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Sat 25/02/2012 – Belgium — (VN) —
Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) outkicked his compatriot Tom Boonen (Omega Parma-Quick Step) to win the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the opening race of the Belgian season. It was Vanmarcke’s first victory as a professional.
In the final meters, the 23-year-old found himself in a three-man sprint against two of the biggest names in the sport — Boonen and former Omloop winner Juan Antonia Flecha (Sky). Boonen, clearly the strongest of the three in a sprint, launched his final sprint a bit too early. “I launched a long sprint because I knew that in the last 200 meters there were two corners where it would have been difficult to pass, but I miscalculated the effort,” Boonen said.
Boonen had earlier launched a big attack on the Taaienberg — one of his favorite climbs in Belgium — with just over 55km remaining. Vanmarcke caught on as did Matthew Hayman (Sky), Matti Breschel (Rabobank), Thor Hushovd (BMC), Flecha and Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quickstep). Philippe Gilbert was behind when he flatted and lost contact.
With 40km to go, Boonen’s group caught the two leaders, Sven Vandousselaere and Lieuwe Westra. Vanmarcke quickly launched a vicious attack on the Molenberg with 37km to go and Boonen was able to match him and catch back on. Hushovd, Breschel, Hayman, Flecha and Devenyns rejoined after dropping Vandousselaere and Westra.
Vanmarcke attacked a second time, this time unhinging both Hushovd and Breschel, with 30km to go, on the Paddestraat. His persistent accelerations eventually dropped Devenyns and Hayman too.
Boonen, Vanmarcke, and Flecha were very cautious going into the final meters, each carefully looking over his shoulders. When Boonen finally went, Flecha and Vanmarcke jumped on his wheel, but Boonen ran out of gas with 50 meters to go and Vanmarcke notched the win. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. I beat Tom Boonen, my big hero,” said an emotional Vanmarcke.
Boonen was upbeat and very congratulatory towards his fellow Belgian. “At 80 meters from the finish my sprint was over, I had no more power in my legs. I had also a cramp on my right leg. It’s a pity but I was beaten by a good rider who deserved the victory.
“Omloop is always a difficult race and even in the past we had few surprises,” Boonen said. “In any case, my condition is good. On the Taaienberg I attacked and the feeling was really good. I have time to improve leading up to Paris-Nice. The classics are far yet. Even the team was super today. Dries did a great job for me and Chavanel was great before the Taaienberg. In general the guys were super today.”