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Stannard Slays Etixx for Omloop Double
Race Report: Up against three Etixx-Quickstep riders, and three of the best classics riders in the world, it was last year’s winner Ian Stannard of Team Sky who showed them all how to ride the Omloop. Boonen, Vandenbergh and Terpstra could do nothing to hold back a rampaging Englishman who wanted this win more than any other in his career.



This is always a race that favors the hard man, the super domestique who will apply himself in the service of others for the rest of the summer but who is given his head for the next month. Last year it went to Stannard (Sky) from Van Avermaet (BMC) in a superb finish and both have returned for this edition, although GVA would be riding under a cloud as he’s been called to appear in front of the Belgian Federation to explain links to possible ozone therapy. Included too though is Grand Tour Knight of the Realm Sir Bradley of Wiggins as he builds towards a full-on assault at Roubaix before retiring at the end of April.

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With the stage set, and the fans out on the road, here’s how it played out.


Dry Start
Last year's the race may have ended in the rain but it started in decent conditions and this year as everyone gathered in Sint-Pietersplein the conditions were much the same. Cold and dry with wind expected out on the course saw most riders wearing arm, knee and legwarmers.

Just before the race rolled out there was a minute’s silence for fallen hero Claude Criquielion who sadly passed away earlier this month. Two big teams, Trek and Orica were absent but last year’s third-placed rider Edvald Boasson Hagen was here fronting his new team MTN-Qhubecka managed by former British Champion, Scotsman Brian Smith. A strong challenge was also expected from Etixx-Quickstep with Boonen and Terpstra in the lead roles.


Breakaway
It took about 10km before anything serious really got going with a group of riders going up the road followed by a second set of chasers. It took almost 40 minutes before the chasers finally made contact and we had a break comprising nine riders: Matthew Brammeier (MTN-Qhubeka), Jaroslaw Marycz (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), Alexis Gougeard (AG2R La Mondiale), Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal), Christophe Laborie (Bretagne-Séché Environnement), Albert Timmer (Team Giant-Alpecin), Michael Reihs (Cult Energy Pro Cycling), Louis Verhelst (Cofidis) and Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert).

The break smoothly built a lead of just over five minutes on the peloton which was being policed by Etixx-Quickstep and BMC. Sky was also in attendance and these were looking like the strongest teams in this particular race. A quick word of praise for the new team of Cult Energy (featuring former British Champion Russ Downing) as they had all of their race bikes stolen earlier in the week and have done a great job to get everyone to the start.

Through the first section of cobbles and on over the top of the Leberg and the gap had gone out to 6:40 but by the time they had crested the Muur the peloton was beginning to redress the balance and the speed had picked up.

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Sir Bradley Wiggins leads a Sky-heavy bunch in the early kms.

Applying the Pressure
Over the top of the Valkenberg, through the feedzone, over the Haaghoek and into the last 100km of racing and the gap was coming down as Sky made their presence felt at the front of the bunch. With the break hitting the sections of cobbles in quick succession it was the chase teams that were taking advantage and reducing the deficit. Wiggins was taking control and on each cobbled stretch the break was shedding precious seconds.

Sky eventually eased back allowing BMC to make some of the running but the damage had been done to the break that now only had a lead of 3:25 with 85km to run.


Gap Coming Down
Sky wanted to reduce the gap further, and perhaps reduce the bunch as well, and had moved back to the front. The deficit was now just over 3 minutes with 72km to run but more importantly with 6 climbs still to go there was bound to be a reckoning. The escapees were beginning to tire and had lost Marycz and were now down to eight. They had picked up the expected tail wind but the bunch was still chasing them down and within the space of 3km they had lost another 30 seconds.

News was coming through that the Women’s race victory had gone to Anna van der Breggen from Eleonora Van Dijk with Lizzie Armistead in third. In the Men’s race they were now onto the Kruisberg and as the Sky-led peloton hit the climb at fullgas it was Wiggins leading them up the lower slopes with his merry men tucked in behind him.

It was clear now that the protected Sky rider was Stannard who was hoping for a repeat but his former teammate Boasson Hagen was paying close attention.

Over the top and Lotto, without Roedlantds for this race, launched Stig Broeckx up the road. There was no real reaction from the bunch but the pace being set by Sky soon had the Lotto man back in the field. The gap however was now at 1:45 with 64km still to run so it was possible that Sky had pushed a little early or that they were going to try something of their own.


Boonen Opens Up
With Brammeier attacking the fast-tiring break all eyes were on the peloton as they hit the Taaienberg as this is the traditional spot for Boonen to announce his presence and start his season. True to form the Belgian superstar rode off the front of the bunch and took a small group with him. Sutton was there for Sky as was Stybar in support of Boonen but the group had grown to around 20 riders with the situation changing all the time. Van Avermaet was putting his woes behind him and had made the selection with some teammates from BMC.

Brammeier had been joined by Timmer and Gougeard and the three leaders were moving onto the Eikenberg with just 46 seconds in hand. We could see now that Stannard was also in the Boonen group. With 55km to go it didn’t look likely that they would stay away but Sky couldn’t take the chance having laid their cards out early on.

The Boonen group was riding steadily if not spectacularly as it was now clear that the top three riders from last year were all present, Boasson Hagen also having made the move. EBH didn’t want to ride down his teammate up ahead but with the gap now down to 25 seconds it was looking like ‘thank you and goodnight’ for the leaders.

For such a small outfit this team was making its presence felt in this race. Brammeier was gritting his teeth upfront to hold on and Eddy B was looking relaxed as the group closed to 20 seconds. Onto the Wolvenberg and Luke Rowe took his turn to ride away from the chasers. The Sky rider looked behind to see if anyone would join him but had to push forward on his own. Over the top and he’d made contact with Brammeier and Timmer, Gougeard having fallen away. Behind, his team leader Stannard was looking a bit isolated as the Etixx-Quickstep riders were now in control.

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Lotto's Van Asbroeck was another of the unlucky who suffered punctures.

Twists and Turns
BMC was the next team to try an attack but it was quickly closed down. The main group was pushing and, all of a sudden, the leaders had been caught and it was Boonen back in control, closely marked by Stannard and Vanmarcke (Lotto).

With the race route twisting through the sharp bends, and with punctures affecting the unlucky, all of a sudden we had a group of Etixx-Quickstep riders away on their own… with Stannard along for the ride. Onto the Leberg again with 40km to go and Terpstra was leading Boonen with only the Sky rider managing to stay in contact. The fourth rider was Stijn Vandenbergh but they now had 26 seconds over the chase group containing Van Avermaet. The gap though was going out in the favor of the leaders.

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With the Etixx riders in the chase group just marking the moves it was down to Van Avermaet and Vanmarcke to try and chase (pic above). They escaped the others but took Stybar with them. The Etixx rider wouldn’t work and just sat on, protecting his teammates up front.

The groups were now spread all over the road with Gilbert (BMC) also trying to get up to Van Avermaet to assist. With three Etixx riders leading the way, and Stannard sitting in, it looked as if the winner would come from this group, now 33 seconds to the good and inside 29km to go.

Gilbert was riding away from Chavanel in an attempt to get across to GVA but Vanmarcke was desperately chasing. If they didn’t get back in contact with the lead group it was all over.


Game Plan
No way was Boonen going to give Stannard a free ride to the finish and the Etixx riders began to take it in turns to ride off the front, forcing the Sky man to close it down. Stannard, though was looking good and knew he could take this race again.

The Etixx mind games soon stopped when they realized that Vanmarcke was catching them. Van Avermaet had switched off and was possibly aware that Gilbert was closing on his group. Gilbert, in the meantime, had shot his bolt and was now losing time so Van Avermaet was forced back into working with Vanmarcke.

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The Final Ten
With the chasers failing to bring the gap inside 30 seconds, the winner was sure to come from the lead group. Etixx held all the cards but Stannard was the joker in the pack. Boonen wanted this race and had men to help him get it; the Sky rider was alone and had to think outside the box.

With just over 4km to go Boonen fell to the back of the group and then attacked up the right hand side of the road. With the two others sitting in it was up to Stannard to pull him back but no sooner had he done that than the other two tried to ride away.

And now it was Stannard who looked at the others and rode away forcing the Etixx riders to scrabble in his wake. Terpstra made it across as Boonen groveled behind. Stannard was pulling Etixx apart and inside 2km Boonen was still struggling to make the join while Stannard pushed for home.

Boonen was cooked and Terpstra led out for the win but Stannard had played the Etixx riders for fools and easily outsprinted the last of the Etixx wrecking party to take a famous win for the second year running. The big, quiet Englishman rode a perfect race, against incredible odds and showed that while his team has a knight on its roster, he’s the undisputed King of the Omloop.

Keep it Pez for Gord’s report on Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Ed’s Roadside Analysis.


Results: Het Nieuwsblad 2015
1. Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky 4:58:42
2. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Etixx - Quick-Step
3. Tom Boonen (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step 0:00:03
4. Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step 0:00:12
5. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Team LottoNL-Jumbo 0:01:24
6. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
7. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step 0:01:29
8. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:04:35
9. Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky 0:04:55
10. Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ.fr

 


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