Michael Valgren (Astana Team) took the first World Tour classics title of the season, soloing to victory at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Lukasz Wisniowski (Team Sky) finished 2nd and Sep Vanmarcke (EF – Education First) rounded out the podium.
It was a cold start to the classics season as riders left Gent this morning but the racing soon heated things up, with 12 riders jumping into the early break of the day. Our African Team was looking to Scott Thwaites and Julien Vermote today, and so our team rallied around our 2 leaders.
It wasn’t until around 80km to go before a sense of urgency was shown in the peloton. Scott Thwaites was always well positioned at the head of the pack with Nic Dougall and Jay Thomson both being seen looking after the Yorkshireman at different points in the race.
With 50km to go a few moves from the peloton started to gain some ground, this saw the early break of the day caught. There was a strong headwind though and this made it difficult to get away from the peloton. With 38km to go, Thwaites was in a dangerous looking move of 12 riders but they were unfortunately brought back.
Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) then put in a strong attack on the Valkenburg and Thwaites tried to cross over to him. The peloton was having none of it though and both riders were back in the peloton at the top of Tenbosse. By now the group was down to just 80 odd riders and our two men, Thwaites and Vermote were both still in the first group.
Astana and Bahrain drove the big group to the foot of the Muur van Geraardsbergen, where Vanmarcke put in a race defining attack. Over the top, 11 riders were able to join the Belgian for the final 13km, Thwaites and Vermote were left chasing from the main group.
A few cat and mouse games followed in the lead group and Valgren would be the main benefactor, countering a move from Vanmarcke with just 2.5km to go. The Dane put his head down as the front group hesitated before starting to chase. This was enough for the Astana rider to solo to a fine victory. The peloton was able to catch the remaining 11 front runners in the final straight, and Thwaites gave all he had left to sprint to a credible 13th place.
Scott Thwaites – Rider
I am fairly satisfied with the result today. I made a small mistake in the sprint by hesitating out of the last corner which cost me a few places but it’s nice to be up battling for a top 20 position. At the start of the race I didn’t feel good but when the action started I was able to position well and follow some moves. I think I used a bit too much energy doing this at 50km to go as the strong wind was cancelling out all the attempts for groups to get away. On the Muur I started in a reasonable position but had used a little too much energy during the race so I just missed the front group. Overall, I am happy to start my classics season with this result and it gives me confidence that I am in good shape for the next races.