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2002 Het Volk

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58th Omloop Het Volk - 1.1

Belgium, March 1, 2003

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With age comes strength: Museeuw roars early

By Jeff Jones

Johan Museeuw
Photo: © AFP
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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."

Quick Step train
Photo: © Sirotti
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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!"

Johan Museeuw
Photo: © Sirotti
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"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

'Het Volk'
Photo: © CN
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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.

On the Muur
Photo: © Sirotti
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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.

Museeuw and Pozzato
Photo: © Sirotti
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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.

Final podium
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

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

Bike photos

Images by Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews.com

Results - 200 km

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