The Belgian out-sprinted the world champion to win the opening cobbled Classic

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad from a lead group of five riders. Coming over in second was Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), who many would have backed for the win when it became clear that the lead group would be battling for the victory.

Van Avermaet was the first to kick with about 150 metres to go. Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and Luke Rowe (Team Sky) could not match the acceleration, but Sagan looked to have the measure of the Belgian.

However, the BMC rider opened up a gap and the Slovak had to settle for his familiar position of second.

Greg Van Avermaet powers to victory in the 2016 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Photo: Graham Watson

Greg Van Avermaet powers to victory in the 2016 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Photo: Graham Watson

Similar to last year, when Ian Stannard beat three Etixx-Quick Step riders to take the win, the Belgian superteam was dealt a blow that their strength and calibre should have avoided.

Etixx missed the key move of the day and were unable to put together a strong enough chase. Despite coming close to the lead group in the closing kilometre, by this time it was too late and they once again fell short of the result they would have been planning on.

The podium of the 2016 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Photo: Graham Watson

The podium of the 2016 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Photo: Graham Watson

The race started as most cobbled Classics do, with a large breakaway made up of a majority of riders from smaller teams.

The early break of twelve riders split into two groups with 55km to race, and a third group formed behind including Sagan and Rowe.

It was Rowe who attacked first, and then Sagan rode away from the peloton on the Taaienberg to catch the Sky rider’s group. 

Peter Sagan drives on at the 2016 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Photo: Graham Watson

Peter Sagan drives on at the 2016 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Photo: Graham Watson

Joining Sagan and Rowe from the main field were Benoot and Van Avermaet, and this group was soon up with the remaining four riders from the day’s initial breakaway.

Kai Reus (Veranda’s Willems), Alexis Gougeard (AG2R La Mondiale), Julien Morice (Direct Energie) and Brecht Dhaene (Veranda’s Willems) latched onto the Sagan group as they were caught in two pairs, and rode as a group of eight.

Whilst the eight man break was riding away, Etixx-Quick Step took up the chase, but a crash involving Tony Martin disrupted their efforts.

Etixx-Quick Step took up the chase, but could not catch the leaders. Photo: Graham Watson

Etixx-Quick Step took up the chase, but could not catch the leaders. Photo: Graham Watson

Not long after, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) went down in a crash that all but ended his hopes of victory on the cobbles of Ghent. However, this will have been more than made up for with his teammate Van Avermaet’s win.


Lizzie Armitstead won the women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 


The lead eight became seven when Reus suffered a mechanical on a section of cobbles, and the other riders pushed on for the finish with under 30km left to race. Reus was soon passed by Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), who continued apace with his efforts to catch the leaders. 

Stuyven’s chase came to an end when he crashed on a corner, and he fell back into the Etixx powered chase group.

Sagan put the hammer down and reduced the lead pack to just five riders. Among them was Gougeard, who just about held on over the final section of cobbles. The young Frenchman put in a huge ride to be out front almost all day.

Rowe made no allowances for the duration that Gougeard had been in the break and ensured he took his turn on the front as the five leaders ticked off the kilometres.


King Kelly’s guide to the cobbles 


At its maximum, the original breakaway had almost five minutes on the chasing peloton.

Kristin House (ONE Pro) was the British representation in the break, and he was joined by Gougeard, Reus, Dhaene, Morice, Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty – Groupe Gobert), Maxime Farazijn (Topsport Vlaanderen – Baloise), Brian van Goethem (Roompot – Oranje Peloton), Stef Van Zummeren (Veranda’s Willems Cycling Team), Zak Dempster (Bora-Argon 18), Hugo Hofstetter (Cofidis) and Benoit Jarrier (Fortuneo – Vital Concept).

Hofstetter was the first of the breakaway to be picked up by the bunch when he was caught with 62.4km to go. At that point the remaining breakaway riders had 1-30 over the peloton.

Earlier in the day British rider and present world champion Lizzie Armitstead won the women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad from a solo breakaway.

The opening cobbled Classics weekend continues on Sunday, February 28, with Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

Luke Rowe leads at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2016

Luke Rowe leads at the 2016 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Photo: Graham Watson

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2016 top 10

1. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing at 4-54-12
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff, st
3. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, st
4. Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky, st
5. Alexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R, 6s
6. Jens Debusschere, (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, 9s
7. Adrien Petit (Fra) Cofidis, st
8. Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo, st
9. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo, st
10. Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJ, st