A two-time champion of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Van Avermaet showed his grit and determination throughout the final 40 kilometers of the race after a strong group of favorites broke off the front of the regrouped peloton.
Earlier in the day, a four-rider breakaway was able to open up a sizeable 14-minute advantage before a reaction from several teams, including CCC Team, at the front of the bunch saw the gap begin to fall significantly approaching the halfway mark.
CCC Team quickly reacted to a split in the peloton with 80 kilometers to go, sending Nathan Van Hooydonck and Fran Ventoso up to the front to drive the pace and their hard work saw the potentially dangerous 20-rider move eventually pulled back approaching the bottom of the Valkenberg climb.
This excitement behind the four leaders meant that their advantage had fallen to inside two minutes and it was shortly after that the pre-race favorites, including Van Avermaet, took control of proceedings.
A series of attacks saw the leading group whittled down quickly before, after an impressive turn of speed from Van Avermaet, just six riders remained in front approaching the iconic Muur – Kapelmuur.
Van Avermaet continued to make the race difficult for his rivals, going on the attack on the steepest part of the penultimate climb and then again on the final one, the Bosberg.
The group, however, was still all together on the flatter terrain that lead to the finish line and with 30 seconds separating them from the first chasers with less than five kilometers to go, it was clear that the 2019 title would be won by one of the six leaders.
Van Avermaet showed his strength when he quickly closed down an attack by Tim Wellens (Lotto – Soudal) but almost immediately after that effort, with just over one kilometer to go, Zdeněk Štybar (Deceuninck–Quick-Step) launched his ultimately race-winning move.
The chasers ultimately began to look to one another with Van Avermaet, who rode a hard-fought finale, sprinting to second place and onto the podium at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad for the fourth time in his career.
Quotes From the Finish Line
Greg Van Avermaet:
“I’m super happy with how the race went. We went quite early, from the Molenberg, in a big group but then it was always the strong guys who stayed in front and this is the way I like to race, and what fits me the best. In the end, it didn’t work out as they started attacking but overall, I’m happy with my shape and I don’t think I could have played it a different way.”
“I tried to directly close on Stybar [when he attacked in the final] but I had already done that to close on Wellens and you know in this kind of final that if you have five guys with you, it’s normally the fastest guy who has to close the gaps and this killed me a little in the end. Overall, I’m happy with how I raced. I tried to do good moves on the Muur and the Bosberg and in the end, I did one. But, what’s important is how the shape is. I saw some guys suffering and I was still feeling pretty fresh so I am super happy with how my shape is for the moment and hopefully I can keep it for as long as possible, first to Strade-Bianche next week and then as long as possible in the Classics.”
Sports Director, Valerio Piva:
“Second place is a pity of course because Greg was stronger, I think. We had bad luck at one point in the race when we had three flat tires and there was an attack, so we needed the team to close this gap. Then, Greg was super strong in the final. It was clear that he was the fastest and the others tried to anticipate that with attacks. He closed to Wellens but not to Stybar. I am happy with the race though, and the team, and the way we finished the race. It is only the start of the Classics season so we have started it off well.”
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Merelbeke > Ninove (200k)
Top 3: 1. Zdeněk Štybar (Deceuninck–Quick-Step) 2. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) 3. Tim Wellens (Lotto – Soudal)
CCC Team Top 3: 2. Greg Van Avermaet, 55. Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, 71. Łukasz Wiśniowski
Photos courtesy of Chris Auld.