Juan Antonio Flecha got Team Sky's first Classics season off to the best start possible as he became the first Spaniard to win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday afternoon in Gent, Belgium.
While a milestone for his nation, Flecha's win was also a huge personal breakthrough for the Classics journeyman. Ever-present as a contender, he has recorded a number of high finishes in seasons past, including two previous podium appearances at Omloop (2nd in 2007 and 3rd in 2009), but had never quite been able to reach the top step of the podium until today. It was also his first individual victory since October 2008.
A wily attack on the cobbles with some 20 kilometres remaining set up Flecha's win as he powered away from pre-race favourite and two-time Omloop winner Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto). Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo) would prove to be the next member of the peloton to see Flecha as he followed the Sky rider in for second place.
"When Gilbert attacked on the cobbles, I countered him right away," said Flecha. "I managed to get on his wheel quickly and felt that I had to make more of the opportunity, so I attacked myself. Luckily, I managed to hold on to my lead until the finish line. It's a relief after all the bad luck I have had in my career."
"If you keep trying, things work out in the end and today that was proven. I dedicate this victory to the whole team and especially my teammate Matthew Hayman who gave me his wheel in the finale, so I could keep my spot near the front."
Flecha also dedicated his victory to Frank Vandenbroucke, the Belgian who passed away last year. VDB and Flecha were teammates at the Fassa Bortolo team in 2004. "I wanted VDB to be part of this victory," said Flecha. "He was a good rider and a good person. Today he was riding with me all day long. This morning I saw Nico [Mattan, and best friend of Vandenbroucke], and I told him I would win for Frank. What impressed me when I met him was the way he loved the bike, cycling and these races on cobbles. He was especially crazy about the bike."
Heinrich Haussler (L) beat Tyler Farrar for second
Second placed Heinrich Haussler was satisfied with where he finished today, as his main goal is over a month away.
"I tried to attack a few times today but it was never the right group," he said. "No one seemed to want to work. So in the final I tried it again and I was just able to stay ahead of the group behind me. I am really happy about the second place, to be honest I wasn't sure about today. Actually this race was a bit a test because of my knee but I realized today that my form is still there and I felt comfortable mixing it up at the front of the bunch.”
The USA's Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) finished third, ahead of Luca Paolini (Aqua & Sapone) and Marcel Sieberg (HTC-Columbia).
|1 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa|Sky Professional Cycling Team)||5:07:15|
|2 Heinrich Haussler (Ger|Cervelo Test Team)||0:00:18|
|3 Tyler Farrar (USA|Garmin - Transitions)|
|4 Luca Paolini (Ita|Acqua & Sapone)|
|5 Marcel Sieberg (Ger|Team HTC - Columbia)|
|6 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor|Sky Professional Cycling Team)|
|7 Niko Eeckhout (Bel|An Post - Sean Kelly)|
|8 Bernhard Eisel (Aut|Team HTC - Columbia)|
|9 Tom Veelers (Ned|Skil - Shimano)|
|10 Filippo Pozzato (Ita|Team Katusha)|
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.