The two ‘super’ teams each take a piece of the opening of the cobbles season, setting up a big spring for the big men.
Ian Stannard outdueled BMC’s Greg van Avermaet on Saturday’s Omloop Het Niewsblad, giving Sky an important victory to kick off it’s Belgian campaign. Sunday, Tom Boonen’s OmegaPharma-QuickStep squad put on a clinic to set up Boonen’s final kick to the line.
Sky have to be satisfied with the rides of Stannard and Edvald Boasson-Hagan, both of whom features in the final 50km of the race Saturday. EBH was off the front with OPQS’s Nikki Terpstra, and though the Norwegian was criticized afterwards for riding Terpstra’s wheel rather than contribute, the tactic did much to deplete the Belgian team’s firepower as the end neared. Leader Boonen, Zdenek Stybar and the rest were well off the pace, with Stijn Vandenberg leading the way with Terpstra. Former teammate Sylvain Chavanel actually did a lot to lead the chase, but when Ian Stannard attacked, only Greg van Avermaet could stay on. What transpired was a contrast in styles; the bullish, laboring power of Stannard kept the duo clear, while the fluid Belgian was simply trying to mask tired legs in the mud and rain heading into Gent.
Stannard took the win by a half a wheel, unable or unsure to raise up for his victory salute. Edvald took the sprint for third, giving Sky two on the podium. OPQS blamed some favorable lines from motorbikes and the cold on the lack of pop from the bulk of its team, but was level-headed and reserving their expectations for Sunday.
And Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne proved to be their day. The winning move included no less than four light blue jerseys, with Tom Boonen looking cool and comfortable all of the way. The breakmates contributed, almost resigned to what looked inevitable, until the final few kilometers ticked off. It was Belkin unleashing first Sep Van Marcke, their hero from Saturday as well, in hopes of tossing a wrench in the cogs of the OPQS machine. Reeled in, former Paris-Roubaix winner Johan van Summeren attacked, but was pulled back in just a few hundred meters. Belkin’s Moreno Hofland nearly spoiled the party on the line after OPQS botched the leadout. Boonen went from a long ways out, with Hofland in the slipstream. He pulled around but only just drew level, with Boonen pumping a fist and becoming the winningest racer in K-B-K history.
The Classics transition south to Italy for Strada Bianche next weekend, and the world will get its first look at the form of Fabian Cancellara. He enjoyed two weeks at home before venturing to a race he’s come to use as his traditional warm up. The peloton would certainly like to see the weather a bit hotter as well. The rain Saturday dampened some spirits, but after the spring of last year, Europe is relatively balmy. Strada Bianche is March 8, with live coverage expected to begin at 7.30am EST.