Sep Vanmarcke outsprints Tom Boonen to take Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sep Vanmarcke outsprints Tom Boonen to take Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

by Ben Atkins at 10:53 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Race Reports and Results, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Juan Antonio Flecha third after Classic edition of Flemish opening race

Sep VanmarckeSep Vanmarcke proved that Garmin-Barracuda’s Classics team has not suffered the departure of Thor Hushovd in the winter, with a three-up sprint victory in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The 23-year-old from Kortrijk managed to outpace Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) in the dash for the line, to deny the former World champion victory in the opening race of the Belgian season once again, with 2010 race winner Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) taking third.

The three riders were the last of what had been a seven-rider group that escaped the peloton, after an attack from Boonen on the steep cobbles of the Taaienberg, with just under 60km to go. The group also included former World champion Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) and Matti Breschel (Rabobank), as well as Boonen and Flecha’s teammates Dries Devenyns and Mathew Hayman.

After riding across to the race-long breakaway, they managed to drop both Hushovd and Breschel on the Paddestraat cobbles with 30km to go, before an attack from Vanmarcke on the cobbles of the Lange Munte shipped Hayman and Devenyns.

Vanmarcke and Flecha clearly feared the sprint of Boonen, and both tried to put him under pressure during the final kilometres into the finish in the city of Gent. The Classics veteran seemed to have things under control as they came into the finish though, until Vanmarcke came around him in the final hundred metres to take the victory.

Despite showing great promise in recent years - including second place in the 2010 edition of Gent-Wevelgem - this result was Vanmarcke’s first victory as a professional.

"I talked with the team management last winter,” he told Sporza afterwards. “I had to take a step forward, to try to get onto the podium; but to then immediately to win the Omloop…

"I tried several times to drop Boonen, but didn’t succeed,” he explained. “You know you have little chance in a sprint with him. But if I have a good day, I know that I can sprint.

"I went around Flecha and easily outsprinted Boonen,” he exclaimed. “I couldn’t believed my eyes. I beat Tom Boonen, the great hero!

"I've already had a lot of bad luck and injuries,” he added. “But I've always kept fighting. This is incredible."

Heinrich Haussler capped a perfect day for Garmin-Barracuda, as he outsprinted Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) for fourth place at the head of what was left of the peloton, just 25 seconds later.

The rabbits get away early as Katusha gets aggressive

After 10km Marco Haller (Katusha) attacked, after a move from teammate Maksim Belkov was pulled back, and the Austrian was quickly joined by David Boucher (FDJ-BigMat), Arnaud van Groen ( Verandas), Davide Ricci Bitti (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia), Florian Vachon (Bretagne-Schuller), Sven Vandousselaere (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM).

With the peloton clearly enjoying the sunny weather, the seven-man group was allowed to build a huge lead, which topped out at almost twelve minutes as it crossed the Haaghoek cobbles for the fist time after 61km.

This enormous gap seemed to awaken the peloton and Omega Pharma-Quick Step, for Boonen, and BMC Racing, for Philippe Gilbert, along with GreenEDGE for defending champion Sebastian Langeveld, began to accelerate and close the gap.

It was still 8’45” as they crossed the top of the Guilleminlaan, the second climb of the day after 83.6km, but was beginning to tumble as the big teams built up the pace.

The gap was not the only thing to be tumbling however, as the twisting Flemish roads saw a number of small crashes at the rear of the peloton. Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) was among those to come down just before the Kruisberg, and took some time to remount and chase back on.

As the peloton made its way up the climb, three minutes behind the leaders, Gilbert began to show himself for the first time.

Up ahead there were clearly some that were beginning to sit on, so Vandousselaere accelerated off the end of the Donderij section of cobbles, with just over 60km to go; he pulled Westra and Boucher clear, and the other four were left behind.

Another crash in the peloton on the cobble once again saw a number of riders hit the deck near the back; Alex Dowsett (Team Sky) was one of those to come down.

Vandousselaere was clearly the strongest in the front group pulled away from the other two on the steep, cobbled slopes of the Taaienberg; he eased up to wait for them though, as he clearly had no intention of attempting the final 60km alone.

Boonen takes on the Taaienberg - and Lars Boom - and the winning move is made

As the peloton hit the climb, Boonen began to accelerate; Lars Boom (Rabobank) tried to pull alongside him, but the Belgian was not willing to give up his position on the right, as he was heading towards the smooth gutter a little further up; they were briefly shoulder to shoulder until Boom’s wheels left the road, hit a ditch, and the cyclocross rider came down.

Boonen was now clear, with Vanmarcke right behind him, and suddenly the seven-man group was away.

As the three leaders took on the cobbled Eikenberg, a fan leaned into the road to take a picture and checked Westra; the Dutchman was thankfully able to stay upright, and continued to climb, but Devenyns was leading the Boonen group behind them and was gaining.

Gilbert punctured on the cobbles, taking an age to get a replacement, and effectively saw his chances of a third victory in the race disappear up the road. He quickly caught Langeveld, who’d come down in one of the numerous small crashes, and the two former winners tried to make their way back up to the main peloton.

On the Holloweg cobbles with 50km to go, Boonen’s group were just 1’15” behind Vandousselaere, Westra and Boucher, with the other four members of the original breakaway group halfway between. Boonen took control again on the uneven surface, as they began to pick up the stragglers, and the seven-rider group soon caught up with Boucher, who had been dropped by the other two.

Boonen’s group was now more than a minute clear of the peloton, and less than a minute behind Vandousselaere and Westra as they approached the Haaghoek cobbles for a second time.

Boonen hit the front again on the 2000 metre stretch and, as they rejoined the tarmac road, the gap to the front pair was just 15 seconds; as they hit the foot of the Leberg with 40km to go, the catch was made.

The front group was now Boonen, Devenyns, Hayman, Flecha, Breschel, Hushovd, Vanmarcke, Westra, Vandousselaere and Vachon. As they crested the top of the climb, the gap to the peloton was more than two minutes.

The attacks begin and the group gets thinned out

Vanmarcke attacked on the Molenberg, and Boonen chased across to him with Hushovd and Breschel on his wheel; Hayman chased across after the steepest, cobbled part, followed by Devenyns and Flecha, but the accelerations meant curtains for the other three, who had been in the break all day.

Luca Paolini (Katusha) attacked up the climb from the peloton behind them, but he was marked by Boonen and Devenyns’ teammate Gert Steegmans.

Accelerations on the Paddestraat from Boonen, Devenyns and Flecha saw first Hushovd, then Breschel dropped by the lead group. There were now two from Omega Pharma-Quick Step, two from Team Sky, and one from Garmin-Barracuda up front with just 30km to go.

Hushovd and Breschel were hanging just ten seconds behind the leading five, but nobody in front wanted to let them rejoin - particularly the sprint power of Hushovd - and so both pairs of teammates kept the pressure on as the tarmac roads began. With 25km to go, the gap began to creep up and, with word getting back to the peloton that Hushovd was no longer in the lead, his BMC Racing team was now leading the chase in the peloton.

On the Lange Munte cobbles with a little more than 20km to go Vanmarcke, who’d been sitting at the back until now, accelerated. He forced an small gap, but Boonen fought his way across with Flecha and joined him after just a few seconds; it was all over for Hayman and Devenyns.

And then they were three...

The three riders then began to work together as they headed towards the finish in Gent. Inside the final 13km Breschel and Hushovd were picked up by what was left of the peloton; Hushovd’s BMC Racing teammate, and fellow former World champion, Alessandro Ballan was now drilling it on the front. Inside the final 10km though, the three leaders were 1’49” clear, giving him far too big a task.

BMC Racing was well represented in the group, with Gilbert lurking close to the rear, and GreenEDGE were also present in numbers; Omega Pharma-Quick Step were keeping control of things however, with the wily Steegmans making his presence felt at the front.

With 5km to go, with Boonen, Flecha and Vanmarcke all sharing the workload, their lead had been cut to little more than a minute, but there was no danger of them being caught unless they did something stupid.

The final obstacle was the short Steenaker section of cobbles with just 2.7km to go Flecha attacked, Boonen responded with Vanmarcke on his tail and they slowed again as they began to traverse the streets of Gent.

Into the final kilometre Vanmarcke attacked, and Flecha allowed Boonen to chase him down before having a brief dig himself; they were together again though as they approached the final few hundred metres.

Flecha was leading, stuck on the front, with Vanmarcke on the back; Boonen was in between, and the pace went right down as they each dared each other to go first. Unsurprisingly it was Flecha that blinked first, then Boonen went, but he had gone too soon and Vanmarcke came past him in the final hundred metres.

Result Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite Men
1. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Garmin-Barracuda
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
3. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Team Sky
4. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin-Barracuda
5. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
6. Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM
7. Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
8. Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJ-BigMat
9. Alexandre Pichot (Fra) Europcar
10. Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Verandas


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