“I only heard the day before yesterday at the press conference that the team hadn’t won Omloop for 14 years, which was amazing,” Zdenek Stybar (CZE)
A well-timed lone attack two kilometres from the line has netted Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck - Quick - Step) the biggest cobbled Classics win of his career at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium.
The Czech rider stormed away for a resounding triumph from a leading break of five other riders, immediately after Belgian Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) had tried and failed to go clear.
Former double winner Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Pro Team) tried to spark some life into the chase behind Stybar, then Dylan Teuns (Bahrain - Merida) made his own counter-attack. But Stybar was over 10 seconds clear of the chasing group by then and well en route to his second victory of 2019.
Punching the sky repeatedly, the Czech rider crossed the line comfortably ahead of Van Avermaet for his victory in Belgium’s first cobbled Classic of 2019, with Wellens coming home for third.
“I had a good feeling all day, but of course you never know,” said Stybar, who was prominent in the action throughout the second half of the race. "It was a very strong break, but I still had teammates in the group behind, and I could benefit from that.””
Stybar’s previous best result in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was seventh in 2015, the same year Stybar took his previous best top Classic result, in the Strade Bianche in Italy. Stybar is also the Czech Republic’s first ever winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad since the race began in 1945.
Featuring nine sections of backroads cobbles in Flanders and 13 separate, short punchy climbs, the 2019 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was preceded by a minute’s silence for longstanding Belgian sports director Jef Braeckevelt, who died earlier this week.
An early attack by Roy Jans (Corendon-Circus), Tom Wirtgen (Wallonie Bruxelles), Alex Howes (EF EF-Education First) and Tom Devriendt (Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team) kicked off the race action and the foursome built up an advantage of nearly 14 minutes before Deceuninck - Quick - Step started to chase. By just over the half-way point of the 200 kilometre race, as Howes led the breakaways over the Katteberg climb, the third of the day, the quartet’s margin had fallen to 7-30 and was dropping fast.
Reigning Olympic Road-Race Champion Van Avermaet and another former double Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner, Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck - Quick - Step) attempted an early move around 50 kilometres from the finish, just as the early break was getting reeled in. But it was only when Van Avemaet powered clear 10 kilometres later after a prolonged spell of pace setting by Team Jumbo-Visma on the Molenburg climb, the eighth of the day, that a clearly defined half-dozen strong breakaway finally moved clear.
In a fast and fraught final half-hour of racing, Daniel Oss (BORA-hansgrohe), Lutsenko, Van Avermaet, Wellens, Teuns and Stybar carved out a 30 second advantage over a strong chasing group powered by Team Sky and Mitchelton-Scott. Although the six collaborated well as far as the emblematic Kapelmuur climb, the twelfth and toughest of the entire race, the bunch knew that it could not afford to let such a strong half dozen lead group gain too much time.
Van Avermaet’s repeated drives on the Kapelmuur saw Oss fall back, but the Belgian was still closely shadowed by Stybar. So a second prolonged acceleration on the Bosberg, the last climb of the race, by Van Avermaet once again left the group of leaders strung out - but still able to follow.
Van Avermaet briefly tested the water on the rolling run-in to the finish at Ninove in what proved to be his last roll of the dice, but with his strength fading, it proved impossible to shake off his rivals. Instead it was Stybar’s driving acceleration that allowed the Czech to gain enough of a margin to head for his second victory of 2019 after a win in the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal last week.
For Deceuninck-Quick Step, who were the world’s most prolifically successful team last season with 73 wins, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is their twelfth victory of 2019, and their fourth in 2019 at UCI WorldTour level. It is also the first for the longstanding Belgian formation in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, since Nick Nuyens in 2005, when the race was known as Omloop Het Volk.
“I only heard the day before yesterday at the press conference that the team hadn’t won Omloop for 14 years, which was amazing,” Stybar said. “I am very happy that I could win here, for the team, but also for me.”