Omloop Het Nieuwsblad kicks-off the team’s Classics campaign
At the end of a challenging day for the team, Tom Boonen finished in 11th place.
Cobbles, crashes and attacks, the 71st Omloop Het Nieuwsblad had it all on Saturday, when 200 riders lined up in Ghent for the 200.8 km-long race which included 13 hills and 10 cobbled sectors. A couple of hours later, 142 of the 200 starters completed the event, the victory being scored by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) from a select group of five. The Belgian outsprinted world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) on the uphill finish, while countryman Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) held off the charge of Luke Rowe (Sky) and rounded out the podium.
The main attack of the day came on Taaienberg, with 60 kilometers remaining of the race, and as soon as the four took off, Etixx – Quick-Step made its way to the head of the pack to control things and reduce the gap of the riders at the front. Unfortunately, the team received a big blow when Tony Martin crashed on a cobbled section and couldn't return to the peloton, although he did finish the race (with some bruises on the hip and on his left arm). Then, just as the team managed to cut the one-minute gap to just 40 seconds, bad luck struck again, as Dutch champion Niki Terpstra had a mechanical on the Haaghoek.
In the final ten kilometers, thanks to the huge effort of Stijn Vandenbergh, the advantage of the escapees was reduced to less than 20 seconds, but the bunch eventually ran out of road. In the sprint, Tom Boonen was the fastest Etixx – Quick-Step rider, coming 11th in Ghent. After catching his breath at the finish, the seven-time Monument winner shared his thoughts on the race.
"First of all, I want to congratulate Greg Van Avermaet and the other guys at the front. We came really close, but not close enough to bring them back. Probably we were a little bit too far in the peloton before the Taaienberg, but we also had bad luck: Nikolas was caught behind a crash, Tony hit the ground, while Niki dropped his chain, these last two incidents coming in a crucial moment, just as we were organizing the chase. We lost the momentum, but that doesn't mean we don't remain upbeat. Tomorrow we will have another day and we'll see what we can do. It's going to be a different race, and we'll come at the start with confidence", said Tom of Sunday's Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, a race which will see Niki Terpstra replace Iljo Keisse in the team's line-up.
For Tony Martin, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was the first one-day cobbled race he rode since the 2008 Dwars door Vlaanderen, and although it wasn't a 100% pleasant experience, he is keen on taking the good things out of it: "It's too bad I crashed. Just as we were coming out of the corner, I slipped, was forced to change my bike immediately and couldn't help the team anymore. Still, I'm happy for the first part of my race, because I felt strong and crashing isn't the end of the world. I remain optimistic and I won't change my attitude towards the Classics, as I still want to do good in these races."
On Sunday, Etixx – Quick-Step will ride Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (203 kilometers), a race which the team is going to tackle with the following riders: Tom Boonen, Nikolas Maes, Niki Terpstra, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Stijn Vandenbergh, Julien Vermote, Martin Velits and Lukasz Wisniowski.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele