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Photo ©: Bettini

63rd Omloop Het Volk - 1.HC

Belgium, March 1, 2008

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Gilbert returns with solo Het Volk victory

By Gregor Brown in Gent with additional reporting from Bjorn Haake

Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) produced a sensational solo ride
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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Belgian Philippe Gilbert returned to win the Omloop Het Volk after taking his first victory in the Flemish race two years ago. The 25 year-old of Française des Jeux attacked solo at 49 kilometres remaining of the 199-kilometre race, and was never seen again by the race favourites. 2005 winner Nick Nuyens (Cofidis) tried to close in on the lone leader with a group of heavy hitters, including Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), but the two finished second and third respectively.

"Like Eddy Merckx? I don't know, but this was my best win so far," said Gilbert of his ride that was almost a completely solo effort. "I saw that I was going well, so it wasn't too early to go."

Gilbert, from the Wallonia region of Belgium, won his first Omloop Het Volk in 2006 by putting in a powerful performance and moving free in the final seven kilometres. However, today's move, on the 1000-metre all-pavé Eikenberg, was one of epic proportions given the distance and two cobbled climbs left to cover. When he went, it was 27 year-old Nuyens on his wheel, but the Cofidis man thought it was too early for such an audacious move.

"I didn't follow deliberately," said Nuyens. "I think I was the best of the rest. I was on the wheel of Gilbert when he attacked. He really went very fast... It was still very far, with such a wind. The rest found it was too early as well. If you can do what he did, then it proves you are the best. I take my hat off to Gilbert."

Nick Nuyens (Cofidis)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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At that point Gilbert had a gap of 3'30 to the five-man move in front, containing Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Sébastien Minard (Cofidis), Arnaud Gerard (Française des Jeux), Michael Friedman (Slipstream Chipotle - H30) and Yuriy Krivtsov (Ag2r-La Mondiale).

The effort looked like it might come to nothing. But working in Gilbert's favour was team-mate Gerard and the fact that Quick Step seemed to have given up on winning the race's 63rd edition. With the Belgian super-team out, there was no one capable of catching Gilbert on his solo flight to Gent.

"Quick Step? I saw a strong Devolder but I didn't really understand their tactics," continued Nuyens. The Belgian champion Devolder told Cyclingnews that his team will be back tomorrow at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne. "I don't know what went wrong," said Devolder. "My legs were turning, but it was a bad day for the team and tomorrow we will have to try again."

Full gas!
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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On the pavé section through Horebeke, Cofidis was turning the screw for Nuyens with favourites Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC), Leif Hoste (Silence-Lotto) and Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) moving into position.

An attack by Allan Johansen (Team CSC) and Jan Kuyckx (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner) helped thin the chase while Gilbert was making his way over the final climb of the day, the Molenberg. The 463-metre ascent, more than half of which is cobbled, shredded the favourites group to just 39 riders.

Gilbert needed help and team-mate Gerard dutifully dropped back following the 2400m Paddestraat to assist his leader. With just over 20 kilometres remaining, Gilbert wisely collected his energies within the newly formed group of Kuschynski, Minard, Gerard and Yuriy Krivtsov.

Gilbert spent nearly 50 kilometres of today's race alone.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

But the Belgian was on the attack again soon afterwards. Producing a scintillating final 20 kilometres to secure his finest win to date, adding to a palmarès which includes the 2006 GP de Fourmies, 2005 Tour du Haut Var and a stage in the 2004 Tour Down Under.

The chasers had now been reduced to Nuyens, Cancellara, Johansen, Hoste, Hushovd and Laurent Jalabert's younger brother, Nicolas. Given the winds and near 30-kilometre effort that the lone rider had already put in, it seemed as though victory was within reach of the six men. However, their organisation could not match Gilbert's determination.

The podium
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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After an attack by Johansen, Nuyens countered and moved clear to claim second in the race he won three years ago. Hushovd took third and will be a hot favourite in tomorrow's Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne.

The original escape that departed 15 kilometres after the start in Gent's Citadelpark - including American rider Michael Friedman - hung tough for the remainder of the day. Liquigas' Kuschynski finished sixth, Krivtsov fifth, Gerard 10th and Minard 11th. Slipstream's Michael Friedman closed out an excellent day for the American team to finish in 12th.

"We had to get into the move," said Friedman. "I knew that it would be pretty windy so that a group would form, and I figured I would be in there. Everyone [in the team] had a job to follow the move. The move went early, and I almost did not make it across due to the wind. A group came up from behind me and then we made it to the rest of the guys. I was hurting pretty bad [in the finale]."

How it unfolded

The peloton makes its way out of Gent.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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199 riders assembled under a sunny sky in Gent for the 63rd Omloop Het Volk. The weather was a relief, as the night before a heavy storm had hit Belgium, and was a cause of concern. But there was no trouble at the start, except for Stijn Devolder (Quick Step), who was the last to be interviewed on the podium, and subsequently had to line up at the back of the field.

Somewhat unusually, the peloton stormed out of Gent in a hurry, hitting the roads at high speed, helped by a strong tail wind on the initial section east of Gent. They passed last year's finishing town of Lokeren, but one who didn't even make it there was Australian Robbie McEwen, victim of the high speed of the bunch. His legs weren't the best and his injuries sustained in Portugal didn't help either.

Michael Friedman (Slipstream)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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A break off six riders formed quickly thereafter. Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner), Michael Friedman (Slipstream Chipotle - H30), Sébastien Minard (Cofidis), Yuriy Krivtsov (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Arnaud Gerard (Française des Jeux) took off and after 25 kilometres they had an advantage of 3'25".

The peloton was not interested and only six kilometres later the gap was at 5'20". At kilometre 33 a crash brought down several riders, among them Rik Verbrugghe (Cofidis).

The average speed after 36 kilometres was at 45.7 km/h. The next crash followed soon after and this time Marc De Maar (Rabobank) hit the deck. After 49 kilometres the gap to the leading five had gone up to 6'25" and another seven kilometres later it was at 8'30"

Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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Frederik Veuchelen (Top sport Vlaanderen) and Loyd Mondory (Ag2r-La Mondiale) were the next to go down, in separate incidents. The favourites picked up the pace now and the gap came down to 7'35", after 63 kilometres.

The first obstacle of the day, besides the treacherous situations on the narrow roads, was the Grotenberg after 73 kilometres, one of the 11 hellingen to be climbed today. The peloton was split and two groups became separated by 38 seconds. But five kilometres later it was all back together, with the break at approximately seven minutes.

After 91 kilometres the peloton tackled the second climb of the day, the Leberg, still almost seven minutes behind the six leaders. The Berendries, Valkenberg, Ten Bosse and Pottelberg were next. While uncomfortable, none of them posed too much of a problem.

Belgian champion Stijn Devolder (Quick Step)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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The only temporary problem was a closed rail road barrier and a small passenger train coming by. But the wait wasn't too long. The Kruisberg was next, a cobbled climb with 65 kilometres to go. Quick Step could be seen on the front for the first time. Paolo Bettini took over on the front briefly, before dropping back and then being held up by a crashing team-mate. Stijn Devolder looked good, powering up the hill.

Devolder also led over the Taaienberg, but couldn't get a decisive gap. On the Eikenberg, with 50 kilometres to go, Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) attacked strongly. Nick Nuyens tried to follow Gilbert's wheel, but couldn't quite match the power of his compatriot. At the same time, two Gerolsteiner riders, Heinrich Haussler and Stephan Schreck, had mechanical troubles.

The Wolvenberg was next and Gilbert used the 17 percent hill to increase his lead on a splintering peloton. The climb was followed by over two kilometres of cobble stones, but Gilbert looked quite comfy on the pavé.

Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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With 39 kilometres to go the last helling of the day was reached, the Molenberg. The bad cobbles make this one particularly tricky and the front group had already lost David Boucher on the lead up to the Molenberg.

A counter attack from Allan Johansen (Team CSC) and Jan Kuyckx (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner) formed a group of seven, including Fabian Cancellara, whose turns were so strong he didn't even realise he had dropped his companions.

The horrible Paddestraat was the last difficulty of the day. It wasn't uphill, but the cobbles are Paris-Roubaix style. Gilbert didn't care and pounded over them, reaching the first victims of the disintegrating breakaway shortly thereafter. The chase group with Cancellara, Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), Leif Hoste (Silence-Lotto), Nuyens and a few others were a good half-minute behind.

Gilbert smiles through the trophy.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Briefly, Gilbert had company from team-mate Arnaud Gerard, Michael Friedman (Slipstream Chipotle - H30) and Yuriy Krivtsov (Ag2r-La Mondiale), chasing the two leaders, Kuschynski and Minard.

With 22 kilometres to go the two leaders were sitting up and waiting for the Gilbert group. But the Belgian decided soon after that he wanted his group to be smaller. In fact, he wanted it to contain only one person - himself. So he attacked strongly and quickly built a comfortable lead.

The Cancellara group was now a minute back, and as the Belgian rode along the flat, straight major highway towards Gent, he was able to keep them at bay. Entering Gent, Gilbert still had 45 seconds and could enjoy the last lap near Citadelpark. He came up the incline to the finish solo and didn't have to sprint, having still a minute in hand. The chasers started playing games and Nuyens came out the winner, sprinting home for second with Thor Hushovd powering home for third.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net

Images by Gregor Brown/Cyclingnews.com

Images by Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com

Images by Gerard Knapp/Cyclingnews.com

  • Tom Boonen (Quick Step) approaches the start line after escaping the human tunnel leading from the teams' area. Boonen said yesterday he is looking to add the opening race of the season to his palmarès
  • Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) gives an interview in Flemish to Belgian TV prior to the start of the Het Volk
  • Marc de Maar (Ned) of Rabobank explains to Cyclingnews Gregor Brown how the team is committed to working for Juan Antonio Flecha who was second in last year's Het Volk
  • Wim Vansevenant (Bel) of Silence-Lotto told Cyclingnews Brecht Decaluwé he was looking forward to the opening race of the Belgian season in his last season as a pro
  • Crowds assemble in Gent's Citadel Park prior to the start of Het Volk as the riders are introduced as they sign-on. The park is also the location of 't Kuipke, Gent's famous 166m indoor velodrome
  • Christophe Kern of Credit Agricole makes his way back to the team cars through another human funnel of fans. A large group of junior cyclists from the Gent area were allowed to stand inside the barriers and seek autographs from their heroes as they made their way back
  • Gergen Löwik from Rabobank emerges from the human tunnel leading out of the teams' area

Images by Bjorn Haake/Cyclingnews.com

Images by AFP Photo

Images by Sonja Csury/www.allaboutcycling.de


1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux                    4.55.25 (40.417 km/h)
2 Nick Nuyens (Bel) Cofidis                                       0.58
3 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole                              1.06
4 Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukr) Ag2r-La Mondiale                               
5 Aleksandr Kuschynski (Blr) Liquigas                             1.12
6 Nicolas Jalabert (Fra) Agritubel                                1.13
7 Leif Hoste (Bel) Silence-Lotto                                      
8 Allan Johansen (Den) Team CSC                                   1.16
9 Jan Kuyckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner                   1.53
10 Arnaud Gerard (Fra) Française des Jeux                             
11 Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis                                     
12 Michael Friedman (USA) Slipstream Chipotle - H30               1.58
13 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC                               2.07
14 Markus Eichler (Ger) Team Milram                               4.26
15 Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Silence-Lotto                         4.31
16 Wouter Weylandt (Bel) Quick Step                               4.37
17 Nico Sijmens (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner                    
18 Murilo Fischer (Bra) Liquigas                                      
19 Anders Lund (Den) Team CSC                                         
20 Roy Sentjens (Bel) Silence-Lotto                                   
21 Steven Caethoven (Bel) Agritubel                                   
22 Floris Goesinnen (Ned) Skil-Shimano                                
23 Kevin Ista (Bel) Agritubel                                     4.49
24 Max Van Heeswijk (Ned) Willems Veranda's Continental Team          
25 Koen Barbé (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                               
26 Geert Verheyen (Bel) Mitsubishi-Jartazi                            
27 Ralf Grabsch (Ger) Team Milram                                     
28 Filip Meirhaeghe (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner                
29 Loyd Mondory (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale                                
30 Huub Duyn (Ned) Slipstream Chipotle - H30                          
31 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Astana                                      
32 Christophe Laurent (Fra) Slipstream Chipotle - H30                 
33 Andy Cappelle (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner                   
34 Kevin Neirynck (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner                  
35 William Bonnet (Fra) Crédit Agricole                               
36 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis                                     
37 Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun) Crédit Agricole                               
38 Mathieu Ladagnous (Fra) Française des Jeux                         
39 Tom Veelers (Ned) Skil-Shimano                                 6.32
40 Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Quick Step                                
41 Kurt Hovelynck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                           
42 Steffen Wesemann (Swi) Cycle Collstrop                             
43 Mathieu Criquielion (Bel) Mitsubishi-Jartazi                       
44 Stijn Ennekens (Bel) Willems Veranda's Continental Team            
45 Roger Hammond (GBr) High Road                                      
46 Michael Schär (Swi) Astana                                         
47 Evert Verbist (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                            
48 Mauro Da Dalto (Ita) Liquigas                                      
49 Jimmy Casper (Fra) Agritubel                                       
50 Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                         
51 Emilien-Benoît Berges (Fra) Agritubel                              
52 Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Cofidis                                    
53 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Silence-Lotto                               
54 Arnaud Labbe (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                                
55 Martin Elmiger (Swi) Ag2r-La Mondiale                              
56 Jason Donald (USA) Slipstream Chipotle - H30                       
57 Gabriel Rasch (Nor) Crédit Agricole                                
58 Gerben Löwik (Ned) Rabobank                                        
59 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) Crédit Agricole                            
60 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Rabobank                                       
61 Martin Müller (Ger) Team Milram                                    
62 Enrico Poitschke (Ger) Team Milram                                 
63 Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Ag2r-La Mondiale                       6.35
64 Frédéric Guesdon (Fra) Française des Jeux                          
65 Enrico Franzoi (Ita) Liquigas                                      
66 Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank                                      
67 Mickaël Delage (Fra) Française des Jeux                            
68 Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus) Mitsubishi-Jartazi                        
69 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick Step                                    
70 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Astana                                        
71 Gorik Gardeyn (Bel) Silence-Lotto                                  
72 Anthony Geslin (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                              
73 Steven De Jongh (Ned) Quick Step                                   
74 Kevin De Weert (Bel) Cofidis                                       
75 David Boucher (Fra) Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner                   
76 Lars Bak (Den) Team CSC                                            
77 Frank Hoj (Den) Cofidis                                            
78 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Rabobank                                 
79 Tom Stubbe (Bel) Française des Jeux                                
80 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Française des Jeux                           
81 Gregory Rast (Swi) Astana                                          
82 Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Silence-Lotto                             
83 Rik Verbrugghe (Bel) Cofidis                                       
84 Frederik Willems (Bel) Liquigas                                    
85 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step                                        
86 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Team Milram                                    
87 Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank                                    6.38
88 Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank                                 
89 Kevin Hulsmans (Bel) Quick Step                                    
90 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step                                     
91 Koen De Kort (Ned) Astana                                      6.51
92 Kenny Van Braeckel (Bel) Willems Veranda's Continental Team    6.54
93 Steven Cozza (USA) Slipstream Chipotle - H30                       
94 Dieter Cappelle (Bel) Willems Veranda's Continental Team           
95 Marco Marcato (Ita) Cycle Collstrop                                
96 Mirko Selvaggi (Ita) Cycle Collstrop                               
97 Tomas Buchacek (Cze) PSK Whirlpool-Author                          
98 Aurélien Clerc (Swi) Bouygues Telecom                              
99 Sven Nevens (Bel) Mitsubishi-Jartazi                               
100 Alexandre Pichot (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                           
101 Tom Steels (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner                     
102 Robert Wagner (Ger) Skil-Shimano                                  
103 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                 
104 Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank                                       
105 Bart Vanheule (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                           
106 Mathieu Heijboer (Ned) Cofidis                                    
107 Erki Pütsep (Est) Bouygues Telecom                                
108 Jarno Van Mingeroet (Bel) Mitsubishi-Jartazi                      
109 Vytautas Kaupas (Ltu) Mitsubishi-Jartazi                      9.12
110 Jens Mouris (Ned) Mitsubishi-Jartazi                              
111 Renaud Dion (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale                           12.33
112 Harald Starzengruber (Aut) Elk Haus-Simplon                       
113 Frederik Veuchelen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                      
114 Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra) Crédit Agricole                       15.10
115 Servais Knaven (Ned) High Road                                    
116 Martin Velits (Svk) Team Milram                                   
117 Rony Martias (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                               
118 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas                                   
119 Stéphane Poulhiès (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale                          
120 Sven Renders (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen                       18.19
121 Sjef De Wilde (Bel) Willems Veranda's Continental Team            
122 Jochen Summer (Aut) Elk Haus-Simplon                              
123 Steffen Radochla (Ger) Elk Haus-Simplon                           
124 Vicente Reynes (Spa) High Road                                    
125 Daniel Musiol (Ger) Team Volksbank                                
126 Fabien Bacquet (Bel) Skil-Shimano                                 
127 Tyler Farrar (USA) Slipstream Chipotle - H30                      
128 Leopold König (Cze) PSK Whirlpool-Author                          
129 Vincent Jérôme (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                             
130 Aaron Kemps (Aus) Astana                                          
131 Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Skil-Shimano                                 
132 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) High Road                                    
133 Sebastian Siedler (Ger) Skil-Shimano                              
134 Matti Breschel (Den) Team CSC                                     
135 Albert Timmer (Ned) Skil-Shimano                                  
136 Kristof De Zutter (Bel) Willems Veranda's Continental Team        
137 Lucas Persson (Swe) Cycle Collstrop                               
138 Carlo Westphal (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                 
139 Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe) Team CSC                                  
140 Marc De Maar (Ned) Rabobank                                       
141 Thomas Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                  
142 David Kopp (Ger) Cycle Collstrop                                  
143 André Greipel (Ger) High Road