Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Strength in depth a continued luxury for Deceuninck-QuickStep - Analysis
What do you do when Gilbert, Jungels, and Lampaert are waiting in the wings?
Take nothing away from Zdenek Stybar's fine solo attack and win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad but his victory was sealed through a collective performance from Deceuninck-QuickStep.
The Belgian team were present in every major attack during the second half of the race, and even when their rivals launched a late chase to catch the move that contained Stybar, the eventual winner still had several teammates in the second group who were waiting to pounce if needed. Mounting a chase when you have Yves Lampaert, Bob Jungels and Philippe Gilbert sitting on your shoulder must feel like riding up the Muur with two flat tires.
To cement their dominance in the first cobbled Classic of the season, Deceuninck finished with Lampaert and Gilbert seventh and eighth, respectively. And in case you've lost count, the team have already notched up 12 wins this season. The likes of Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff will no doubt feature later in the spring campaign, while Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) put in a valiant effort to claim second in the finish town of Ninove, but Omloop provided an ominous sign for the rest of the Classics.
"In every part of the race we had someone there and I must say that Stybar was always awake and always there. He was in the first main break and as a team, we had a really good performance," Tom Steels, their director and the 1996 winner of this race, told Cyclingnews at the finish.
After posting riders in several moves, the key point came when a crash splintered the front group. Stybar made it through with six other riders but he was more than capable of matching Van Avermaet whenever the Belgian attacked on the final set of climbs. Once the leading group reached the final 13 kilometres of flat roads, and with the rest of the peloton out of the picture, it was up to Stybar to pick his moment. He couldn't have timed it better. He waited for Van Avermaet to chase down a move from Tim Wellens before executing his own assault once the Lotto rider was brought to heel. Van Avermaet gave chase once more but when his shoulders dropped and he looked around for support Stybar had the necessary gap and the race was effectively won.
However, as much as Stybar won this race through his own strengths, and his renewed confidence after a lean spell in 2018, he owed much to his teammates. They covered moves and wore out the chase when Sunweb, Jumbo Visma, and Team Sky looked to breathe life into a counter attack.
"The other riders in the front, they were the leaders and they had to go for it because they had no one in the back who was better than them," Steels said in his assessment of today's tactics.
"We still had numbers to play. Stybar could ride, we didn't tell him not to, but he could afford to ride at 80 per cent while the others in the break had to ride 100 per cent to stay clear. That's the luxury we have in this team and that's an advantage we can play. If the race came back together it would have been lost for the other riders in the break but not for us. It meant that he could relax."
Omloop is of course just the opening chapter in this year's spring campaign. However, it's a race that Deceuninck, through all their varied sponsorship names, have struggled to win over the years. Not even their talisman Tom Boonen could manage it and one needs to go back to Nick Nuyens' 2005 triumph to find the last time Patrick Lefevere's team won here - ahead of Boonen - no less.
Yet an early win in the Classics will give Deceuninck another dose of confidence and further enforce their position as the leading team for this year's spring. Momentum, such an important factor during the cobbles, is with them.
"This win is very important. From the beginning of the season, we've already won a few races and we've carried on from where we left things last year. The sprint guys are really important because they give the flow of the team but especially the Classics guys, who are really good. Lampaert is a year older and has made a step forward, while Tim de Clerq rode all day in the lead. The entire team is on a high level and tactically that gives you a lot."
Next up, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, a race in which Deceuninck have a much better historical record. They haven't tasted victory there since Mark Cavendish took the spoils in 2015, and although they line up without a leading sprinter, they will no doubt use their strength in numbers to good effect.
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Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.