- - Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2023

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2023

photo credits @ WTFK

Dylan van Baarle took a solo victory on his Jumbo-Visma debut at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad today.

The Dutch rider, who switched to Jumbo from Ineos Grenadiers over the winter, proved too strong for his supporting cast, riding them off his back wheel one after another.

A four-strong chase group formed to exert some pressure, but Van Baarle never looked in serious danger of losing his advantage, riding into the race’s new finish at Ninove half a kilometre ahead of anyone else

Van Baarle had been among the favourites before the first major classic of the season, but would not have seen his name at the top of too many pundits’ lists. In the absence of his reigning champion team-mate, Wout van Aert, it was an open field that set off from Ghent on the cold but humid, windy 200km course.

A seven-strong breakaway slipped the clutches of the bunch inside the opening 10km. It contained a mixture of promising youngsters and solid pros, but no serious threats to the overall victory: Jelle Wallays (Cofidis), Mathias Norsgaard (Movistar), Mathis Le Berre (Arkea Samsic), Louis Blouwe (Bingoal WB), Adam de Vos (Human Powered Health), Gilles De Wilder (Team Flanders Baloise), Alex Colman (Team Flanders Baloise).

Within 20 kilometers the group had built themselves a lead of four minutes, as Jumbo-Visma controlled things loosely from behind. A crash ahead of the first run across the Haaghoek, a section of hellingen which would prove even more important later, brought the races of Michael Schar (AG2R Citroen) and outside bet Ben Turner (Ineos Grenadiers) to an early close.

At the halfway mark, the breakers had earned themselves a lead of six minutes (4500m) on the road. 

At 90km to go, an attack came from a stronger group, which included Connor Swift (Ineos Grenadiers), Marco Haller (Bora Hansgrohe), Kelland O’Brien (Jayco Alula) and Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious). The ever-vigilant Jumbo-Visma were alert to it, Nathan Van Hooydonck and Jan Tratnik tagged along for the ride, affording their team-mates behind a bit of a breather, and handing over peloton-contolling duties to those teams who had missed out.

The four (plus two) worked hard, making back a major dent in the breakaway’s advantage, but the peloton matched them pedal stroke for pedal stroke and the gap between the second two groups never became an insurmountable one. Lotto Dstny, who clearly had confidence in their young sprinter, Arnaud de Lie, had done most of the pulling when the two became one again with 66km of the race remaining.

With the bergs and cobbles coming thicker and faster, and the pace increasing up and down the road, the race entered something of a settled phase. The main break would be caught and no one wanted it to be sooner than necessary.

The next key moment of the race came with 52km left. De Lie’s bike slipped from under him on a right-hand bend and although he was able to get going again quite quickly, he had a fight on his hands to regain contact. That effort was made even more difficult by needing a bike change, and team-mates taking their time to come back to him.

Jumbo-Visma were all over everything, all day. On the Molenberg, Van Hooydonck launched Christophe Laporte, causing strain in the peloton which eventually snapped the bunch in two. A few thousand metres further, before on the third traversing of the Haaghoek, Van Baarle decided to crack that group two. Only three riders – Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious), Mathis Le Berre (Cofidis) and Florian Vermeersch (Lotto Dstny) – could hang on. Their strength could not match his however; they could offer no assistance. Van Baarle did not want or need it anyway.

His strength only seemed to grow. While the peloton dithered, the four leaders gained a minute of advantage. Milan was the first rider dropped, then Vermeersch. Le Berre hung on but, having been in the original break, added nothing to the move.

As the duo closed on Geraardsbergen, it became a case of how much time did they (or really he) needed to take onto the penultimate climb to fend off the peloton and any counter-attackers. Twenty seconds was all Van Baarle had, as Le Berre finally slipped from his wheel.

From the bunch Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious), Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates) and – incredibly – De Lie, had enough left in their legs to get clear of the rest and go on the hunt. Unfortunately for them, Jumbo-Visma had Laporte waiting in the wings, should Van Baarle’s world come crashing down.

It did not. He grimaced his way across the harder-than-it-looks Bosberg, where the chasing four would have been able to see him but were frustrated by how little ground they gained. Onto the flat that followed Van Baarle tucked in, tossed out his earpiece and made for the finish. Though he will not have known it, his lead only increased over the final few kilometer. He did not sit up or look back until the final sweeping bends, when he was inside the barriers. A salute to the crowd to mark a demolition debut.

Asked afterwards why he made his move when he did, Van Baarle replied with one word: “Instinct.”

“The team told me to use my instinct and that’s what I did,” he elaborated. “I saw a moment, it was quite a hard section of the race, and I decided to go.”

Meanwhile, neo-pro De Lie won the sprint behind for second after the peloton absorbed the chase group late on, with Laporte making it a Jumbo one-three.

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