Michael Valgren of Astana bamboozled all the race favourites to take the win at the 2018 edition of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Working together with his colleagues Alexei Lutsenko and Oscar Gatto the Dane managed to save his legs in the final 12km as the big names lined up, including Greg van Avermaet, Oliver Naesen, and Sep Vanmarcke. Vanmarcke looked strong at the finale but he couldn’t keep away when Valgren launched his final attack.
The opening race of the classics season began on a cold morning at Merlbeke on the outskirts of Ghent, with temperatures forecast to hover between zero and five degrees centigrade although the sun shone down on the peloton. After seven kilometres of neutralised start, the peloton took off at a blistering pace with several attacks forming almost immediately.
The peloton did not look eager to let anyone away until after nine kilometres of racing when a group of eight riders pulled off the front with a 10″ gap. This initial group comprised Marco Mathis (Katusha-Alpecin), Michael Van Staeyen, Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis), Brian Van Goethem (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij), Edward Planckaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Michael Carbel (Fortuneo-Samsic), Dries De Bondt (Vérandas Willems-Crelan) et Ludwig De Winter (WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic).
Aleksejs Saramotins (Bora-hansgrohe) and Tim Ariesen (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij) went on to join this group shortly afterward. The breakaway pulled away from the group to create a gap that hit a maximum of 5’20 before it began to get pulled in by the chasers, led by Iljo Keisse of Quickstep Floors and Ventoso of BMC Racing.
Not a good day for 2016 Paris-Roubaix winner Mat Hayman of Mitchelton-Scott, he abandoned the race early on.
It was only at the beginning of the first cobbled section of the day – the Haaghoek – that the peloton put their foot on the accelerator. The gap was lowered down to the four-minute mark but held steady for the next ten kilometres.
Team Sky came undone after 131km of racing when Michal Golas and Dylan van Baarle were seen at the side of the road struggling with mechanicals, before being assisted by the Shimano Neutral Service Car.
With 50km to go to the finish line, all sorts of attacks and groups were forming. 5 riders at 35″, 5 riders at 45″ and then the bunch followin at 55″.
An early attack came from Tiesj Benoot of Lotto-Soudal. Although only 23 years old Benoot has already finished on the podium at the race back in 2016. Unfortunately for him, the attack was mistimed and after creating a bit of daylight on the Tenbosse, he was hit by a strong headwind and eaten up by the peloton with 30km to go.
After the Tenbosse came the Muur. Sep Van Marcke launched an attack that looked like it could stick but the peloton were arriving quickly and he couldn’t hold it. The front group came back together and it was only at the 1km mark, with the peloton close behind that the final attack would come. Valgren caught the front group off-guard, and only Vanmarcke looked be chasing. Ultimately, he couldn’t hold on though and it was Łukasz Wisniowski who would bump the EF rider down to 3rd position on the podium.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2018 Results
1 Michael VALGREN (Astana Pro Team)
2 Łukasz WIŚNIOWSKI (Team Sky)
3 Sep VANMARCKE (Team EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale)
4 Jasper STUYVEN (Trek – Segafredo)
5 Philippe GILBERT (Quick-Step Floors)
6 Edward THEUNS (Team Sunweb)
7 Bert VAN LERBERGHE (Cofidis Credit Solutions)
8 Sonny COLBRELLI (Bahrain Merida)
9 Arnaud DÉMARE (FDJ)
10 Marcus BURGHARDT (BORA – Hansgrohe)