Zdenek Stybar outfoxes rivals to win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick Step) played off the strength of his adversaries and used a perfectly time attack in the final kilometres to win his first Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Greg van Avermaet (CCC) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) finished second and third, sprinting from a select group that also included Dylan Teuns (Bahrain Merida) and an aggressive Alexey Lutsenko (Astana). The three names on the podium — Stybar, van Avermaet, and Wellens — defined the finale.
Van Avermaet was the most active, and aggressive. Possibly the strongest, too. He attacked early and often. At 29km to go, forcing a split, and then over the top of the Muur, shedding Bora-Hansgrohe’s Daniel Oss, and again over the Bosberg, the final sector, once again pulling riders loose from the moorings.
Despite a couple moves from Philippe Gilbert, who was clearly the designated aggressor for the team, Quickstep unusually quiet. Stybar was like a shadow – following van Avermaet, following Wellens, always near the front but rarely on it.
Omloop finishes with the iconic Muur/Bosberg combination of the Tour of Flanders, a one-two punch of steep cobblestones. By the time a select front group reached the base of the Muur, van Avermaet had already shown his strength. He did so again as his dwindling group passed the chapel. Lutsenko countered over the top, and the lead group was down to five.
The course drops quickly after the Muur, offering a brief respite, down to a valley road and toward the Bosberg. The Bosberg is deceptive; it’s long and relatively straight, opening with a high-speed run-in, with large stones and a grade that starts off mellow and increases all the way to the top. It pours on like treacle, so that a gear chosen early feels heavier and heavier until one’s legs snap. For the right rider, it’s the perfect launch pad. See Exhibit A, Edwig Van Hooydonck.
Van Avermaet made a final effort over the Bosberg, again dragging his four breakaway companions with him. The video of that attack sums up most of the day:
— OmloopHetNieuwsblad (@OmloopHNB) March 2, 2019
At 10km to go, the gap was 30 seconds. Stybar was quiet, taking short pulls. He’d been quiet most of the day.
Avermaet remained the most active. After showing his strength on the Muur and the Bosberg, he gave it a go again at 7.2km. Wellens was next, attacking around the right side of a road divider as his companions went left. Van Avermaet closed the gap. The group consolidated, looked around, and at 2.5km to go, Stybar went.
“The race was different than last year, because we had a tailwind in the second part and this helped,” Stybar said. “The real race started on the Molenberg and we worked well together, even on the Muur and Bosberg, believing we could make it to the finish line. Initially, I was waiting for the sprint, but with two kilometers left I felt it was the right moment to go and thus went full gas.”
We wrote last year about the physics of such a move. If a gap of just a couple seconds opens late in a race, the math says there’s almost no chance of closing it. Michael Valgren used a similar move last year.
All it takes is a moment’s hesitation. And after yanking the field around all day, van Avermaet, likely the strongest rider in the race, hesitated.
That’s all Stybar needed.