Mark Cavendish (Sky Procycling) and Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin Barracuda) were the big winners in the opening weekend of the Belgian season, comprising the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday.
Cavendish’s victory in K-B-K came about thanks to the impressive work by his Sky teammates to keep the bunch together, despite Cavendish feeling ill earlier in the race. In the end there were no major splits in the bunch and Cav took a clear win over Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ-Big Mat) and Kenny Van Hummel (Vacansoleil).
“After the cobbles I told CJ [Chris Sutton] that I didn’t feel so good,” Cavendish said afterwards. “Once we took control it got better although I was still vomiting. It’s incredible. I don’t know if I can take any credit for this win. The whole day they looked after me. I was never in the win and always in the front of the peloton. It’s a great win.”
Coming into the final kilometre, the stage appeared set for a duel between Cavendish and his great rival André Greipel (Lotto Belisol) but the German found himself boxed in and faded in the final meters, finishing tenth.
“At 300m from the finish line I was confident that I could not lose the sprint. Then Van Hummel swerved from right to left and there was no more space for me. I should’ve gone earlier,” a clearly disappointed Greipel said.
In the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Vanmarcke stunned his two more highly fancied breakaway companions Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Juan-Antonio Flecha (Sky Procycling) to beat them in a three man sprint.
The decisive breakaway started to form on the Taaienberg with 59km to go in the 200km race. Vanmarcke, Boonen and Flecha set off in pursuit of an earlier breakaway, accompanied by Mat Hayman (Sky Procycling), Matti Breschel (Rabobank), Thor Hushovd (BMC) and Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quickstep). With double winner Philippe Gilbert flatting behind them, they were rid of one of the main favourites.
After catching the early break, Vanmarcke, Boonen and Flecha went clear on the cobbles of the Paddestraat with 31km to go. And Vanmarcke proved to be the strongest in the end:
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. I beat Tom Boonen, my big hero,” an emotional Vanmarcke said during the post-race interview with Sporza. He knew that in a sprint against Boonen, his chances were slim and tried to shake him off with a few attacks, but said, “I know if I have a really great day, I can sprint pretty well.”
Boonen came in with generous and genuine congratulations for his young compatriot, and admitted to the press that he misjudged the approach to the line. “I saw the finish this morning and still I get caught. I thought I went at the right moment, but … the race was 50 meters too long.”