Valgren wins Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Wisniowski second, Vanmarcke third

Astana might be in trouble behind the scenes, but on the road they have been pitch perfect this month. Michael Valgren added to their February success with victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after a late solo attack.

Łukasz Wiśniowski (Team Sky) had been distanced on the Muur van Gerardsbergen but fought back to take second place ahead of Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac).

"After the Muur we got away in a big group," Valgren said. "We had three guys and we needed to do something because we had some fast riders. We had Oscar there and Lutsenko who is also fast, so it was up to me to attack. I counter attacked Sep Vanmarcke and they were looking at each other for just five seconds and I was away.

"It was bloody hard and I am super happy. I would like to be up there in the big ones like the Tour of Flanders. It's the only the second time that I've done these races, last year was the first time and I was 11th in the Tour of Flanders. You also need to be lucky about the crashes and these races are stressful and full-gas, but they are a lot of fun."

The finale of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad had been tinkered with to something that mirrored the old finish of the Tour of Flanders, but with plenty of youth in the bunch there were many that hadn't raced on that parcours.

Most had expected the race to detonate as early as the Mollenberg, but a headwind out on course made it nigh on impossible. It wouldn't be until the Muur van Gaardsbergen that it really began to take shape.

A group of 13 riders emerged the other side following a stinging attack from Vanmarcke, with Astana holding the cards with three riders in the move. They played their advantage by sending Valgren up the road on several occasions, leaving Oscar Gatto and Alexey Lutsenko to sit in the wheels behind.

Each dig was brought back but Valgren went again with just over two kilometres to go and this time it stuck. The chasers looked at each other, none wanting to be the one to blink first. Vanmarcke finally cracked but it was too late and Valgren already had his first Belgian Classic wrapped up.

How it happened

The temperature in Gent on Saturday morning was just above freezing point but the skies were clear, making for a perfect crisp winter's morning to usher in the 2018 Classics and the traditional 'start of the season'. The crowds steadily built in Gent's Citadel park and the 't Kuipke velodrome, home of the Gent Six, where the men's and women's teams were presented together ahead of a joint start.

It was a fast start but it didn't take long for the day's early breakaway to form. At first it was made up of Marco Mathis (Katusha-Alpecin), Michael Van Staeyen (Cofidis), Kenneth Van Bilsen (Cofidis), Brian van Goethem (Roompot), Edward Planckaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Michael Svendgaard (Fortuneo-Samsic), Dries De Bondt (Veranda's Willems Crelan) and Ludwig De Winter (WB Aqua Project Veranclassic) and they were soon joined by Aleksejs Saramotins (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Tim Ariesen (Roompot) to make a group of 10.

After 41 kilometres and an hour of racing, the gap stood at five minutes, but it would soon start to deminish. The Haaghoek sector of cobblestones, shortly followed by the first ascent Leberg climb, represented the opening difficulties of the day. On the tarmacked, and largely flat, roads of the subsequent 30 kilometres, the gap came down to the 2:45 mark, with each of the big teams sending a rider towards the front to help police the situation.

As the first proper string of cobbles and climbs unfolded, the tension increased and we saw the first crashes of the day, Michael Matthews (Sunweb) coming down round a tight corner before Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) was forced to abandon after a collision with a Wanty-Groupe Gobert rider.

The pace really ramped up on the approach to the second helping of the Haaghoek-Leberg combination, this ascent being the fourth of the 13 hills on the parcours. Near the top of the Leberg, Gilbert put in a big acceleration. It wasn't enough to create a selection but it certainly signalled that things were getting serious. Up ahead, the break was fragmenting, and Mathis, Ariesen, and Van Staeyen were all left behind.

On the undulating approach to the Kokkerelle, Gilbert tested his rivals with another brief acceleration, while his teammate Stybar put in a more serious attack, only to be chased down by BMC and Lotto Soudal.

The first exchanges

After the Wolvenberg, it was time for the Molenberg, a key danger point highlighted by Gilbert ahead of the race. The climb itself didn't do too much damage but the subsequent narrow lanes did. The peloton split before groups clipped off the front. Stybar, Silvan Dillier (AG2R), Stefan Kung (BMC), Boy Van Poppel (Trek-Segafredo), Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha-Alpecin), and Chris Juul Jensen (MItchelton-Scott) found themselves in a group and they were soon joined by a second small group containing Oliver Naesen (AG2R), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Michael Matthews (Sunweb), Armund Jansen (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Dries Van Gestel (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise).

Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) bridged across alone but the main bunch remained close and onto the Haaghoek-Leberg for the third and final time, the race came back together. Alexis Gougeard attacked and joined the final remnant of the breakaway, Saramontins.

They didn't last long as Wellens attacked on the Berendries, the ninth climb of the day. Van Avermaet was quick to close him down and then accelerated away himself, which triggered big splits in the bunch. Up front, Van Avermaet and Wellens found themselves with Stybar, Theuns, Colbrelli, Benoot, Vanmarcke, and Thwaites. The strung out bunch soon reformed and came back, but Benoot went again and, after being briefly tracked by Theuns and Thwaites, used the Valkenberg climb to go solo.

Benoot built a lead of 30 seconds but the peloton bunched back up on the wider roads and Quick-Step and BMC were able to put domestiques on the front to chase. Benoot's lead fell up the short Tenbosse climb and he was caught with 26 kilometres remaining, leaving a sizeable peloton of just under 100 riders intact for the approach the all-important Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg.

With a lengthy run from the Tenbosse to the Muur, there was a brief cease-fire in the bunch. After non-stop action over the preceding kilometres, the run towards the Muur was taken at a slightly more leisurely pace as the peloton collectively caught their breath. Winding through Geraardsbergen, Jempy Drucker went off the front for BMC but it was Vanmarcke's move ahead of the rise to the chapel that did the real damage. Zdenek Stybar and Greg Van Avermaet tried to follow, but the EF Education First rider had the pace on the toughest part of the climb.

Vanmarcke crested the climb on his own, with a severely diminished group chasing hard behind. A group of 10 riders, including Van Avermaet, Matteo Trentin, Stybar and Wout van Aert, joined up with the Belgian before Lukas Wisniowski and Yves Lampaert joined them on the run towards the Bosberg. Lampaert would eventually drop back, when Naesen started attacking off the front. With three riders, Astana sought to put the hurt on and they did with several attacks from Valgren.

Each move was reeled back in until Valgren shot off the front with around 2.5 kilometres to go. Behind him, the other riders glanced at each other, urging them to make the move, but nobody did. Vanmarcke finally went with a kilometre remaining but Valgren was too far ahead.

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Michael Valgren (Den) Astana Pro Team4:50:14 
2Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol) Team Sky0:00:12 
3Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
4Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo  
5Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
6Edward Theuns (Bel) Team Sunweb  
7Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
8Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida  
9Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ  
10Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe  
11Owain Doull (GBr) Team Sky  
12Mads Würtz Schmidt (Den) Katusha-Alpecin  
13Scott Thwaites (GBr) Dimension Data  
14Sacha Modolo (Ita) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
15Dries Van Gestel (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise  
16Timo Roosen (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo  
17Amaury Capiot (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise  
18Silvan Dillier (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale  
19Amund Grøndahl Jansen (Nor) LottoNL-Jumbo  
20Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors  
21Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
22Stefan Küng (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
23Magnus Cort (Den) Astana Pro Team  
24Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale  
25Marco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
26Baptiste Planckaert (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin  
27Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale  
28Yoann Offredo (Fra) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
29Pierre Luc Perichon (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic  
30Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing Team  
31Maarten Wynants (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo  
32Wout Van Aert (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
33Frederik Backaert (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
34Anthony Turgis (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
35Alex Kirsch (Lux) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
36Yves Lampaert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
37Patrick Müller (Swi) Vital Concept Club  
38Oscar Gatto (Ita) Astana Pro Team  
39Sean De Bie (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
40Julien Vermote (Bel) Dimension Data  
41Maxime Vantomme (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
42Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team  
43Dion Smith (NZl) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
44Kristijan Koren (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
45Luke Durbridge (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott  
46Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Mitchelton-Scott  
47Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb  
48Andreas Schillinger (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe  
49Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise  
50Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team  
51Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Team Sky  
52Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors  
53Michael Hepburn (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott  
54Daniel Oss (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe  
55Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott  
56Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned) FDJ  
57Bert-Jan Lindeman (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo0:00:32 
58Aime De Gendt (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise0:00:41 
59Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:01:29 
60Jasper De Buyst (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:01:48 
61Nico Denz (Ger) AG2R La Mondiale0:02:42 
62Gediminas Bagdonas (Ltu) AG2R La Mondiale  
63Jenthe Biermans (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin  
64Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
65Floris Gerts (Ned) Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij  
66Nathan Van Hooydonck (Bel) BMC Racing Team  
67Grega Bole (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
68Thomas Leezer (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo  
69Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
70Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Astana Pro Team  
71Ben Swift (GBr) UAE Team Emirates  
72Reto Hollenstein (Swi) Katusha-Alpecin  
73Luka Pibernik (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
74Stijn Devolder (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
75Dmitriy Gruzdev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team  
76Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin  
77Bert De Backer (Bel) Vital Concept Club  
78Bryan Coquard (Fra) Vital Concept Club  
79Jelle Wallays (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
80Johan Le Bon (Fra) Vital Concept Club  
81Olivier Le Gac (Fra) FDJ0:06:14 
82Alex Edmondson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott  
83Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin0:09:12 
84Ivan Garcia (Spa) Bahrain-Merida  
85Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo  
86Fernando Gaviria (Col) Quick-Step Floors  
87Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
88Mitchell Docker (Aus) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
89Matti Breschel (Den) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
90Dimitri Claeys (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
91Lars Bak (Den) Lotto Soudal0:12:16 
92Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo  
93Aleksejs Saramotins (Lat) Bora-Hansgrohe  
94Truls Korsaeth (Nor) Astana Pro Team  
95Ludwig De Winter (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
96Boy van Poppel (Ned) Trek-Segafredo  
97Bram Tankink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo  
98Edward Planckaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise  
DNFFrancisco Ventoso (Spa) BMC Racing Team  
DNFJurgen Roelandts (Bel) BMC Racing Team  
DNFJulien Duval (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFAlexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
DNFBorut Bozic (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFDavid Per (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
DNFChristoph Pfingsten (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe  
DNFLukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe  
DNFMichael Schwarzmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe  
DNFSebastian Langeveld (Ned) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
DNFTom Scully (NZl) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
DNFLogan Owen (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale  
DNFAntoine Duchesne (Can) FDJ  
DNFMickael Delage (Fra) FDJ  
DNFDaniel Hoelgaard (Nor) FDJ  
DNFIgnatas Konovalovas (Ltu) FDJ  
DNFLawrence Naesen (Bel) Lotto Soudal  
DNFLucas Hamilton (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott  
DNFMathew Hayman (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott  
DNFDries Devenyns (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
DNFIljo Keisse (Bel) Quick-Step Floors  
DNFEdvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data  
DNFNicolas Dougall (RSA) Dimension Data  
DNFBernhard Eisel (Aut) Dimension Data  
DNFRyan Gibbons (RSA) Dimension Data  
DNFJay Thomson (RSA) Dimension Data  
DNFMarco Mathis (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin  
DNFKoen Bouwmam (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo  
DNFJonathan Dibben (GBr) Team Sky  
DNFMichal Golas (Pol) Team Sky  
DNFChristian Knees (Ger) Team Sky  
DNFChristopher Lawless (GBr) Team Sky  
DNFRoy Curvers (Ned) Team Sunweb  
DNFLaurens ten Dam (Ned) Team Sunweb  
DNFMichael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb  
DNFTom Stamsnijder (Ned) Team Sunweb  
DNFMartijn Tusveld (Ned) Team Sunweb  
DNFRyan Mullen (Irl) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFGiacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFGregory Rast (Swi) Trek-Segafredo  
DNFMatteo Bono (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
DNFSimone Consonni (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
DNFFilippo Ganna (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
DNFAleksandr Riabushenko (Blr) UAE Team Emirates  
DNFOliviero Troia (Ita) UAE Team Emirates  
DNFHugo Hofstetter (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFMichaël Van Staeyen (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFKenneth Vanbilsen (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits  
DNFTim Ariesen (Ned) Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFPim Ligthart (Ned) Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFPieter Weening (Ned) Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFSjoerd van Ginneken (Ned) Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFBrian van Goethem (Ned) Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFCoen Vermeltfoort (Ned) Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij  
DNFBenjamin Declercq (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise  
DNFPreben Van Hecke (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise  
DNFMichael Carbel (Den) Fortuneo-Samsic  
DNFMaxime Daniel (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic  
DNFArnaud Gerard (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic  
DNFBenoit Jarrier (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic  
DNFFlorian Vachon (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic  
DNFBram Welten (Ned) Fortuneo-Samsic  
DNFDries De Bondt (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFHuub Duijn (Ned) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFStijn Steels (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFSenne Leysen (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan  
DNFKris Boeckmans (Bel) Vital Concept Club  
DNFJulien Morice (Fra) Vital Concept Club  
DNFJonas Van Genechten (Bel) Vital Concept Club  
DNFTom Devriendt (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
DNFWesley Kreder (Ned) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
DNFGuillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
DNFPieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert  
DNFKevyn Ista (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
DNFJustin Jules (Fra) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
DNFJulien Stassen (Bel) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  
DNFLukas Spengler (Swi) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic  

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