Gent-Gent, Het Volk … now, itґs Omloop Het Nieuwsblad for the second year and for many of us, the real racing starts here. Not only that, but the riders are going old skool today as there are no radios for them to listen to or ‘convenientlyґ ignore as it suits the situation. “Wait for my leader? … Oh, I thought you said ‘Cry me a riverґ. Sorry, the radio wasnґt working”, etc., etc.
The early break goes … it features, among others, serial Dutch attacker Davy Commeyne, ex-ballroom dancer Alex Saramotins of Cofidis and Seb Chavanel. Their lead balloons over the seven-minute mark before wearing away a little as they cruise to the Tenbosse, climb #1 on todayґs agenda.
Just about halfway round, theyґre on the Eikenmolen and the gap is down to four minutes. All the big favourites are sitting in behind: Flecha, who won last year, with his team-mate Edvald Boasson Hagen; Pippo Pozzatto; Tom Boonen; Stijn Devolder; and Phillipe Gilbert, among others.
QuickStep are doing the pulling as Boonen has never, ever won Het Nieuwsblad/Het Volk and heґs keen to sort out that little anomaly in his Cobbled Classics palmares. Heґll owe Kevin van Impe if he wins today, as heґs one of the main workhorses on the front.
Boonen has a couple of what heґll regard as exploratory digs off the front but it causes a fair bit of mayhem behind as it has Sky (with Jeremy Hunt) and Garmin-Cervelo (with world champ Thor Hushovd) scrambling to bring him back and the sodden, frozen field is stretched out.
The early escapees are caught and despatched … Rabobank send Seb Langeveld clear on the attack just outside ѕ distance. Heґs got over 50kms to do on his own, so itґll be tough.
Flecha, Boonen and Gilbert take their turns at the front of the bunch as Langeveld moves clear – Eddy Boasson Hagen is dropped though. Into the final hour of the race, and the young Dutchman looks smooth on the Leberg, in the saddle and fluidly whipping the cranks round.
34kms to go and the cool, black kits of Garmin-Cervelo are to the fore, stamping up the Molenberg, even though the rainbow-jerseyed Thor Hushovd isnґt looking too hot at the moment.
30 kilometres to race now, and Langeveld is on a long stretch of cobbles – the Paddestraat, as Flecha is trying to organise a chase behind. The gap is in the vicinity of 60 seconds … dangerous.
Itґs too dangerous. 28kms to go and defending champion Flecha grits his teeth and powers off in pursuit of Langeveld, his kit taking on a healthy coating of silt and grit.
26kms from home and a photographerґs moto comes to painful, whining, skidding grief on a shallow left-hander. The pilot did his best to save the situation but it was a forlorn effort. Both he and his pillion rider are up but sore …
Seb Langeveldґs mud-stained shorts indicate that heґs racing for Rab…ank but heґs still riding strongly. If he makes it, thisґll be a win to tell the grandkids about in years to come.
20 clicks from home, and Langeveld is barrelling along the Lange Munte stretch, with 32 seconds on Flecha. The favourites are out of it now at 1ґ42”. Itґs a pursuit race between the Dutchman and the Argentinian-born Spaniard.
Itґs thoroughly miserable, but itґs Classics conditions! Soaked, treacherous cobbles, water-filled furrows in the ploughed fields, hardy fans wrapped against the elements. Behind the leadersґ battle, Yoann Offredo and his fine haircut stretches out his co-workers: Hayman (policing things for Flecha), Roelandts (Omega-Pharma Lotto), Terpstra (QuickStep), Paolini (Katusha), Quinziato (BMC) and Boom (riding defense for Langeveld).
Flechaґs making great headway – four seconds a kilometre being sliced off the lead, and if he keeps that up heґll reel Langeveld in no problem.
16kms left: itґs ten seconds now and Flecha is mashing a huge gear as the rain bounces off him. Langeveld is struggling a lot more – he can feel, hear and see the Spaniard sweeping up and it looks like heґs decided two riders have a better chance than just one as he stands up on the pedals to wait for Flecha.
The junction is made at 15kms to go and Langeveld gets some advice from his team car. The chasers are 1ґ53” distant, so itґs mano-a-mano for the win. Langeveld versus Flecha.
Just ten kilometres to suffer now, and the front pair have a perfect two minutes to play with. Lars Boom jumps away from the other chasers. Langeveldґs getting another word from his DS in the car, but as Flechaґs got previous with Rabobank, heґll be able to understand exactly whatґs being relayed.
The chasers are mucking around with seven kms left: Quinziato has a go, flicks his elbow for Hayman to come through, but the Aussieґs got team duties on his mind and they get nowhere, only for Offredo to try again
Five to go and Flecha makes a move but the young Dutchman is on him instantly and looks surprisingly spritely. The Spaniard might have the raw power but he wonґt fancy his chances as highly in a sprint.
They start to slow and look at each other. Flecha has another go but canґt get free. Itґs a sprint for the line now, and Flecha takes the inside line on the last corner.
Side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder … Langeveld, by a quarter-wheel is the winner! Fine ride, especially after such a long solo effort. Flecha puts up a brave defence of his title for second, and Hayman easily jumps Offredo for third.
That Rabo-sandwich likely wasn’t to Team Sky’s taste after last year’s gourmet win, but two spots outta three ain’t bad.
Langeveld can hardly keep his eyes open in the winnerґs tent and gets a painful looking rub of the towel from his team assistant – might have got some of the grit out, but it looked like it hurt like hell!
Congrats to him and his Rabobank team who are racking up the wins in 2011. See you tomorrow for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne!
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2011, 203 km
1 Sebastien Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank 5hrs 18ґ 21”
2 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Team Sky same time
3 Matthew Hayman (Aus) Team Sky + 1ґ 00”
4 Yoaann offredo (Fra) FDJ + 1ґ 04”
5 Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha + 1ґ 20”
6 Niki Terpstra (Ned) QuickStep + 1ґ 24”