Britain’s Ian Stannard (Team Sky) has won the 2014 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad; the first cobbled race of the season.
The former national champion won a two-up sprint against Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) at the end of a gruelling 198km race characterised by attack and counter-attack from some of the strongest one-day riders in the sport.
Stannard and Van Avermaet clipped off the front of a diminished bunch soon after the 20km to go mark, and by working together intelligently built an advantage, despite pursuit from a trio comprised of 2012 winner, Sepp Vanmarcke (Belkin), Tour of Qatar winner, Nikki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Stannard’s team-mate, Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Stannard told the Belgian sports media outlet, Sporza: “I knew the guys behind us had dropped off a bit so it was just about playing it right. I felt strong on the lead-in and I was confident for the sprint. I knew 300 metres [was a good distance]. I needed to wind it up a little bit and not have it be super fast.”
The Chelmsford rider, affectionately known as Yogi, delivered a superb performance at last year’s snow-ravaged Milan-San Remo, while racing in the colours of British champion. A key member of Team Sky’s Classics squad and a ‘diesel’ capable of setting the pace for hours at a time for the team’s Grand Tour leaders, Stannard could now represent SKy’s best chance for victory in a Monument.
Welshman Geraint Thomas led Team Sky in last year’s cobbled Classics, but suffered a crash-hit campaign. Stannard, perhaps previously considered only of being able to deliver greater consistency, has now shown his ability to keep a cool head and win in the most demanding circumstances.
While lacking the status of a Monument, the Omloop – the traditional opener to the series of iconic, one-day races in Flanders – delivered on all of the requirements of a Belgian race: cobbles, crashes, and rain. Former world road race champion, Thor Hushovd, riding as leader of the BMC Racing squad, was one of the earliest victims of the rain-slicked cobbles, and perhaps the highest profile casualty.
Much of the Omloop’s importance comes from its status as a barometer of form for the Tour of Flanders, and ascents of the Taaienberg, Eikenberg and Wolvenberg revealed that Terpstra had brought home his good form from the Middle East and that Vanmarkce was determined to prove that his victory in 2012 was no fluke. The strongly fancied Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) declined to show his hand, however.
Van Avermaet, perhaps given the green light by BMC Racing in the enforced absence of Hushovd, attacked on the Leberg, but succeeded only in inspiring others to go clear. A talent-laden, seven-strong breakaway moved ahead of the peloton, with Boasson Hagen, Terpstra, Lars Boom (Belkin) and the FDJ duo of Yoann Offredo, fourth in the 2011 race, and RideLondon-Surrey Classic winner, Arnaud Demare, among those to ride away from the pursuing bunch.
Offredo was soon discounted after a fall in the corner that marks the entrance to the seven per cent, cobbled ascent of the Molenberg. Boom and Terpstra dropped the hammer on the short, 463m slope and found themselves clear by the summit. The pair was eventually rejoined by Boasson Hagen and co. at the 30km to go mark.
At the next ascent, the Paddestraate, Boom again looked strong, and somehow found an answer for Terpstra when his compatriot attacked. Boasson Hagen also would not be denied and rode clear with the Dutch duo.
Boom was the first of the trio to be dropped after suffering the misfortune of a puncture. Boasson Hagen and Terpstra were undone by a lack of cooperation, however; attacking each other almost as soon as they’d broken clear.
When the catch was made, a brief period of turmoil ensued, but Stannard’s strike for home at the 17km to go mark looked decisive when he was joined by Van Avermaet and the pair began to work together, in contrast to the brief and troubled alliance of Boasson Hagen and Terpstra.
The sometime confederates were not defeated however, and launched a final attack in pursuit of Stannard and Van Avermaet. The considerable advantage of Vanmarcke’s company gave them a more than outside chance, but the willingness of Stannard and Van Avermaet to work together allowed them to remain clear.
When the inevitable two-up sprint unfolded, Van Aveermaet led out Stannard, but the Englishman found enough to make his single strike decisive, holding off an immediate counter attack from the Belgian to record a victory that must be considered, along with his national championship-winning ride, the biggest victory of his career.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2014 – result
1) Ian Stannard (GBR) – Team Sky – 4.49.55
2) Greg Van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing – ST
3) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Team Sky +24″
4) Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) – Belkin – ST
5) Niki Terpstra (NED) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
6) Jempy Drucker (LUX) – Wanty-Groupe Gobert +1.34
7) Taylor Phinney (USA) – BMC Racing – ST
8) Dries Devenyns (BEL) – Giant-Shimano
9) Egoitz Echeguibel (ESP) – Cofidis
10) Arnaud Demare (FRA) – FDJ