Etixx - Quick-Step took the race to the peloton with 202.2km Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday. Three riders made it into the select group that decided the race thanks to an acceleration from Etixx - Quick-Step with 43km to go.
Despite a chase group forming behind including Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team), Sep Vanmarcke (Team Lotto-NLJumbo), and Etixx - Quick-Step teammate Zdenek Stybar, a four-rider lead group including Boonen, Niki Terpstra, Stijn Vandenbergh, and Ian Stannard (Team Sky) held their advantage all the way to the finish line.
Stannard was able to win out of the lead group in a two-up sprint with Terpstra. Boonen was 3rd, and Vandenbergh 4th. Stybar finished 7th.
Etixx - Quick-Step launched several attacks in the final 5km, including an initial accelration by Terpstra. Stannard was forced to work to catch back on to Terpstra, and then Boonen immediately countered. He was eventually caught. Terpstra tried attacking again, but to no avail. At 2.9km to go Stannard tried his own attack, which forced Vandenbergh — who worked tirelessly to maintain the gap for the lead group in the final kilometers — to use up what energy he had left to chase down Stannard.
Terpstra rejoined, but Boonen couldn't catch the two riders before the sprint.
Etixx - Quick-Step was also aggressive earlier in the race, with Boonen accelerating on the Taaienberg and riders always being present in actions. Team Sky, BMC Racing Team, and Etixx - Quick-Step worked on the front prior to these actions in order to chase down an original breakaway of seven, which was down to just a few before being caught with 46km to go.
The next race of the Classics opening weekend is Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday, with Mark Cavendish making the start for Etixx - Quick-Step in a race that can end in a breakaway or a bunch sprint.
"Today we made a mistake in the final," Boonen said. "We were in control of the race with three riders in the front group. In the final kilometers we attacked. Niki went first, Stannard reacted, and then I countered with my move. I was pretty sure at that time that it was the right moment to do it. But Stannard had the strategy to ride on the wheels of us three in the lead group, and save his energy until the final kilometers, so he was a bit fresher. He was also strong today. So, he caught me. The best thing to do at that point would have been to stay calm and wait for the sprint. But we had been full gas for the last hour, so really it was about instinct at that point. So, Niki attacked again, then Stannard, and then the final sprint was between those two guys. There is a thin line between a great race and a costly mistake and unfortunately we took the risk of not waiting for the sprint, and it didn't work out. It would have been great to win the race, but that's cycling. Congrats to Stannard. He rode a smart tactical race and his reactions to our attacks were impressive. His sprint was also strong. As a team we rode super strong today and while we unfortunately fell short of victory, we know what we are capable of for future races."
"When Tom accelerated on the Taiienberg and a small group went away, I was a little bit behind," Vandenbergh said. "I was with Vanmarcke in the second group. We came back together, and on the Haaghoek I accelerated a bit together with Tom and we were able to make the selection. We quickly gained a gap with four riders and we pushed full gas until we had enough of an advantage to decide the race. Unfortunately we didn't win, but we were strong collectively. The team will try again immediately tomorrow."
"It looked like it was going to be a nice day, everything went well, and then we came in front with three guys," Terpstra said. "All it took was a small acceleration on the Haaghoek. Stijn did it, and then Vanmarcke took over. We then saw some gaps in the front of the peloton. So I told Tom we would go full throttle at that moment. We went fast on the Leberg. The gap was there and we basically made it a team time trial with one guy on our wheel. It was a smart move by him, any of us would have done the same thing. In the final we attacked with the three of us in front. But after a few attacks he countered and then attacked. In the end I was alone with Stannard. I was in front for the sprint. I saw it was 300 meters and I decided not to go yet. Then I accelerated at 200 meters. Normally that is perfect for me, but I didn't have the perfect sprinting legs after the big effort all day. I thought I had him until 50 meters in front of the finish line. I had nothing left in my legs at that point. Looking back, maybe it would have been better to wait for the sprint with Tom and not attacking, but it's a question of moment and circumstances. Stannard was really strong in the end against our attacks, and deserved the win. Of course we wanted the win and this is disappointing. But it is also motivation for the upcoming races."
Guillaume Van Keirsbulck stopped on the Eikenberg and was forced to withdraw from the race due to stomach problems. He will be replaced by Iljo Keisse at Kuurne - Brussel - Kuurne tomorrow.
"I am a little bit disappointed," Van Keirsbulck said. "I had a good feeling this week and I love Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. But unfortunately today I had no power in the legs with these stomach cramps and I think it is best to recover and be 100 percent ready for the next races."