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58th Omloop Het Volk - 1.1
Belgium, March 1, 2003
With age comes strength: Museeuw roars early
By Jeff Jones
Belgium's top cycling star, Johan Museeuw knows how to win a classic. The 37 year old Lion of Flanders showed his younger peers exactly how it was done in today's Belgian season opener, Omloop Het Volk. Benefiting from the formidable strength of his Quick Step-Davitamon team, Museeuw rode away from teammate Paolo Bettini and US Postal's Max van Heeswijk with 5 km to go to win in classic Museeuw style.
"I knew I would be good, but I didn't expect it this soon," said Museeuw moments after winning. "I am 37 but among the young riders of the team I feel like a 20 year old. With them working, it motivates me. My career will not go on for much longer, so I must take what comes to me."
Behind Museeuw, Van Heeswijk showed that he is definitely at home in his new US Postal/Berry Floor team, taking second after winning a two man sprint with Paolo Bettini. "I knew that they would attack me," said the Dutchman. "First I could follow Museeuw, but I couldn't come back to him on his second attack. He rode away, metre by metre. Museeuw was far too strong. But I had a good feeling: I was with Museeuw in the lead."
The Quick Step success was completed by Frank Vandenbroucke and Tom Boonen, who crossed the line in fourth and fifth with arms raised. They had been an essential part of the move that saw seven riders, four of whom were Quick Step, escape the peloton with 65 km to go, catching and dropping the three early breakaways (Durand, Bracke and Trouvé) and simply riding away with the race after that. In addition to the Quick Step quartet, the group contained Pippo Pozzato (Fassa Bortolo), Peter Farazijn (Cofidis) and Max Van Heeswijk (USPS).
The leaders increased their advantage to over three minutes on the peloton over the flat, occasionally cobbled, final section of the race. Then the seven became three with 22 km to go, as Museeuw, Bettini and Van Heeswijk rode away from the rest. Museeuw saw to it that the three became one by the finish.
"It was easy for me then with Bettini there," said Museeuw, adding, "I would have liked Frank to win to because he had a lot of bad luck. But it's still very important for me too. This is the proof that Vandenbroucke is back, Boonen is my successor, and Museeuw is not yet worn out!"
"The team was very good in the Tour of Med and Ruta del Sol, so we knew that we could do it. The pressure was on us and there was less initiative from the other teams so we took it on. In the hills we pulled the peloton apart."
Frank Vandenbroucke commented that "This is a team win. We dominated Het Volk with Johan and Bettini. Boonen was very strong. It's a very strong team."
VDB sounded an ominous warning: "These are my races. I am good, but not yet 100 percent, far from it even, but this opens up prospects for the rest of the season. It's is only one race, but it helps clear away the doubts. It was the first race to show what I was worth and now I've done that."
How it unfolded
The 58th Omloop Het Volk started shortly before midday outside the S.M.A.K. art museum in Gent, under cloudy skies and on damp roads. Although it didn't really rain, the slippery roads and the nervousness of the peloton caused a lot of crashes, with riders like Andreas Klier, Steffen Wesemann (Telekom) and Geert van Bondt (CSC) all abandoning as a result. There was also some bad luck for Scott Sunderland (fakta), who broke a shoe plate, had a minor fall and ended up riding home by himself.
The break of the day was made after 12 kilometres by four riders: Tony Bracke (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago), Kristof Trouvé (Palmans-Collstrop), Christophe Agnolutto (Ag2r) and the inimitable Jacky Durand (FDJeux.com). The peloton was content to let them go and exhaust themselves in the wind, and they eventually reached a respectable lead of 8'43 at the feed zone (km 92). Agnolutto only lasted a short time however, being unable to follow on the Oude Kwaremont, the day's third climb.
The peloton began to pick up the tempo as it approached the Muur van Geraardsbergen (km 84), and there was chaos on that climb as the bunch was split by the strength of the Quick Step team. In addition to Museeuw, Boonen, VDB and Bettini, Quick Step's Andrei Kashechkin, Wilfried Cretskens, Nick Nuyens and Davide Bramati were also doing great work to shred the bunch on the narrow, windy, and treacherous Flemish roads.
The peloton was down to about 50 riders when the boys in blue stepped up the tempo on the Eikenberg climb with 83 km to go. Frank Vandenbroucke himself attacked, opening up a gap and riding solo to the top. He was overtaken by teammate Andrei Kashechkin, who kept the tempo high over the next 10 km to ensure that the peloton remained small. Then Paolo Bettini forced the pace on the Leberg (climb 8, km 124) as the gap to the three early leaders shrank to just over three minutes.
The critical moment came through the peaceful village of Zwalm when with 65 km to go, big blond Tom Boonen accelerated, taking Filippo Pozzato (Fassa Bortolo) and Bernhard Eisel (FDJ) with him. It didn't take long for Bettini, Museeuw and Vandenbroucke to bridge across, with Cofidis' Peter Farazijn also joining them for the ride. Eisel punctured at the wrong time and lost his chance of staying with them, while Max Van Heeswijk saw the danger and bridged up to them on the Molenberg, the day's final climb.
There were now seven (Museeuw, Boonen, VDB, Bettini, Pozzato, Van Heeswijk, and Farazijn) chasing three (Durand, Trouvé, Bracke), with another group of eight containing Van Petegem, Sacchi and Kirsipuu trying and failing to close in on them. The seven leaders were far too strong and worked evenly, swallowing up and spitting out Trouvé and co. on the Paddenstraat with 52 km to go. It was clear that the peloton wasn't going to see them again, and Lotto-Domo had lost any chance of defending Van Petegem's win.
With four Quick Steps in front, it was a matter of which one of them would take the victory. Quick Step's director Wilfried Peeters told Belgian TV that he was a little nervous about Van Heeswijk being there. "With four in the leading group you can't lose," he said. "I know Van Heeswijk and I was a little afraid of him. When we had two in the group of three, then I knew we had it."
Museeuw was the man most talked about, but the other three all looked very good. The decision was finally made over the nine flat cobbled sections that marked the final 35 km. Bettini started the attacks with 34 km to go, and they continued non-stop until eventually Bettini, Museeuw and Van Heeswijk got clear on the Berringstraat with 23 km to go. Farazijn and Pozzato didn't have the legs to chase them, especially with Boonen and VDB sitting on their wheels.
The three leaders worked well together, and Van Heeswijk was not afraid to come through for his turns. However with the likes of Museeuw and Bettini as company, he was doomed. Museeuw attacked with 6 km to go, forcing Van Heeswijk to chase. Bettini didn't take the opportunity to counter attack, and it was Museeuw who went again with 5 km to go. Van Heeswijk was in trouble, and gave it everything to close the gap but he couldn't. It was Museeuw's race after that, and the Lion of Flanders rode strongly to the finish in Lokeren amidst cheering crowds. He raised his arms in majestic triumph, and that is a good sign for him for the upcoming classics.
The battle for fourth and fifth was decided when Tom Boonen left the exhausted Pozzato and Farazijn with 11 km to go. Frank Vandenbroucke quickly joined him and the pair rode together to the finish, hands clasped as they crossed the line in recognition of the team's triumph today.
Four Quick Steps in the top five is reminiscent of Mapei's past dominance of Paris-Roubaix, and although today was a different race, Patrick Lefevere once again orchestrated an impressive team win in a big classic.
Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti
Images by Luc Claessen/www.actiefotos.be
Images by AFP Photo
Images by Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews.com
Images by Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews.com
1 Johan Museeuw (Bel) Quick Step-Davitamon 5.01.15 (39.83 km/h) 2 Max van Heeswijk (Ned) US Postal presented by Berry Floor 0.14 3 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Davitamon 4 Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel) Quick Step-Davitamon 1.33 5 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Davitamon 6 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 2.36 7 Peter Farazijn (Bel) Cofidis 8 Romans Vainsteins (Lat) Sidermec 3.32 9 Gabriele Balducci (Ita) Sidermec 10 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo 11 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Fassa Bortolo 12 Jaan Kirsipuu (Est) AG2R-Prévoyance 13 Remco van der Ven (Ned) Bankgiroloterij 14 Gianluca Bortolami (Ita) Sidermec 15 René Haselbacher (Aut) Gerolsteiner 16 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Lotto-Domo 17 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) Crédit Agricole 18 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) FDJeux.com 19 Andrea Ferrigato (Ita) Alessio 20 Fabio Sacchi (Ita) Saeco 21 André Korff (Ger) Team Coast 22 Allan Johansen (Den) Team fakta 23 Jacky Durand (Fra) FDJeux.com 24 Johan Dekkers (Bel) Marlux-Wincor Nixdorf 25 Roy Sentjens (Ned) Rabobank 26 Aart Vierhouten (Ned) Lotto-Domo 27 Tony Bracke (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago 28 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Lampre 29 Bobbie Traksel (Ned) Rabobank 30 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner 31 Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus) US Postal presented by Berry Floor 32 Jörg Ludewig (Ger) Saeco 33 Fabio Baldato (Ita) Alessio 34 Christophe Mengin (Fra) FDJeux.com 35 Erki Putsep (Est) Ag2r-Prevoyance 36 Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Quick Step-Davitamon 37 Gerben Lowik (Ned) BankGiroLoterij 38 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole 39 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Team fakta 40 Nick Nuyens (Bel) Quick Step-Davitamon 41 Andy Flickinger (Fra) AG2R-Prévoyance 42 Alessandro Cortinovis (Ita) Lampre 43 Antonio Cruz (USA) US Postal presented by Berry Floor 44 Matthé Pronk (Ned) Bankgiroloterij 45 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Vlaanderen-T Interim 46 Davide Bramati (Ita) Quick Step-Davitamon 47 Lars Bak (Den) Team fakta 48 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Quick Step-Davitamon 49 Tristan Hoffman (Ned) Team CSC 50 Chris Peers (Bel) Cofidis 51 Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra) Jean Delatour 52 Nico Mattan (Bel) Cofidis 53 Paul Van Hyfte (Bel) Team CSC 54 Kai Hundertmarck (Ger) Team Telekom 55 Dave Bruylandts (Bel) Marlux-Wincor Nixdorf 56 Geert Verheyen (Bel) Marlux-Wincor Nixdorf 57 Benoit Joachim (Lux) US Postal presented by Berry Floor 58 Serge Baguet (Bel) Lotto-Domo 59 Christopher Jenner (Fra) Crédit Agricole 60 Robert Sassone (Fra) Cofidis 61 Michael Skelde (Den) Team fakta 62 Rolf Aldag (Ger) Team Telekom 63 Hans De Clercq (Bel) Lotto-Domo 64 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 65 Jan Boven (Ned) Rabobank 66 Janek Tombak (Est) Cofidis 67 Dario Pieri (Ita) Saeco 68 Daniele Nardello (Ita) Team Telekom 69 Enrico Cassani (Ita) Alessio 70 Nicolas Jalabert (Fra) Team CSC 71 Gianluca Sironi (Ita) Sidermec 72 Glenn D'Hollander (Bel) Lotto-Domo 6.30 73 Kristof Trouve (Bel) Palmans-Collstrop 74 Pieter Vries (Ned) BankGiroLoterij 75 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo 76 Johan Verstrepen (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago 77 Cristian Pepoli (Ita) Saeco 78 Yuriy Krivtsov (Oek) Jean Delatour 79 Bruno Thibout (Fra) Jean Delatour 80 Stéphane Berges (Fra) AG2R-Prévoyance 81 Christophe Edaleine (Fra) Jean Delatour Starters: 194