Italian Luca Paolini (Katusha) took first blood in the Classics season as he outsprinted Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) for victory in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after the pair slipped the grasp of a nine-strong leading group.
A minute behind, Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) sprinted to fourth place, producing Great Britain’s best performance here since Graham Jones’s second place in 1982.
It was snoods, scarves and layers galore for a bitterly-cold traditional opening to the Classics season, with freezing temperatures and an icy wind accompanying riders for the 199 kilometre-race.
Dempster makes the break
After a high tempo first hour, Tour of the Dengie Marshes champion Zak Dempster (NetApp-Endura) made it into the day’s nine-man breakaway. He was dropped on the Taaienberg with fifty kilometres to go as it split.
The Taaienberg, with its narrow sliver of road leading up to it and steep cobbled sections, lived up to its status as the traditional race divider.
The peloton broke into several shards under pressure from Blanco pair Maarten Wynants and defending champion Sep Vanmarcke. The result was a forty man leading group.
Sylvain Chavanel then clipped away over the top of the Eikenberg, going on to pass the last of the brass monkey breakaway survivors.
Decisive split forms
Behind, Thomas came to the fore, following a ten-strong lead group spearheaded by BMC man Greg Van Avermaet, including Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol), Maarten Wynants (Blanco), Marco Bandiera (IAM Cycling), Luca Paolini (Katusha), Sven Vandousselaere (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Egoitz Garcia (Cofidis) and Omega Pharma-Quick Step pair Stijn Vandenbergh and Sylvain Chavanel.
2011 Paris-Tours winner Van Avermaet’s strength was clear as he battered up the Molenberg and up to lone leader Chavanel, but the pair were soon back in the ten-strong lead group.
Twenty-six kilometres from the finish on the cobbled section of Lippenhovenstraat, beanpole Vandenbergh, usually a bunch-driving labourer for Tom Boonen, drifted off the front with Paolini.
The pair pulled out a decisive lead of 40 seconds as they headed north to the finish in Ghent.
Though Omega Pharma-Quick Step had enjoyed the breakaway’s numerical advantage, they played the sprint all wrong.
Home favourite Vandenbergh led it out, but the wrapped-up crowd in Saint Peter’s Square let out a deflated sigh of disappointment as fast finisher Paolini comfortably came past him.
Thomas admitted to disappointment after the finish as he paused for a pedal rev to give himself some space to run at third-placed Sven Vandousselare (Topsport Vlaanderen) and couldn’t pass him by the line, narrowly missing out on a podium spot.
Meanwhile, Australian rider Tiffany Cromwell (Orica-AIS) outsprinted Megan Guarnier (Rabobank) to win the women’s Omloop.
The pair attacked a thirteen-rider leading group that formed over the race’s final climb, the Molenberg, with thirty kilometres to go
Racing for the first time this year, Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) finished 36th at the rear of the chasing bunch, four minutes down.
Given a stern baltic first test as a professional, world junior champion Lucy Garner (Argos-Shimano) finished the race, but missed the time cut.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2013, Ghent-Ghent, 198.9 kilometres
1. Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha in 4-52-14
2. Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step s.t.
3. Sven Vandousselaere (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise at 1-13 secs
4. Geraint Thomas (Gbr) Team Sky
5. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
6. Marco Bandiera (Ita) IAM Cycling
7. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
8. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
9. Maarten Wynants (Bel) Blanco
10. Egoitz Garcia (Spa) Cofidis all at s.t.
Women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2013, Ghent-Ghent, 125km.
1. Tiffany Cromwell (Aus) Orica-GreenEDGE 3-34-00
2. Megan Guarnier (Usa) Rabobank at 3secs
3. Emma Johansson (Swe) Orica-AIS at 12secs
4. Annemiek Van Vleuten (Ned) Rabobank
5. Shelly Olds (Usa) Team Tibco-To The Top
6. Ellen Van Dijk (Ned) Specialized-Lululemon
7. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Team Tibco-To The Top
8. Anna Van der Breggen (Ned) Sengers Ladies
9. Roxane Knetemann (Ned) Rabobank
10. Loes Gunnewijk (Ned) Orica-AIS all at s.t.