Zdebek Stybar got off his Spring Classics campaign to an impeccable start, winning the 74th Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with a perfectly-executed attack from the breakaway group that emerged over the top of the Molenberg and managed to keep the chasers at bay, despite being reduced to just a handful of riders ahead of the feared Muur-Kapelmuur – Bosberg combination, which featured inside the final 20 kilometers.
“Finally it happened and I could finish it off in a cobbled classic! The feeling is really nice, the form is good and the team has confidence in me, which is so important; everything fell into place today and I am so happy with what I achieved, that I can’t put it into words”, said the 33-year-old after capturing his maiden win in a Flemish Classic.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step were again one of the most active teams in the race, taking the responsibility with Tim Declercq and Iljo Keisse at the head of the bunch once the break’s gap went up to an incredible 14 minutes and reducing the escapees’ advantage by the time they hit the slopes of the first hill, Leberg. Gradually, the gap came down to just a handful of minutes, and that was the cue for attacks to start flying out of the peloton.
After such a move was shut down by the charging bunch following a 20km-long furious chase, the elastic finally snapped on the Molenberg, where Yves Lampaert and Zdenek Stybar found themselves at the front, part of a strong and dangerous group which came to enjoy a 30-second buffer before Berendries. Unfortunately, Lampaert was slowed down by a crash that took place in front of him and had to drop out from the group, but Stybar continued unabated and responded to every acceleration.
In the chasing group, Philippe Gilbert, Omloop debutant Bob Jungels and the Belgian Champion kept a sharp eye on their rivals, while Zdenek led the way up the iconic Muur-Kapelmuur, which the leading quintet crested more than half a minute clear. Without any shake-ups on Bosberg, the day’s final difficulty, it looked like the winner will emerge from a reduced sprint, but Zdenek had other thoughts and executed a late attack from the breakaway group, immediately nudging out his advantage to ten seconds under the red kite.
The technical run-in played into his advantage, and the 33-year-old – who came into the race brimming with confidence after his Volta ao Algarve stage victory atop Alto do Malhão – seized the day after outfoxing his rivals and netted Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s 12th victory of the season, in a race which two other team riders, Yves Lamapert (7TH) and Philippe Gilbert (8th), completed in the top 10.
“The race was different than last year, because we had a tailwind in the second part and this helped. 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.”
The first Czech rider in history to win a cobbled Classic, thanks to a textbook canny attack, Stybar stressed out the importance of the Wolfpack and the mentality that continues to drive the team, regardless of the race: “I have the same motivation as last year, I have always kept believing I could come back and win big races, especially as my winter preparation went well. From the team car, Tom Steels told me how much confidence they had in me and that I had what it took to finish it off. The attitude of this team is unique, the support you receive is tremendous and nobody calls himself a leader; we all work together for the same goal, because we are the Wolfpack, and that’s why we are so successful. ”
Deceuninck – Quick-Step press release