Classics season started with a bang Saturday, with both the men’s and women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad seeing the world’s finest riders clattering over the cobbles and diving through the cluttered streets of Flanders.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad commonly sets the tone for the major one-day races to come. So how did some of the peloton’s biggest names fare in the season’s opening brawl? Here’s how:
Julian Alaphilippe animates as superdomestique
Julian Alaphilippe continued his relentlessly attacking start to the season by punching clear of the front group with 30-kilometers to go in an optimistic long-range move into a headwind. Although the world champion was bought back to heel before the Kapelmuur, he then pulled on the front of the peloton with two Deceuninck-Quick-Step teammates to keep counterattacks from going clear in the run-in to Ninove.
“I put my teammates – especially Davide – in a seat with my attack,” Alaphilppe said. “But I did realize that it would not be easy at all to continue my attack effort to the finish. I also knew that the wind was at a disadvantage in the final. But a man in front is always good for the rest of the team. ”
“I started today to help the team. I have done that, and it’s great that we finished it. ”
Annemiek van Vleuten in form but out of position
Annemiek van Vleuten was conspicuous by her absence from the final throes of the race. The defending champion was distanced from the front group after SD-Worx piled on the pressure over the Leburg climb with some 40km remaining, and finished over two minutes down in what made for an uncharacteristically quiet debut for her new Movistar team.
Van Vleuten said the power was there, but the positioning was not. She also congratulated world champion van der Breggen for her dominant win.
“I blame myself for not being in the final. I was badly positioned, so I have no excuse,” she said. “I am nevertheless in good form. But this performance gives me confidence for the coming races. It is great for Anna van der Breggen, because she has immediately put an end to the curse of the rainbow jersey.”
Tom Pidcock lands with a bang in debut WorldTour classic
Tom Pidcock parachuted in to make his debut appearance on the cobblestones of the WorldTour at Omloop. The young Brit brought his attacking style from the cyclocross season to cobbles of Flanders on Saturday, first soloing across to the escape group after they went clear on the Mollenberg and then animating the chase when Alaphilippe soloed away.
“I’ve found form a lot quicker than I thought I would,” said the Ineos Grenadiers rookie. “Coming into these races I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where my shape was, it’s weird to go into it without being able to imagine what you could do, which is how I always like to prepare. There are lots of positives today. I definitely learned a lot. It bodes well and gives me a lot of confidence.”
Greg Van Avermaet sees chances foiled by Deceuninck-Quick-Step
Greg Van Avermaet was gnashing his teeth after finishing 33rd in the mass sprint in Ninove. Fast, but not the fastest, the Ag2r-Citroën captain had been hoping to see the race played out by the select group that went clear with 45km to go. However, Van Avermaet saw his chances vanish up the road when Alaphilippe attacked from the bunch as his Quick-Step teammates Ballerini and Zdenek Štybar foiled the chase behind.
“I had hoped for a tougher race,” Van Avermaet said. “I was satisfied with that nice group – except three Deceuninck-Quick-Step riders – but after Alaphilippe’s attack, it was difficult to get the chase going.
“It was difficult to make a difference towards Ninove and if we go to the finish with such a group, I don’t stand a chance,” he continued. “It’s a pity that I couldn’t get a result, but it was a bit atypical with that sprint. ”
Elisa Longo Borghini outmuscled and outnumbered
Elisa Longo Borghini found herself in the rare position of battling out the finale in the absence of teammates Lizzie Deignan and Ellen van Dijk. The powerful Trek-Segafredo team was put under the hammer by a boisterous SD-Worx squad that controlled the race and marked the moves after team captain van der Breggen soloed away.
Longo Borghini finished 10th after losing out in the reduced sprint for the podium slots.
“We were a bit out of luck with positioning and in the end, SD-Worx had the best numbers up there,” she said. “I’m sorry for the team that I let them down and couldn’t do a good result. There was a bit of stress in the last kilometer and I could have done a better sprint, but it is what it is.”