Valgren wins Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

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

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#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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