Luca Paolini wins Omloop Het Nieuwsblad as Geraint Thomas finishes fourth
Luca Paolini won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the first Classic of the season, as Geraint Thomas came fourth.
By Richard Simpson
Last Updated: 25/02/13 1:02pm
The Italian (Katusha) made up for a number of near misses in previous years as he out-sprinted Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) into Gent after the pair held off an elite chase group in the closing stages.
Paolini had been active from early on as the race began to split up over the infamous Belgian cobbled "hellingen" climbs, and used his experience to jump on to the wheel of his fellow escapee as the pair made a break for it with 25km remaining.
A high-pedigree group of chasers were unable to combine to bring back the pair, with Sven Vandousseleare (Topsport-Vlaanderen) eventually winning the reduced bunch kick for third ahead of Team Sky's Geraint Thomas in fourth.
The riders rolled out of Gent with -1C on the thermometer ahead of 199km of racing. With the first hour of the race covered at 46km/h, nine riders finally went clear and opened up a gap that stretched out to the five-minute mark.
Blanco were the first team to blink, picking up the pace on the front, with FDJ and Lotto-Belisol also making their presence felt as the pace shot up on the approach to the Kruisberg climb.
Team Sky came to the fore on the Donderij cobbles, but as the race hit the Taaienberg climb, it was 2011 winner Sebastian Langeveld (Orica-GreenEDGE) who arrived on the front, with the peloton's acceleration causing a split in the bunch.
As the climbs followed thick and fast, the peloton finally snapped into distinct groups, while up ahead, Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) seized the opportunity to attack solo, opening up some daylight.
In behind, a chase group formed featuring a number of big names, including Thomas, Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol), Lars Boom (Blanco), Greg van Avermaet (BMC) and Paolini.
With Chavanel finally reeled in at the top of the Molenber climb, it became a battle of the two groups.
Orica-GreenEDGE committed numbers to the second group, which contained the likes of Tom Boonen, defending champion Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco) and Team Sky trio Bernhard Eisel, Ian Stannard and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Yet they made little impression, allowing the leaders to fight it out amongst themselves, with Quick-Step putting the numerical advantage to good use as Vandenbergh jumped clear with Paolini, building up a dangerous advantage heading into the final 20km.
Despite a brief chase effort, the front group were unable to peg back the pair and Paolini used all his guile to come home the victor.
1 Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha
2 Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step
3 Sven Vandousselare (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise
4 Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky
5 Greg van Avermaet (Bel_ BMC
6 Marco Bandiera (Ita) IAM Cycling
7 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step
8 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
9 Maarten Wynants (Bel) Blanco
10 Egoitz Garcia (Spa) Cofidis