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64th Omloop Het Nieuwsblad - 1.HC

Belgium, February 28, 2009

Complete live report

By Susan Westemeyer with reporting from Brecht Decaluwé and Bjorn Haake in Gent, Belgium

13:56 CET    Hello and welcome to the first of the Spring Classics! A lot of people feel that this is the real start of the season, and it kicks off a very interesting time of year for sure. The weather today is beautiful. Ok, the sun isn't shining, but there is no precipitation predicted. It is supposed to get up to a balmy 9° Celsius (49° F). After the long cold winter, that is definitely spring-like

13:58 CET    The race got started at 11:30 this morning. A five-man group has formed and gotten away for an early break. The group consists of four Frenchmen, David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet), Hervé Duclos-Lassalle (Cofidis), Jean Zen (Palmans) and Guillaume Blot (Cofidis), along with Belgian Wim De Vocht (Vacansoleil). Right now they have a lead of 6:25 over the peloton.

14:00 CET    As you likely have noticed during our preview coverage, the name of the race Het Volk changed to Het Nieuwsblad. Instead of one Belgian paper sponsoring the event it is now another. The confusion is alike for fans, riders and staff. Silence-Lotto Sports Manager Marc Sergeant told Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake that "I still haven't gotten used to it and I sometimes refer to it by the old name." Sergeant has good advice, though. "In Belgium we also refer to it as the Omloop – this is the name I started to use."

14:03 CET    97.5km/107km to go The lead is now up to 7:08. We have our first "drop out" of the day, Wolfgang Murer of Elk Haus.

14:07 CET    The defending champion is Philippe Gilbert, in fact he won in both 2008 and 2006, while riding for Française des Jeux . Now, of course he has switched to Silence-Lotto. Who can forget his 50 km solo last year to take the win?

14:10 CET    101.5km/103km to go Everyone is over the Geraardsbergen now, one of the climbs. Quick Step's Maerten Wynants led the peloton over the climb, with Nick Nuyens and Gert Steegmans also near the front. The led is down to 6:45.

14:12 CET    The race runs over 203 kilometres from Gent to Aix. No, wait, that's a Robert Browning poem. It runs from Gent to Gent. Not that Gent is that large a city, they make a long south-to-north loop outside of the city. Of coure what makes this race, as well as all of these early spring Classics is those absolutely lovely or absolutely nasty – depending on your point of view – cobblestone cimbs, known locally as hellingen. We bet the riders have other names for them. There are 11 of these short but steep climbs in today's race, including the Muur van Geraadsbergen, much loved by fans, but not necessarily by the riders.

14:13 CET    The Muur van Geraadsbergen comes about halfway through the race (km 104, to be exact). It is a cobbled climb with a maximum 20 percent gradient, what fun. Geraardsbergen was first featured in the race in 1950 and has since been included 47 times.

14:15 CET    So who is the favourite today? Well, Gilbert, for one. Lots of people are just looking for a chance to knock him off the top step of the podium , though. This is one of the few Belgian one-day races that Tom Boonen hasn't won yet. Nick Nuyens would like to move up to the number one position, too. Could be a real battle between the Belgian and Dutch teams. Who do you think is going to take the honours today? Let us know!

14:17 CET    Who will be quick Step's man? Tom Boonen said before the start that "I feel really, really good." He had said earlier in the week that he was a bit worried about the jet lag from his California trip. But he seems to be the captain today, even his new teammate Sylvain Chavanel agrees with that. "Yes, Tom Boonen is the leader. Sure, I am part of that leader's group as well, but Tom is the main guy. It will be a small group in the end and then you can just dream of a solo break.."

14:19 CET    107.5km/97km to go Looks like the Muur van Geraardsbergen has done its usual thing and broken up the peloton into several groups. Not real sure right now who of the favourites may have missed the cut. And the lead for the quintet in front continues to fall, it is now down to 5:45.

14:22 CET    Cyclingnews spotted Scott Sunderland, who was naturally hanging out near the Saxo Bank bus. But he has now started his new project with the Sky team. Another former rider in Gent was Johan Museeuw, who is on one of the motor bikes as an ardoissier (e.g. one of the person who hold up the chalk boards indicating the gaps). And with "ardoissier" we have our new word for the day!

14:26 CET    111.5km/93km to go Three riders have jumped out of the peloton and are looking to make their way to the escape group: Biel Kadri of Ag2r, Mathew Hayman of Rabobank and Lieuwe Westra of Vacansoliel.

14:27 CET    Apparently Cervelo led the charge over the Muur, with Sylvain Chavanel also up near the front.

14:28 CET    Rolf Aldag, Sport Director of Team Columbia-Highroad, says the Belgian teams are very busy being the favourites today and he hopes that his team can profit from that and take the win away from them. He told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwe, "From my own team, we are looking to Edvald Boasson Hagen, and Marcus Burghardt and Bernhard Eisel are also two strong guys. I don't really know what to expect from Boasson Hagen, but he will be another strong card to play."

14:30 CET    Our Top Five last year was Gilbert, Nick Nuyens (Cofidis), Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), Yuriy Krivstov (Ag2r) and Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas). Nuyens, now with Rabobank, Hushovd, now with Cervelo, and Kuschynski, still with Liuquigas, are here today, but Krivstov is not.

14:33 CET    117.5km/87km to go Another attack, this time by Maaten Tjallingii (Rabobank), Björn Thurau (Elk Haus), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas) and Steven Caethoven (Agritubel).

14:34 CET    Australian Stuart O'Grady was in good spirits before the race. Asked how his legs were he smiled and said: "So far they are great! "It is interesting – the first race back in Belgium. It is a matter of getting used to the cobbles again and the climbs and just cruising around without doing any damage." O'Grady was pleasently surprised about the forecast. It is an overcast day but mild and dry – not even windy. "I am happy with the weather. Every time I fly into Belgium I expect snow and hail and if it is any better than that it's a bonus!"

O'Grady has put the memories of his horrible 2007 crash in the Tour de France behind him. "Last year it was still a biggy, but 2009 I have done a lot of hard work - it is time to get some results this year. Flanders and Roubaix is my main objective - today it is just a matter of building a foundation and getting used to the carnage in these races again..." If there more or fewer climbs in the race, it doesn't make much of a difference for O'Grady. "Either you got the legs or you don't..."

Stuart O'Grady is happy with today's weather
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

14:37 CET    Westra, Kadri and Hayman were caught again by the peloton, but the other four are now off on their own. The leading quintet has 5:20 on the chasers, who are now 47 seconds ahead of the peloton.

14:39 CET    Thor Hushovd was excited to be at the start of the race. "I finished third here last year. This year, I have done California, so I don't know how it will go with the jet lag." Hushovd was full of praise for his new Cervélo TestTeam. "It is really strong. With our black outfit we look pretty scary, too..." Hushovd did not compete in the Tour of Qatar, but "I followed every stage. The team was really impressive."

14:40 CET    The 2007 win here went to Filippo Pozzato of Liquigas, who is here today with his new team of Katusha. The rest of the Top Five -- Juan Antonio Flecha, (Rabobank), Tom Boonen (Quick-Step), Nick Nuyens (Rabobank) and Stuart O'Grady (Saxo Bank) – are here. There was a name familier to us atop the 2006 podium: Philippe Gilbert. He likes to win this race in a big way, taking the victory by 58 seconds last year and 38 seconds in 2006.

14:41 CET    130.5km/74km to go The chasing group has pulled away from the peloton, with their gap now at 1:24 as they cross the Potelberg.

14:42 CET    Cervélo TestTeam has been having a fantastic debut year, and they have sent a great team to the start today: Roger Hammond, Heinrich Haussler, Thor Hushovd, and Andreas Klier. Take your pick, any one of them could take the win today.

14:44 CET    Back in the peloton, Liquigas and Silence-Lotto are moving to the front. It is getting to be time for someone to do something and catch all those guys up ahead..... but it sure hasn't happened yet.

14:46 CET    Marcus Burghardt of Columbia-Highroad is getting into the groove of the Classics season. "Het Volk being the Classics opener, you have to show if you can keep up with the best. There are no more excuses!" Burghardt won't use the race as a warm-up event. "I definitely want to race on the front part of the race. If I can crack the top 10 I'd be happy, then I would be going as planned." Burghardt told Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake that "he was looking to Flanders and Roubaix. But Harelbeke or Waregem are no training races for me. I will ride to win them." His knees don't currently bother him. "I have no problems so far and I hope that I can get through the season alright.

14:49 CET    We have mail, and from none other than Heinrich Haussler Senior! That's right, as in the father of... "After the good results - Tour of Qatar and at the Volta ao Algarve -- I am waiting with lot of excitement for the outcome of this first spring classic. I know young Heinrich loves this cobblestone races and one of his biggest goals is to win one. Maybe it will happen today but it will be hard with so many good riders in the race."

14:50 CET    Want to have a look at what is happening today? Some more photos from the start are in.

14:52 CET    138.5km/66km to go Stuey O'Grady had a mechanical, but fortunately the Saxo Bank auto was right there to help him. The leaders are now heading up the Kruisberg. They are 3:38 ahead of their chasers, with the peloton still 5:42 back.

14:54 CET    Brecht Decaluwe also talked to Columbia's Bernhard Eisel. The Austrian told him he didn't know what to expect today, "but I want to do really well." He is targeting the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix,"and today is a major test. I have good hopes."

14:57 CET    139.5km/65km to go The peloton has finally woken up, and various teams are shairng the lead work now, with Quick-Step being one of the major ones. The head group now has 3:23 over the chasers, with the peloton only 2:01 behind them.

14:58 CET    Gerald Ciolek of Milram has high hopes of getting a good results. He lost one of his key lieutenants, Servais Knaven, due to sickness. But Ciolek was still in good hopes on the Sint Pietersplein. "Servais has of course the experience, but we have others in the team who know this race well and I think we still have a strong team." Knaven was expected to be able to tell Ciolek about the key places of the race. Ciolek admitted to Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake that he didn't know the race very well. "But I do know all the individual climbs." While the German is one of the contenders, he admitted it was hard to predict the outcome. "We will have to see how I feel. But it definitely is an important race to find out where I stand."

15:00 CET    141.5km/63km to go Now the peloton is hitting the Kruisberg. Andreas Klier of Cervelo is setting the pace for the group. The teams are all working to bring their captains in a good position on the way up, so they don't get dropped. That includes Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Greg Van Avermaet (Silence Lotto), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) and Joost Posthuma, also of Rabobank.

15:07 CET    141.5km/63km to go Well, you never know what is going to happen at this race! The four chasers, Tjallingii, Caethoven, Thurau and Kuschynski were just taken out of the race for failing to observe a closed crossing!

15:09 CET    148.5km/56km to go Blot has dropped out of the lead group with a mechanical. The peloton is really moving now, with Rabobank having taken over the leadwork.

15:09 CET    Stefan Van Dijk of the Belgian Verandas Willems team is a fast man himself, but for today's race he predicted one of his competitors. "I think Gert Steegmans has a good chance of winning.

15:11 CET    150.5km/54km to go Nuyens leads things up the Taaienberg, the 8th climb of the day. In fact, four Rabobankers have opened up a small lead: Nuyens, Posthuma, Langeveld and Flecha.

15:12 CET    The eighth climb is the Taaienberg, which runs 500 meters over cobbles with a maximum gradient of 15.8 percent. It is a hard climb at the 148km mark, and is pretty promptly followed by three more climbs, the Eikenberg, the Wolvenberg and the Molenberg.

15:13 CET    Michele Bartoli is picking Greg Van Avermaet for the win today. Van Avermaet is, too. The 23-year old is a favourite to win today, and says "I have the capacities to win." Of course, he is not the only favourite on the team today, because teammates include Lief Hoste, and Jürgen Roelandts, not to mention Philippe Gilbert.

15:14 CET    Michele Bartoli is picking Greg Van Avermaet for the win today. Van Avermaet does, too. The 23-year old is a favourite to win today, and says "I have the capacities to win." Of course, he is not the only favourite on the team today, because teammates include Lief Hoste, and Jürgen Roelandts, not to mention Philippe Gilbert.

15:16 CET    Young Gerald Ciolek of Milram is the next to leave the race, after a mechanical problem.

15:17 CET    153.5km/51km to go The four Rabo riders now have a 15 second lead over the peloton as they head up the Eikenberg. This is where Gilbert made his winning move last year.

15:21 CET    155.5km/49km to go Nuyens is now having trouble keeping up with his teammates. Tom Boonen is now leading the chasing peloton.

15:23 CET    157.5km/47km to go Heinrich Haussler and Thomas Voeckler are now trying to catch the four leaders, after Quick Step led the peloton caught the Rabo riders. Go, Heinrich, your Dad is cheering you on!

15:25 CET    Philippe Gilbert has an unusual problem – he can't spend too much time in his homeland. He recently moved to Monaco, and for tax reasons, can only spend 30 days a year in Belgium. Every time he puts foot on Belgian soil, he has to notify the Belgian finance office. This makes it a bit tricky, the team admits. Gilbert has been trainiing for today's race across the border in France, so that he can save up a few of those precious days.

15:29 CET    158.5km/46km to go The escape is going to be over pretty soon. The peloton is now only 1:44 back. Up near the front we have some big names: Gilbert, Hoste, Van Avermaet, Burghardt, Flecha, Langeveld, Nuyens, Haussler, Klier and Voeckler. Rather surprisingly, Steegmans and Leukemans are having problems keeping up with the high pace being set here.

15:29 CET    Whoops, lets make that lead only 44 seconds now!

15:30 CET    161.5km/43km to go Gilbert makes an attempt to get away -- shades of 2008! -- but Tom Boonen, for one, makes sure he doesn't succeed.

15:31 CET    We had 25 teams of eight riders here today, which, if we can trust our abacus, makes a total of 200 riders out there. We have 14 ProTour teams: Silence-Lotto, Quick-step, Ag2r, Astana, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Francaise des Jeux, Garmin-Slipstream, Liquigas, Rabobank, Columbia, Katusha, Milram and Saxo Bank. There are nine Professional Continental teams: Topsport Vlaanderen, Landbouwkrediet, Agritubel, Cervelo, Elk Haus, ISD, PSK Whirlpool, Skil-Shimano and Vacansoleil. The field is rounded out by two Belgian Continental teams, Palmans Cras, and Verandas Willems.

15:34 CET    Tomas Vaitkus of Astana said his legs were good. But the Omloop opener is not a race where he needed to go all out. "Today is a race where I can check my condition and also to see how other cyclists are going." He will look to be in better shape later on. "My main goal are the races in a month, with Flanders and Roubaix." Astana came to the start with only seven riders today. Swissman Gregory Rast had to be scratched at the last minute with a thigh injury. DS Dirk Demol noted that he has four Kazahki riders on the squad, none of whom have ever before ridden in Flaanders. We agree with him that it will probably be „a strange experience“ for the team.

15:36 CET    We have a high-powered group pulling away slightly as the head towards the Molenberg. Boonen, Sy.Chavanel, Hoste, Gilbert, Van Avermaet, Nuyens, Langeveld, Flecha, Posthuma, Tankink, Haussler, Klier, Hushovd, Pozzato, Terpstra, Velits, Burghardt, Vaitkus, Ista and Voeckler.

15:37 CET    165.5km/39km to go Gilert tries again to pull away on the way up, Flecha follows.

15:37 CET    The last helling of the day is the Molenberg. It is "only 14" percent, but will hardly be an easy one for the tired peloton. Lots of cobblestones, and they have some big gaps between stones. Cheer up, guys, only 40 km to go to the finish line!

15:39 CET    169.5km/35km to go Looks like that large chase group has caught the leaders and now is only 40 seconds ahead of the peloton. Will they stay away or be caught?

15:41 CET    170.5km/34km to go Now Langeveld and Haussler have pulled slightly away and are in the lead.

15:46 CET    174.5km/30km to go Herce Ducloss-Lassalle of Cofidis has a slight lead over the chase group -- oops, no he doesn't. He is caught by the large chase group.

15:49 CET    Langeveld and Haussler lead the group. All of the previous escapees have now been caught.

15:51 CET    178.5km/26km to go As usual, things are changing every minute. Langeveld and Haussler are in front of the roup, but we don't know by how much. The peloton is nearly a minute behind them, with the large chase group in between.

15:56 CET    181.5km/23km to go Haussler and Langeveld are working well together, taking turns in the lead. Behind them is the chase group at 1:02.

15:59 CET    184.5km/20km to go It is Nuyens, Gilbert and Amorison who have jumped out of the chase group. They are now only 31 seconds behind the two leaders.

16:01 CET    The chase group now crosses under the 20 km marker,about 45 seconds behind the two leaders.

16:03 CET    The riders are surely enjoying the spring-like weather today, very unusual for this race. In 2004 it was cancelled due to snow!

16:03 CET    187.5km/17km to go Haussler and Langeveld's lead is now down to only 11 seconds.

16:07 CET    190.5km/14km to go The two leaders have built their lead back up to 23 seconds over the three chasers, with the next group another seven seconds behind them. And they all ride past a very large windmill, which is not in motion.

16:08 CET    191.5km/13km to go The large chase group will have Gilbert and Co. any second now.....

16:09 CET    192.5km/12km to go Still 27 seconds for Haussler and Langeveld, both of whom still look good and are working well together. Chavanel leads the chase.

16:10 CET    193.5km/11km to go Our two leaders have built their lead up to 30 seconds.

16:12 CET    Haussler is a very international young man. He possesses both Australian and German citizenship and rides for a Swiss team.

16:12 CET    195km/9.5km to go The lead is down to 20 seconds.

16:17 CET    198km/6.5km to go Haussler and Langeveld have now entered Gent, with a 23 second lead.

16:17 CET    The chase is being led by -- who else? -- Quick-Step and Lotto.

16:19 CET    199.5km/5km to go Flecha attacks at the 5 km to go mark. But he is just making sure that Boonen doesn't get any ideas, and they are all back together again, just 15 seconds behind the leaders.

16:20 CET    There was a women's race today, with Suzanne De Goede taking it ahead of Noemi Cantele of Bigla.

16:21 CET    201.5km/3km to go Haussler and Langeveld won't make it, the group is only a few metres behind them now in the city streets.

16:23 CET    202.5km/2km to go THey are doggedly hanging on to their lead, as they take a sharp u-turn. and head down towads to finish.

16:23 CET    203.5km/1km to go One km to go -- maybe they will make it! Who will outsprint the other?

16:25 CET    Oh this couldn't be any closer! They are giving it their all, but -- Crash! Can't tell who went down.

16:26 CET    The win goes to Cervelo's Norwegia, Thor Hushovd, with Kevyn Ista second. There is still a rider on the ground from the crash, Martin Velits of Milram.

16:30 CET    That was the second win of the year for Hushovd, who also took a stage in the Tour of California. And the fifth win for Cervelo TestTeam -- not bad at all for a brand-new team!

16:31 CET    Juan Antonio Flecha of Rabobank was third, with Greg Van Avermaet of Silence-Lotto fourth.

16:32 CET    Finales doen't get a lot more exciting than that! Join us tomorrow for Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, and we'll see if it can possibly equal today's fun. Thanks for reading along.