Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – 26/2.
31 km left: Berendries, Jumbo-Visma attacks.
With 31 km left of the race, there had been attempts to bridge to the breakaway and at the very bottom of this climb, we see Trentin, Mohoric, Van Keirsbulck and a rider from Bora-Hansgrohe being reeled back by Jumbo-Visma.
Benoot sets off with Tom Pidcock, Narvaez and Wout van Aert glued to his wheel. Bahrain-Victorious responds and Colbrelli bridges across. At this point, Quick-Step is in the main peloton. Benoot keeps pushing on with help from the INEOS duo while Asgreen is trying to bring it back together.
26 km left, the breakaway and the group of five merge together.
The only favorite who had attacked and succeded previously on the day was Stefan Küng. The Swiss diesel already proved his form in Algarve but was not joined in his attack by lieutenants. These are the moves we normally would have Quick-Step in. It would have been wise for some of the teams to have a rider up there (Mohoric for Bahrain and GvA/Naesen for AG2R).
Behind, Quick-Step with Asgreen and Lampaert pulls with help from UAE. Bahrain also sits there with three riders including Mohoric, Hausler and Fred Wright. The gap is around 30 seconds.
20 km left: Benoot attacks again!
The man above attacks once again. This time, just before The Muur. It is tactically a brilliant move, wasting the other’s energy and letting Wout van Aert catch his breath before the final. It forces Küng, who attacked with 49 km left, to work with INEOS while the riders from the morning break do not need to take the initiative as they are not favorites. INEOS misplaced their cards here.
A bigger group has been formed in the peloton, still sitting half a minute behind. It is still primarly Quick-Step doing the work. Behind Benoot is WvA slowing things down as much as he can. They struggle to find an agreement before the Muur.
17 km left: The Muur!
The group of 10-12 people with Colbrelli, Narvaez, Pidcock and WvA are caught by the storming peloton. Küng and Wout van Aert stays at the front but is quickly overtaken by Oliver Naesen. Benoot has 23 seconds at the bottom of the Muur.
At the bottom of the Muur, we see Küng still pushing on with Trentin, Colbrelli and WvA right behind him. Just before the steep section towards the top, WvA makes a move. The first 15 riders, in this order, arrive at the top of the climb first.
1. Benoot, 2. Wout van Aert, 3. Colbrelli, 4. Trentin, 5. Colbrelli, 6. Mohoric, 7. Küng, 8. Tiller, 9. Naesen, 10. Senechal, 11. Pasqualon, 12. Clarke, 13. Kirch, 14. Pidcock and 15. Stybar.
Over the top Mohoric attacks. He brings the fantastic bike racing we often see here, accelerations everywhere. Everything looks to be coming back together before Bosberg, but attack after attack makes it impossible. Naesen attacks with Campernaets, soon followed by Benoot (again!).
13 km left: Wout van Aert lunches.
Jumbo-Visma attack again. Once again, in a spot where none really expects it. Just before Bosberg, he goes off and none can follow or will. He attacks from a large group and none takes the initiative to do something. Campenaets tries to follow without any luck. This attack made it all the way to the line. The only time Wout van Aert attacked, he proved to the cycling world, that he was in a league of his own.
What to take from this race?
Jumbo-Visma had played down their own role but they dominated this race. Everything went according to plan. I can only imagine there is a DS somewhere not getting enough applause for this. Benoot and Wout van Aert are flying. INEOS was not caught out of position but they did not have the individuals to make the difference. Pidcock is gradually improving after his break after the CX season.
Bahrain-Victorious are a team to be watched. I think they did the right thing, trying to send Mohoric up the road the timing was just unfortunate. Colbrelli, Mohoric, Hausler and Wright all finished in the group behind Wout. They should keep on using Mohoric offensively and Colbrelli defensively.
It is not often you see a Belgian classic without a rider from Quick-Step as one of the main actors. Asgreen and Lampaert were used as workhorses but Senechal nor Stybar did not have the power on the Muur or Bosberg. It is good it is quite early, that means they will improve – all four of them. They are not to be ruled out.
Another rider in stellar form is Stefan Küng. He did a lot of work, perhaps to much work, but that is sometimes the case without any helpers. We saw the same for WvA last season. Jasper Stuyven was not to be seen either for most of the race. Last, but not least, Campenaerts had a puncture with 42 km left and still finished fifth.
Some riders may still sneak under the radar, but look out for Tiller, Louvel and Pasqualon who to me were some of the biggest surprises to see finish in the group behind Wout van Aert.