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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Michael Valgren takes surprise victory

Joe Robinson
24 Feb 2018

Astana make most of numerical advantage with Valgren taking first cobbled classic of the season

Michael Valgren made the most of Astana's numerical advantage in the final kilometres to take a surprise victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. As one of three Astana riders in the lead group, the young Dane managed to launch himself from a group of 12 close to the finish, gaining a large enough gap to take him to victory.

Team Sky's Lukasz Wisniowski battled to second place with an ever aggressive Sep Vanmarcke (EF-Drapac) holding on for third.

Thanks to the company of teammates Alexey Lutsenko and Oscar Gatto, the sheer numbers of Astana were enough to beat the likes of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Wout Van Aert (Verandas Willems–Crelan).

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2018: How the day unfolded 

Omloop Het Niewsblad, for many, marked the beginning of the 2018 season as the Classics specialists opened their campaign on this 196km battle from Gent to Ninove, taking on 13 helligen and seven sections of cobbles.

Harking back to yesteryear, this year's Omloop assumed the final kilometres of the Tour of Flanders from before 2011, tackling the knee-crushing Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg before a furious 12km sprint to the finish. 

Connoisseurs of the cobbles will rejoice at the Kappelmuur's return to importance with memories of previous battles brought flooding back. 

The start of the race was a subdued one with a break of 10 establishing a lead on the peloton with relative ease. No big names were allowed to escape with the most notable rider up the road being Kenneth Van Bilsen (Cofidis).

This year's race proved to be a particularly cold one with the peloton firmly wrapped up in a barrage of kit. Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) before the race told Sporza that he had covered his face in vaseline to escape the bitter wind chill.

As the race settled in its usual formation of break and peloton, Vanmarcke, a former winner of this race, experienced a mechanical on the Leberg yet managed to rejoin the main bunch. At this point the 10 riders up the road had gained an advantage of five minutes. 

With 82km to go, Irish National Champion Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo) began to increase the pace of a jittery peloton that saw a few small crashes for Giamcomo Nizzolo and Laurens Ten Dam. Meanwhile, the day's break began to fragment with their overall lead plummeting to under two minutes.

This injection of speed alongside a teasing attack from Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) led to some finding themselves spat out the back. Gilbert's teammate Zdenek Stybar then assumed the role as carrot attacking 65km from the line.

Multiple riders from multiple teams chanced their luck on subsequent cobbled sections yet teams such as Quick-Step Floors and BMC Racing kept the pace high enough in the peloton to prevent.

Defending champion Van Avermaet pushed the pace on the cobbled Molenberg with Stybar and Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe) on his heels. This was brought back by the bunch with the next wave of attacks coming instantly after.

After a strong start to the season, Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) has shown good legs continuing them here escaping with a group that included an active Stybar and Belgian National Champion Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale).

Predictably this attack was realed in as was the day's breakaway with Aleksejs Saramotins (Bora-Hansgrohe) the last to be caught. Once caught, it was time for the favourites to have their say.

Van Avermaet proved his form stretching the bunch on one of the many climbs with 38km remaining. being joined by the already-aggressive Stybar and Wellens amongst others. They were then brought back before Tiej Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) became the latest to try his luck.

Benoot was caught and a temporary ceasefire was agreed in the peloton while the favourites began to eyeball their rivals in the knowledge that next on the agenda would be the punishing Muur.

As the gradient bit on the Muur, Vanmarcke managed to gap the chasers reaching the church first before being caught by a select group of 12 including triple cyclocross World Champion Van Aert.

Astana held the numerical advantage with three riders in the front group and therefore assumed much of the pace setting yet the typical game of cat and mouse played out with 3km to go.

Lead image: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Twitter

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2018: Top 10

1. Michael Valgren (DEN) Astana 
2. Lukasz Wisniowski (POL) Team Sky
3. Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) EF-Drapac 
4. Jasper Stuyven (BEL) Trek-Segafredo
5. Philippe Gilbert (BEL) Quick-Step Floors
6. Edward Theuns (BEL) Team Sunweb
7. Bert Van Lerberghe (BEL) Cofidis
8. Sonny Colbrelli (ITA) Bahrain-Merida 
9. Arnuad Demare (FRA) FDJ
10. Marcus Burghardt (GER) Bora-Hansgrohe