News: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2021 (Men)

Italian Davide Ballerini kicks off the Classics campaign by taking the biggest victory of his career in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Coventry’s Jake Stewart was second.

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News: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2021 (Men)

Italian Davide Ballerini kicks off the Classics campaign by taking the biggest victory of his career in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Coventry’s Jake Stewart was second.

Photo: ©Luc Claessen / Getty Images

Davide Ballerini netted Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s fourth Omloop Het Nieuwsblad win after the race came down to a bunch sprint, something that had last happened more than a decade ago. This unusual scenario was possible due to the strong headwind and a strong effort of the entire Wolfpack, who flawlessly controlled the race in the last 15 kilometers, drilling the pace and preventing any late attacks that were still possible considering the sizable peloton.

“This is a dream! I can’t believe it, words aren’t enough to describe what his means for him and how I’m feeling after this victory. It’s my second time in Omloop, and to win it after crashing at my debut two years ago is some incredible”, an elated Ballerini said after capping a dominant day from the Wolfpack and becoming just the fifth Italian in history to win the prestigious one-day race.

Comprising 13 hills and nine cobblestone sectors, the race was properly kicked into action once again by our team, who posted Tim Declercq at the head of the bunch for over 100 kilometers, “El Tractor” keeping in check the five escapees and chewing into their advantage. Then Yves Lampaert took over and brought Julian Alaphilippe to the fore, and it didn’t take too long for the World Champion to open up the race with a powerful attack that drew a dozen or so riders with him.

Alaphilippe himself then went solo, caught and attacked the break and started building a 25-second gap over his former companions, a margin which he kept until the first slopes of the mythical Muur-Kapelmuur, where the strong headwind led to him being reeled in by the chasers, who in turn got caught by the large peloton.

Despite a couple of accelerations on the Muur, the race came back together in the run-in to Bosberg, with the status quo continuing all the way to the finish in Ninove, thanks to Alaphilippe, Lampaert and Kasper Asgreen, who worked tirelessly on the front and set a fast pace, stretching out the group. Under the flamme rouge, Florian Sénéchal came through and delivered an out of this world lead-out that left Ballerini in a perfect position from where the 26-year-old Italian dashed to victory, winning by several bike lengths.

Ballerini adds “It wasn’t an easy race, but we kept going and believing in ourselves even when the break was eight minutes clear. Tim was huge again, and then Julian tried his chance and showed his panache, but the headwind worked against him. When he got caught, he told me that it would be my day and the entire team will work for me, and when the World Champion tells you this, it gives you extra strength. Everybody was so committed and believed in me, that the only thing you can do is take your hat off and say a big thank you!”

“I remember watching this team crushing the cobbles when I was a kid, so to win now one of these races while wearing this jersey gives me huge pride, it’s a big dream that came true today. The Opening Weekend is a big deal for Deceuninck – Quick-Step and I’m glad we made a lot of people happy with this win”, continued an emotional Davide. “Today was important also from a technical standpoint, because we raced for the first time with our Hell of the North clincher tires from Specialized and it proved to be the right choice.”

Jake Stewart (2nd): Due to a headwind in the final, around fifty guys were still in the main peloton heading to the finish as Jake’s team Groupama-FDJ started to gather around its young British rider. “It was full gas from the Wolvenberg until the finish,” said Jake. “It was just about surviving. I struggled on the Muur, but when I got back into the peloton I knew I just had to follow Kevin and Stefan until the finish”.

The two national champions then took the lead of the bunch with about two kilometres to go. “Stefan did a big pull,” Kevin said. “I turned around, and we had lost Jake. It was a bit of a mess”.

“I got back on Kevin’s wheel a few hundred meters from the finish and he was able to launch me in the wheel of Deceuninck-Quick Step,” added the rider from Coventry. Thanks to a good position entering the last corner and the final straight, Jake Stewart was able to deliver a powerful sprint, which allowed him to take second, just behind Davide Ballerini. “I was coming fast in the end, but it was not enough for the victory”, said the young man, 4th in the Etoile de Bessèges and now a WorldTour’s Classic runner up.

“Bessèges, it was a bit of a surprise, but when you come into a race with confidence and good legs, you can often get a good result. It’s a bit of a surprise today too, but I had good legs at Bessèges, I am confident and I was ready for a race like this. I keep surprising myself and a lot of people this year,” he added. “Nobody really expected me to be second today. It’s certainly a surprise, but I had a good winter, the team is supporting me really well and we have a great group for the Classics. From that point of view, maybe it’s not that surprising”.

“If we had been told this morning that he would be second in the sprint, we would have been happy,” said Frédéric Guesdon. “When we look at the images of the finish, we may have a few small regrets, but we are still very satisfied with this podium. We did a very good race so we deserved it”.

For Jake, cycling is still a great voyage of discovery, even after his second place in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. “I am still discovering where my limits are. I do have a preference for the classics, I love the Belgian races. I want to excel in these types of races. I hope to build on this now. ”

As Tom Pidcock hit the Molenberg, 160 kilometres into his first classic with Ineos, he knew he was well positioned, but just a few wheels too far back. He was right. The pre-race favourites lit the afterburners at the front of the race and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was well and truly on. An elite group of nine riders went clear, swept up the break, and looked dangerous. But Pidcock felt strong, and a couple of kilometres later, he set off in pursuit. He bridged the gap and in the process, confirmed to himself that he had better form than expected.

“All of the strongest guys were there,” he explained. “I was well positioned into the climb before that group went, but just probably 10 wheels too far back. I stayed calm, I knew there was no point panicking. Bora chased for a bit, attacked, and it didn’t go anywhere, so me and [Kevin] Geniets, went across. You needed to be in that group really. I’ve found form a lot quicker than I thought I would.”

“My first race for the team at Haut Var was alright, but I was struggling a bit. I wasn’t flying. I was decent, but coming into these races I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where my shape was. And it’s weird to go into it without being able to imagine what you could do, which is how I always like to prepare. Now I know, so in that sense there’s lots of positives today. I definitely learnt a lot.

“It bodes well and gives me a lot of confidence. Tomorrow is more likely to be a sprint but we’re looking forward to it. I’m going into it with a much more positive mindset than I did today and I hope I can then go into Strade with some good form.”

Eventually a hugely reduced peloton did reabsorb the group, but it wasn’t without a fight. Tom was able to slot back in and help position teammate and long-time friend Ethan Hayter for the sprint, but the Brit was caught up in a tough crash with 1.5km to go. “Ethan and I raced a lot when we were young so we know each other really well. I’m 100% sure he would have been on the podium if he hadn’t have crashed.”

Sep Vanmarcke (3rd): “This was a great team performance, especially with only five riders at the start. After my crash, Norman (Vahtra) helped me get back to the front and then Mads (Würtz Schmidt) put me in a perfect position at the very front as we entered Molenberg. From that moment, the race was on. We went really fast and I was surprised to see it all come back together before the Muur. After that, I knew it was going to be a bunch sprint. Tom said he still felt good, so I decided to work for him as he’s faster than me. However, with two kilometers to go, he got caught up behind a crash and I couldn’t find him anymore so I decided just to try and go for the sprint and give the team a good result. At the end, it worked out and I finished on the podium again. It feels good to be back in business!”

Philippe Gilbert (5th) sprinted to fifth place “It’s not bad”, the Lotto Soudal rider responds after the race. “I was still good, but could not accelerate in the last straight line.
I predicted yesterday that there was a chance of sprinting,” he continued. “Even today I saw it with the weather. The headwind in the last 70 kilometers made it perfect to stay together. It was also a controlled race with a small breakaway. This was also due to Tim Declercq’s fast pace. In a Flemish race, the pace is not always that fast.”

Julian Alaphilippe (57th): “With my attack I put Davide Ballerini in a seat”, he said afterwards. “I started today to help the team. I have done that and it is great that we finish it.” Just before the Muur, the eager Alaphilippe solo out front was brought back.

“I thought I should try it,” he responded afterwards. “I put my teammates, especially Davide, in a seat like that. But I did realize that it would not be easy at all to continue my effort to the finish”.

“I also knew that the head wind was a disadvantage in the final. But a man in front is always good for the rest of the team. It’s great that Ballerini was able to finish it. We came to Ghent with a strong team. We only had one goal and that was to win. We did a great job, I think. We took responsibility from the start, with Tim Declercq controlling the early breakaway. When the race exploded, we were always well represented, despite the bad luck of Yves Lampaert and Zdenek Stybar. “How do I assess Ballerini? He’s a machine when it comes to sprinting. On the team stage we had already seen that he was okay. The confirmation came in Provence. His victory today is therefore absolutely no surprise to me. ”

Greg Van Avermaet (33rd) “I had hoped for a tougher race”, the Olympic champion says after the race.

“It was an easy pace to the Molenberg. I was satisfied with that nice group, but after Alaphilippe’s attack, it was difficult to get the chase going. The differences were super small. That attack was embarrassing for me, yes. I thought he would only attack on the Wall ”, said Van Avermaet at Sporza.

“It was difficult to make a difference towards Ninove and if we go to the finish with such a group, I don’t stand a chance. It’s a shame that I can’t get anything here, but it was a bit atypical with that sprint. ”


1. Davide Ballerini Deceuninck-Quick Step 4:43:03
2. Jake Stewart Groupama-FDJ
3. Sep Vanmarcke Israel Start-Up Nation
4. Heinrich Haussler Bahrain Victorious
5. Philippe Gilbert Lotto Soudal
6. Alex Aranburu Astana-Premier Tech
7. Florian Sénéchal Deceuninck-Quick Step
8. Matteo Trentin UAE Team Emirates
9. Kevin Geniets Groupama-FDJ
10. Nils Politt BORA-hansgrohe

19. Oliver Naesen AG2R Citroën Team
22. Owain Doull INEOS Grenadiers
24. Tim Wellens Lotto Soudal
33. Greg Van Avermaet AG2R Citroën Team
55. Tom Pidcock INEOS Grenadiers
57. Julian Alaphilippe Deceuninck-Quick Step @ 40
62. Romain Bardet Team DSM @ 2:44
66. Ethan Hayter INEOS Grenadiers @ 3:07
91. Ryan Mullen Trek-Segafredo @ 4:26
97. Daniel McLay Arkéa-Samsic @ 4:26
105. Connor Swift Arkéa-Samsic @ 4:26

Full Result:


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