An outstanding race and a great way to kick off the Flanders Classics, Omloop did not disappoint. The race picked up live coverage with 85 kilometers to go, and nary a one was without significance. As the cameras kicked on, the race heated up in pursuit of a small breakaway that had over five minutes. That lead was down to just two minutes in under 10km, and the favorites began to start firing. Tom Boonen, Juan Antonio Flecha, Thor Hushovd and others broke up the peloton at the 65 km mark, creating an elite chase group ahead of a demolished peloton. A rash of crashes and the acceleration made the race situation almost impossible to follow for a few minutes, sparked initially by Lars Boom crashing spectacularly at the elbow of Tom Boonen.
As the elite chase group solidified, the aforementioned were joined by Matt Haymen and other to make a fast group of seven. The group made quick progress on the leaders, who split over a series of climbs. Before long, Boonen had piloted his little band of breakaways to the lead of the race. On a long cobbles section, Thor Hushovd, the only representative from the BMC supersquad to make the lead group, was dropped alongside Matti Breschel. The pair lingered 25 seconds back before cracking even more and sliding into an regrouped chase group including Alessandro Ballan and Philipe Gilbert, who suffered a terribly-time flat tire. An attack by Sepp Van Marke broke up the leaders even further, eliminating the Omega and SKY teammates for Boonen and Flecha, respectively.
In the final kilometers, Flecha and Boonen eyed each other closely, allowing Van Marke to sit last in line. The Garmin rider put in one hard attack but was immediately latched onto by Boonen. A similar effort from Flecha ended just as quickly, with Boonen immediately clawing his way back and bringing Van Marke with him. In the final meters, Boonen kicked very early and was overtaken by a surging Van Marke. Flecha came in third, giving him his fifth Omloop podium in the last six years. Garmin’s Heinrich Haussler also won the field sprint for fourth, which is extra special for him: It’s his birthday.
The win gives Van Marke the biggest victory of his career and Garmin another notch in their belt. David Zabriskie, Garmin’s American time trialer, is currently leading the Tour de Langkawi today as well. For SKY, too, the strong showing from Flecha is encouraging heading into the bigger races to come this spring. Boonen was the most aggressive rider of the day and did a lot of work, and, perhaps if not for a mistimed sprint, could have won today quite easily.
The disappointment for BMC was palpable the second Thor Hushovd lost contact with the leaders. With the most-hyped squad in Gent,they had to be expecting more from the likes of Thor, Ballan, and Gilbert. Gilbert’s flat took him out of contention, but he had already missed the initial move of Boonen and was looking to get back on a steep climb when his tire went.
Remember, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne tomorrow at 8am. Livstream link will be posted at 7.40. See you then!