, traditionally the true starting point of hostilities among the favourites.

Sagan was forced to lead the break into the final kilometre, though it was Vanmarcke, winner of Omloop in 2012, who opened the sprint from distance. Van Avermaet was quick to respond. He swiftly moved past Vanmarcke and put a length into Sagan, and the world champion was never able to get back on terms.

Van Avermaet once had the reputation as a nearly man, but he began to shake off that tag following his victory in similar circumstances at Omloop a year ago. After winning Olympic gold in Rio last summer, Van Avermaet clearly no longer has any inhibitions in the biggest races, and he will be encouraged, too, by his fine head-to-head record against Sagan.

“It’s an amazing feeling. Last year I started my year with a big victory. It’s always nice to come back and win your first race on home ground. For me it’s the perfect start of the season," Van Avermaet said. Asked if it was a good omen for the Tour of Flanders, he added: “Hopefully, it’s my biggest goal, but it will be a hard race.”

Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) clipped off the front of the chase group to finish fourth, 44 seconds down, while just behind him, Oscar Gatto (Astana) won the sprint for fifth ahead of Luke Rowe (Sky).

Felline’s directeur sportif Dirk Demol complained afterwards that the three leaders had ignored a directive that threatened riders with exclusion if they rode along the pavements at the side of the road instead of along the course proper. He was joined in his protest by Lotto Soudal manager Marc Sergeant, but the commissaires quickly confirmed that the result of the race stood. Van Avermat was the winner.

There was no celebration for Tom Boonen, meanwhile, in his final tilt at Omloop, the one major cobbled race that has eluded him during his illustrious career. The Belgian crashed twice, and his race was effectively ended by the second incident on the cobbles at Donderij. Although he gamely gave chase, Boonen eventually abandoned inside the final 50 kilometres, but is expected to start Sunday's Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

Race video highlights

How it unfolded

After a fast first hour of racing, Justin Jules (Veranclassic) and Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R La Mondiale) managed to get away. The pace in the peloton picked up when approaching the first passage over the cobbles of the Haaghoek. A first crash occurred soon afterwards, with Tom Boonen being one of the casualties, though the Belgian star was quickly able to bridge back up to the peloton. Lukas Spengler (Veranclassic) had less luck and was transferred to the hospital.

Brian van Goethem (Roompot), Mike Teunissen (Team Sunweb), former Belgian champion Preben Van Hecke (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Leigh Howard (Aqua Blue Sport) caught the two leaders right after tackling the Eikenmolen climb, with 127 kilometres still to race. The pace in the peloton slackened, meanwhile, and by the Muur van Geraardsbergen, the six leaders suddenly had a lead of eight minutes.

Katusha-Alpecin accelerated in the peloton when approaching the Haaghoek for the second time, and on the cobbles there was a crash that took out Sam Bewley (Orica-Scott). A few moments later Zakk Dempster (Israel Cycling Academy) crashed out of the race after riding against the sidewalk.

On returning into the province of East Flanders, the battle for positions started in earnest in the peloton. The ascent of the cobbled Kruisberg and the cobbles of the Donderij preceded the always important climb of the Taaienberg, and this was where the race really took shape. Alexis Gougeard (AG2R La Mondiale), Andrei Grivko (Astana) and track specialist Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie) anticipated the big moves with a counter-attack, while the bunch trailed the break by four minutes.

On the cobbles at Donderij, there was a massive crash in the first rows of the peloton, and the biggest names involved in the incident were Alexander Kristoff, Tony Martin (Katusha), Jens Debusschere, Tiesj Benoot, (Lotto-Soudal), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) and Tom Boonen. Although Boonen changed bikes and gave chase, it was a doomed effort, and he abandoned soon afterwards, meaning that the Omloop will remain a rare gap on his palmarès. The Belgian will retire after Paris-Roubaix on April 9.

At the Taaienberg, usually the scene of Boonen’s first major effort, Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) unleashed an acceleration. Greg Van Avermaet marked his wheel, with Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Sep Vanmarcke and Peter Sagan coming up soon afterwards. The group later swelled as Matti Breschel, Oscar Gatto (Astana), Stefan Küng (BMC), Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale) closed the gap, while Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard (Team Sky) joined them on the following ascent of the Eikenberg, where the main group also picked up Gougeard, Grivko and Boudat.

At 50 kilometres from the finish, on the Wolvenberg, Sagan accelerated again, and this time only Vanmarcke, Van Avermaet, Grivko, Gougeard and Boudat were able to keep up. At that point, they were one minute behind the five remaining leaders, as Howard had been dropped. In the main chase group Sky kept the pace high with Gianni Moscon but they quickly lost half a minute on the Sagan-Van Avermaet group.

When tackling the cobbles of the Haaghoek for the third and final time, Sagan’s powerful effort saw him link up with the five survivors from the early break, with only Vanmarcke, Van Avermaet and Gougeard left on his wheel. This group of nine riders had forty seconds on the Moscon-led peloton.

At 35 kilometres from the finish, the cobbled Molenberg was the final climb of the day, and Vanmarcke, Sagan and Van Avermaet showed their class by forging clear at the head of the race and forming an elite group of three. Further back, Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) attacked on the Molenberg, an effort that eventually saw a twelve-man group form and give chase to Sagan, Vanmarcke and Van Avermaet.

Through the cobbles of Lippenhovestraat and the Lange Munte, Van Avermaet, Sagan and Vanmarcke continued to collaborate smoothly, and they maintained a lead of 30 seconds over the chasing group, where Quick-Step had Stybar, Matteo Trentin and Philippe Gilbert forcing the pace. Try as they might, they barely clawed back so much as a second of the leaders’ advantage, which then stretched out towards a minute on the fast run-in to Ghent.

In the final 10 kilometres, it was clear that the winner would come from the three leaders, but despite some tactical manoeuvring from Vanmarcke, no attack was forthcoming and they fought out a keenly-contested sprint.

As in 2016, Van Avermaet had Sagan’s number in the slightly uphill sprint, but on this evidence, it won’t be the last time the Olympic and world champions lock horns on the cobbles this spring.

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team4:55:06 
2Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe  
3Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Cannondale-Drapac  
4Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo0:00:45 
5Oscar Gatto (Ita) Astana Pro Team0:00:52 
6Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky  
7Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale  
8Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo  
9Matteo Trentin (Ita) Quick-Step Floors0:00:56 
10Adrien Petit (Fra) Direct Energie0:00:58 
11Frederik Backaert (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
12Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team Sunweb  
13Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
14Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors  
15Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:01:02 
16Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Orica-Scott0:02:41 
17Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe  
18Timo Roosen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo0:02:44 
19Matti Breschel (Den) Astana Pro Team  
20Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ  
21Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
22Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
23Justin Jules (Fra) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
24Gediminas Bagdonas (Ltu) AG2R La Mondiale  
25Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
26Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb  
27Yoann Offredo (Fra) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
28Kristijan Koren (Slo) Cannondale-Drapac  
29Jasper De Buyst (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:02:59 
30Michael Valgren Andersen (Den) Astana Pro Team  
31Benoit Jarrier (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept  
32Kevin Ista (Bel)WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
33Taco Van Der Hoorn (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
34Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing Team  
35Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida  
36Florian Senechal (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
37Alexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
38Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Cannondale-Drapac  
39Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
40Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-Scott  
41Jesper Asselman (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
42Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu) FDJ  
43Brian Van Goethem (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
44Jos Van Emden (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
45Francisco Ventoso (Spa) BMC Racing Team  
46Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky  
47Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo  
48Andrey Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team  
49Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Orica-Scott  
50Mathew Hayman (Aus) Orica-Scott  
51Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors  
52Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise0:03:07 
53Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Direct Energie  
54Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale0:04:36 
55Maarten Wynants (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
56Quentin Jauregui (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
57Reto Hollenstein (Swi) Katusha-Alpecin0:04:37 
58Peter Koning (Ned) Aqua Blue Sport0:04:42 
59Jelle Wallays (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:05:26 
60Stijn Devolder (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
61Stefan Küng (Swi) BMC Racing Team0:07:45 
62Jimmy Turgis (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
63Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe  
64Maxime Farazijn (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
65Bert De Backer (Bel) Team Sunweb  
66Stijn Steels (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
67Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
68Huub Duyn (Ned) Veranda's Willems-Crelan  
69Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Astana Pro Team0:07:49 
70Christian Knees (Ger) Team Sky  
71Pim Ligthart (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
72Martin Elmiger (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
73Gregory Rast (Swi) Trek-Segafredo  
74Olivier Pardini (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
75Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe  
76Hugo Houle (Can) AG2R La Mondiale  
77Frederik Frison (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
78Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky  
79Thomas Boudat (Fra) Direct Energie  
80Franck Bonnamour (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept  
81Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Cannondale-Drapac  
82Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Cannondale-Drapac0:09:09 
83Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned) Team Sunweb  
84Marco Coledan (Ita) Trek-Segafredo  
85Dennis Van Winden (Ned) Israel Cycling Academy  
86Iljo Keisse (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
87Roy Curvers (Ned) Team Sunweb  
88Andreas Schillinger (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe  
89Lawrence Naesen (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
90Sander Cordeel (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
91Ivan Garcia (Spa) Bahrain-Merida  
92Ryan Mullen (Irl) Cannondale-Drapac  
93Julien Morice (Fra) Direct Energie  
94Olivier Le Gac (Fra) FDJ  
95Maxime Vantomme (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
96Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel) Team LottNl-Jumbo  
97Yves Lampaert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors0:09:16 
98Jérôme Baugnies (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert0:09:17 
99Bram Tankink (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
100Florian Vachon (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept  
101Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team Sky0:11:37 
102Tony Martin (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin  
103Sven Erik Bystrøm (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin  
104Boris Vallee (Bel) Fortuneo - Vital Concept  
105Danny Van Poppel (Ned) Team Sky  
106Arman Kamyshev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team  
107Lasse Norman Hansen (Den) Aqua Blue Sport  
108Daniel Hoelgaard (Nor) FDJ  
109Adam Blythe (GBr) Aqua Blue Sport  
110Maxime Daniel (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept  
111Julien Vermote (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
112Svein Tuft (Can) Orica-Scott  
113Guillaume Boivin (Can) Israel Cycling Academy  
114Wesley Kreder (Ned) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
115Tom Scully (NZl) Cannondale-Drapac  
116Pierre Luc Perichon (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept0:13:01 
DNFMatthew Brammeier (Irl) Aqua Blue Sport  
DNFConor Dunne (Irl) Aqua Blue Sport  
DNFPatrick Bevin (NZl) Cannondale-Drapac  
DNFAndrew Fenn (GBr) Aqua Blue Sport  
DNFDaniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing Team  
DNFZakkari Dempster (Aus) Israel Cycling Academy  
DNFBryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie  
DNFChristophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFRomain Cardis (Fra) Direct Energie  
DNFRyan Anderson (Can) Direct Energie  
DNFAaron Gate (NZl) Aqua Blue Sport  
DNFFloris Gerts (Ned) BMC Racing  
DNFLeigh Howard (Aus) Aqua Blue Sport  
DNFTruls Korsaeth (Nor) Astana Pro Team  
DNFRuslan Tleubayev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team  
DNFAntoine Duchesne (Can) Direct Energie  
DNFAviv Yechzkel (Isr) Israel Cycling Academy  
DNFTom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
DNFAleksejs Saramotins (Lat) Bora-Hansgrohe  
DNFMihkel Räim (Est) Israel Cycling Academy  
DNFBenjamin Perry (Can) Israel Cycling Academy  
DNFMarc Fournier (Fra) FDJ  
DNFLukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe  
DNFTyler Williams (USA) Israel Cycling Academy  
DNFDimitri Claeys (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFTiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
DNFHugo Hofstetter (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFJens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
DNFKenneth Vanbilsen (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFNikolas Maes (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
DNFAnthony Turgis (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFJames Shaw (GBr) Lotto Soudal  
DNFCyril Lemoine (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFHamish Schreurs (NZl) Israel Cycling Academy  
DNFMichal Kolár (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe  
DNFPieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
DNFLuka Pibernik (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFChristophe Prémont (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFDries De Bondt (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFGaetan Bille (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFTom Stamsnijder (Ned) Team Sunweb  
DNFLukas Spengler (Swi) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
DNFZico Waeytens (Bel) Team Sunweb  
DNFMax Walscheid (Ger) Team Sunweb  
DNFAlex Kirsch (Lux) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
DNFStef Van Zummeren (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFJens Mouris (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFLars Boom (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
DNFKevin Van Melsen (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
DNFMatthias Brändle (Aut) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFMads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFMichal Golas (Pol) Team Sky  
DNFSimone Antonini (Ita) Wanty - Groupe Gobert  
DNFSalvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky  
DNFKevin Deltombe (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
DNFEdward Planckaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
DNFAime De Gendt (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise  
DNFNico Denz (Ger) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFJulien Stassen (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect  
DNFErwann Corbel (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept  
DNFBorut Bozic (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFDomen Novak (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFIon Insausti (Spa) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFDavid Per (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFMarkel Irizar (Spa) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFDaniel Mclay (GBr) Fortuneo - Vital Concept  
DNFJulien Duval (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFJacopo Guarnieri (Ita) FDJ  
DNFMatthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJ  
DNFThomas Leezer (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo  
DNFJens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-Scott  
DNFAntonio Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFCoen Vermeltfoort (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij

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