I said in a previous post that in my opinion the road cycling season starts on the first Sunday in February with Le Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise (l’Ouverture), but if you are Belgian the season started today with Omloop Het Neuiwsblad. It is not the longest or the hilliest of the cobbled classics, but as it takes place at the end of February it often has the worst weather. Rain, sleet snow, wind and temperatures hovering either side of freezing are common. It is a race for hard men, and women. The women’s race runs on the same day, on a shorter slightly different course, but the same finish.
Last year’s Het Nueiwsblad was a classic it this respect. The British rider Ian Stannard won it. The phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” describes him well. The pundits reckoned that the conditions today might be a bit too easy for him. There was only light rain forecast and the temperature was a positively balmy 8°C.
The race followed its normal scenario, in that a break of eight riders went clear from the start and built up a maximum lead of about six or so minutes. The racing started for real on the climb of the Taaienberg where Tom Boonen made is now traditional lung opening attack, just to see how the legs are. A few kilometers later Boonen and his Etixx-QuickStep team mates attacked again and this time split the field, only former winners Sep Vanmarke and Ian Stannard could follow. Vanmarke had a puncture at an unfortunate time and although he tried he couldn’t get back on.
The situation was three Etixx-QuickStep riders against Ian Stannard. It should have been no contest. what followed was depending on your point of view, either a textbook example of how to win against the odds or a textbook example of how to lose a race that you should have won. The video below is of the final ten or so kilometers, the commentary is in Dutch.
Ian Stannard plays his cards absolutely right, down to conning Niki Tepstra into leading out the sprint.
Etixx-QuickStep can redeem themselves tomorrow in the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne race where Mark Cavendish should be one of the favourites
After winning this race last year, a crash at Gent-Wevelgem, where he fractured a vertebra wrecked the rest of his season. If he can avoid that sort of bad luck this year we could see the first British winner of De Ronde van Vlaanderen since Tommy Simpson.
Anna Van Der Breggen won the women’s race, which unfortunately I can’t find a video for, Eleonora Van Dijk was second and Lizzie Armitstead third.
Edit 02/03/15 I have found a video of the women’s race, the commentary is again in Dutch.