A perfectly timed attack from Zdenek Stybar saw the Czech rider open the classics season with a win for Deceuninck-Quick-Step, Saturday. Stybar attacked from a select lead group of five with three kilometers to go, leaving Greg Van Avermaet legless and unable to follow having done so much work in the final stages of the race. The CCC rider led home the chasers to take second, while Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) took third.
“I had a good feeling all day, but of course you never know,” said Stybar. “It was a very strong break, but I still had teammates in the group behind, and I could benefit from that.”
The 200km opening cobbled classic of the season got underway under grey, drizzly skies. A breakaway quartet of Alex Howes (EF-Education First), Tom Devriendt (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Roy Jans (Corendon-Circus) and Tom Wirtgen (Wallonie-Bruxelles) went clear in the first 15km, quickly gaining up to 14 minutes on the peloton. It wasn’t until midway through the race that the bunch began the chase, and soon started cutting the advantage.
The attacks in the peloton kick-started on 80km remaining, by which point the lead quartet’s advantage was down to under five minutes. A chase group formed of over 20 riders, including dangermen Oliver Naesen (AG2R-La Mondiale), Ian Stannard (Team Sky), and Stybar, and gained over two minutes on the bunch before being winched in. The surge in pace in the peloton cut the lead quartet’s gap significantly.
With just over 40km remaining, an attack from Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) pulled a select group clear momentarily, including Van Avermaet and Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe), however, the peloton soon pulled the threat back.
As the bergs that pepper the back half of the race started coming thick and fast, the lead quartet splintered, leaving just Planckaert and Devriendt at the head of the race.
The first meaningful split in the bunch came on around 40km to go, which included several big names, including Stybar, Van Avermaet, Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) and Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step). However, several big names missed the cut, including Sep Vanmarcke (EF-Education First) and Quick-Step pair Gilbert and Bob Jungels.
Keen to distance dangermen such as Vanmarcke, the lead group pushed the advantage and soon swallowed up lone breakaway man Devriendt. Van Avermaet was forced into doing a lot of the work in the lead group as other riders were wary of the Belgian’s sprint.
Behind, the peloton splintered into several groups, with Team Sky’s Owain Doull pulling hard on the front. Quick-Step trio Jungels, Gilbert and Lampaert stifled the chase, working for Stybar.
As the race sped up and the fatigue of the climbs accumulated, the lead group started to fracture, and only six riders – Oss, Van Avermaet, Stybar, Wellens, Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) – remained in the lead on the run in to the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen. Oss was dropped in the steep pitches of the Muur however, leaving only five out front.
Once all the climbs had been completed and with only the flat run in to Ninove to go, the leader five had 25 seconds on the chasers.
The lead group started playing cat-and-mouse in the final stages, none willing to work on the front, waiting for the sprint. The stalemate was broken when Wellens attacked with 3km remaining, only to be neutralized by Van Avermaet.
Just as the leaders came together, Stybar attacked hard, leaving his breakaway companions looking at Van Avermaet to once again do the work and shut the flying Czech rider down. However, with only Lutsenko looking willing to help Van Avermaet, the hesitation from the chasers enabled Stybar to push home his advantage, crossing the line solo, taking the team’s first win at Omloop since Nick Nuyens won when the race was known as Omloop Het Volk in 2005.
Van Avermaet led home the sprint for second, nine seconds after Stybar, with Wellens taking third.
“I only heard the day before yesterday at the press conference that Quick-Step hadn’t won Omloop for 14 years, which was amazing,” Stybar said. “I am very happy that I could win here, for the team, but also for me. I was close to a victory like this last year and I’m happy to finally finish it off.”