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Dominant Belgians upset by an Englishman

ALLEZ - JV Araneta - The Freeman

The Het Nieuwsblad is the opening (27.2.2015) race for the 2015 Spring Classics. In the next 2 months, cycling fans will be entertained by the “hard men”, riders who brave the wind, the cold, the rain, the cobbles and the short steep hills.

Normally, Het Nieuwsblad is not a priority race for the superstars of cycling. It’s more of a “feeling out” race, feeling out how the body will react to a hard race, feeling out how the team is doing and feeling out how the other contenders are doing at this time.

But it doesn’t mean that the Het Nieuwsblad is just another race, its just how this race stacks up again the Paris-Roubaixs’ or the Milan-San Remo’s of the world.

The Het Nieuwsblad (nee Omloop Het Volk until 2008), a race sponsored a newspaper of the same name is 165km long, 100km shorter than the Monuments. This years edition has 11 short, steep hills, yet, its a race more for the “rouleur” , or the all-arounder.

The real racing started with about 40km to go when JUMBO rider Sep  Vanmarcke forced the pace on the Leberg, bringing with him 7 other riders including SKY’s Ian Stannard (GB), and ETIXX teammates Tom Boonen (Bel), Niki Terpstra (Ned) and Stijn Vandenbergh. Just as they crest the climb, Vanmarcke flatted.

However, instead of 6 riders at the front, the next shot from Belgian TV showed only Stannard, Boonen, Terpstra and Vandenbergh. Looking at the composition of the break, I said to myself, this quartet will make it to the line and Booned or his two teammates will win. At that point, I felt sorry for Stannard.

But the Dutchman Vanmarcke, who almost outsprinted Fabian Cancellara in the 2013 Paris-Roubaix, didn’t quit. After getting a new wheel, he chased back along with Belgian Greg Van Avermaet. Unfortunately for the duo, another ETIXX rider, Zdenek Stybar, was a passenger. They almost got as close as 13sec, before the power of the ETIXX trio suffocated them.

A 1-to-3 disadvantage in a flat race is a sure win. With Boonen among the trio, then its a no-brainer.  Normally, Terpstra and Vandenbergh would have delivered Boonen in the last 200m, and it was in the bag.

I don’t know what the team orders were but somebody in ETIXX made a decision similar to what Pete Carroll did in SB XLIX. Boonen attacked with about 4km to go. The move showed that Boonen wasn’t confident in his sprint. Standard slowly reeled him. As expected, Tersptra counterattacked,  but Standard slowly got back. Then the Brit made his own attacked. The ETIXX trio, who had been working in the last 40km, suddenly looked tired and confused. Only Terpstra could hang on while Vandenbergh was dropped, and Boonen couldn’t close a 50m gap! Then ETIXX made another blunder when Terpstra started the sprint first, showing his insecurity in the sprint. Stannard who won in a similar two-man sprint last year, came around Terpstra in the last 20m to win back-to-back! Wow!

It seems ETIXX, a team made for the classics started out bad. I was sure that there were long faces during the team dinner. I hope they can bounce back tomorrow but we fans shouldn’t worry, it should be a portent of things to come for the rest of this year.

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