02-Mar-2014: Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team raced 197km Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne to perfection on Sunday. Sensing a delay in the peloton on the Oude Kwaremont, Stijn Vandenbergh accelerated on the front when OPQS happened to be in good position nearby at about 73km to go.
Catching most teams in a vulnerable moment, OPQS and Belkin Pro Cycling Team took advantage of the unexpected situation, causing a 10-rider race split with a few riders up the road in a breakaway. Vandenbergh, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Matteo Trentin, Tom Boonen, and Nikolas Maes worked brilliantly together as they quickly established a gap on a peloton that was slow to react. They caught the breakaway and kept the tempo high.
This turned out to be the action of the day. The gap stayed at about a minute for the remainder of the race thanks to a lead group that worked very well together. Maes was able to stay with Boonen until the sprint, while Vandenbergh, Van Keirsbulck, and Trentin put in tremendous work to maintain the gap, and also neutralize an attack by Maarten Wynants (Belkin Pro Cycling Team) with 3.6km to go. OPQS remained calm on the front and once Wynants was caught, even Vandenbergh was able to get a small gap on the field before he was caught with a little more than a kilometer to go.
The lead group then spread across the road approaching the final sprint. Boonen, who was well protected by Maes, launched his sprint early. He was able to hold his power to the line and added a bike throw for good measure. His victory was truly one that can be credited to the entire team as the tactics, and the efforts of all riders, were flawless.
Moreno Hofland (Belkin ProCycling Team) was 2nd, and Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin ProCycling Team) was third. Vandenbergh — after working on the front all day and causing the initial split — was 5th, Van Keirsbulck 7th, Maes 8th, and Trentin 9th after giving his all to catch back onto the group with a kilometer remaining.
OPQS now has 13 wins in 2014, in three disciplines. Tom Boonen has three of those wins, and 11 of the wins were on the road.
“I’m very happy about this victory especially if I think about yesterday’s race,” Tom Boonen said. “Today I felt good the entire day, I was completely recovered and this was a good sign. We did our race, we controlled the other teams and then on the Oude Kwaremont we accelerated. To be honest it wasn’t something programmed. Stijn Vandenbergh did a good tempo and at the top, after the false flat, we realized that we were all in the front. So we upped the pace and we went. It was still far from the finish and maybe a bit risky, but also the other teams who had to chase were tired. Fortunately we had three Belkin riders in the group and they really work hard with us. Everybody in the group worked hard to go to the finish. We all believed in this action. To me it was better to arrive in a small group instead of facing a bunch sprint, so we made the race hard. In the final I was a bit nervous because we could only lose this race with five of us in the front. In the last 20 kilometers we started to think about the sprint. I was expecting more attacks but there was a lot of wind and it wasn’t easy to attack. I have to thank the whole team. We showed once again that we are a good group. Aftet the winter I understood that I was ok, that I was ready for a good season. I won at Tour of Qatar but of course this race in my home country has a special taste, even if it doesn’t change a lot. As usual we will check the ’the balance’ of my first part of the season after Roubaix, but of course this weekend makes me confident for the upcoming weeks.”
“It was very nice to have five guys in a group of 10 riders,” Vandenbergh, the rider who caused the split, said after the race. “At the Oude Kwaremont we had picked up the tempo and happened to get a gap. After that, with the wind it was a little bit like racing in Qatar. We did a good job, and all of the riders in the breakaway worked well together. It was a hard race. Not hard like yesterday with the rain and the cold, but when you are in front you have to ride hard to maintain the gap. Yesterday we did a good job, but lost some guys due to the cold. Today we showed we are one of the strongest teams for the Classics. That’s a good sign for us, but also for Tom to show he is back on the level of a couple years ago. It’s good for his confidence, and a day like today is good for the confidence of the whole team.”
“We have a really strong team, and I think after Tour of Qatar we gave another demonstration of just how strong the team is,” OPQS CEO Patrick Lefevere said. “We are a Belgian team, we have Belgian sponsors, so of course doing well in a Belgian race is important. But it’s everyone on the team who wants to win — a group of diverse nationalities. I am happy not just that we won today, but it’s the way we won. As for Tom Boonen, he is back on the level that he was in 2012, the level everyone knows. I am very proud of the team effort today and that Tom was able to complete the job.”
Photo Credit: OPQS/Tim de Waele