Jake Stewart (Groupama FDJ) dashed to second with Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation) barreling across the line in third.
The victory is the Italian sprinter’s third of the season after winning twice at the Tour de la Provence earlier this month.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said, tears in his eyes. “This is the start of the classics, it’s a really big classic, I love it and I love this team. It was a dream since I was a baby when I first saw a race on TV.”
The win was contested from a stellar group of around 40 riders in a closing bunch kick after attacks in the final 40-kilometers from Julian Alaphilippe (Decuinck-Quick-Step) and Gianni Moscon (Ineos Grenadiers) had been neutralized.
Groupama-FDJ led the bunch into the final 3km as a series of small crashes took place in the middle of the group, with Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates) one of the key players that hit the deck.
Deceuninck-Quick-Step led the group around the final bend and into the closing straight with Florian Sénéchal as Ballerini sat poised to move, with Vanmarcke shadowing him. Ballerini made his move with around 150 meters to go, tearing out from behind his teammate and easily distancing Vanmarcke to take a powerful win.
Stewart came up late with a strong surge from sixth wheel to motor past Vanmarcke as the Belgian faded.
As will be the theme for the season, the opening classic of the year played out “behind closed doors,” and Ballerini thanked the organizers for their efforts in making it go ahead.
“I don’t have words for the team, but I know it’s not easy for everybody with the COVID situation and I say congratulations to the organizers of the race for this beautiful race, he said. “Let’s keep it going like this.”
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite 2021:
🏔️ 13x uncategorized
☀️ 8°C, clear sky
📺 Eurosport/GCN (14:00 CET)
— La Flamme Rouge (@laflammerouge16) February 27, 2021
Contenders come out to play on the Mollenberg
With the peloton together and the early break not far up the road, Matteo Trentin (UAE Emirates) forced an initial selection on the Mollenberg climb at 43km to go.
Vanmarcke, Ballerini, Alaphilippe, Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroen), and a couple more countered the Italian to form a stellar group that soon caught the breakaway. Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) bridged across soon after as the newly swollen front group took 30 seconds.
Trek-Segafredo and Lotto-Soudal were the two powerful teams to miss out and promptly took up the chase of the group of 13.
Alaphilippe and Moscon both roll the dice in final phase
Alaphilippe took advantage of having two teammates in the bunch to attack out of the group and quickly put a good gap over the chasers as no-one committed to a chase while Ballerini and Stybar disrupted. The world champ took nearly 25 seconds as the race sat perfectly poised with the peloton just 10 seconds behind the attackers.
However, an injection of pace in the bunch saw the front of the race came back together just ahead of the Kapelmuur, sweeping up the front group and Alaphilippe as one.
— daniel mcmahon (@cyclingreporter) February 27, 2021
Gianni Moscon (Ineos Grenadiers) punched off the front on the extra steep Kapelmuur before the race again condensed over the day’s final climb, the Bosberg. With 10km of flat roads to go, a huge lead group of around 50 riders roared toward the line in Ninove, with Quick-Step leading the bunch toward the final sprint.
It made for an unusual finale to the race, which typically ends with a small group of attackers.
- Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): 4:43:03
- Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ): S.T.
- Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation): S.T.
- Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain Victorious): S.T.
- Phillipe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal): S.T.
- Alex Aranburu (Astana-Premier Tech): S.T.
- Florian Senechal (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): S.T.
- Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates): S.T.
- Kevin Geniets (Groupama-FDJ): S.T
- Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe): S.T.