All's well that ends well for Visma-Lease a Bike at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

'We dared to take the initiative and we were rewarded' says Wout Van Aert as Jan Tratnik comes up trumps after golden scenario was spurned

Clock18:03, Saturday 24th February 2024
Visma-Lease a Bike rip the race apart early on

© Luc Claessen / Velo Collection via Getty Images

Visma-Lease a Bike rip the race apart early on

Visma-Lease a Bike were the team to beat heading into the opening Classic of the season, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and, with one rider atop the podium and another two steps beneath, they ended the day with the Spring seemingly in the palm of their hands.

It wasn't quite as straightforward as that, however. Having opened up the race from staggeringly long range and then stripped it down to a group of six in which they had three, this could – and perhaps should – have been a ruthlessly clinical display.

As it was, that golden situation evaporated in a remarkable finale that briefly dispelled that aura of invincibility. Briefly. Jan Tratnik turned out to be the the trump card left in the pack, and while it may have felt a little like a rescue mission, the manner in which they were able to engineer a completely new winning scenario only served to underline the Dutch team’s strength in depth.

Read more: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Jan Tratnik takes first big Classics victory

“I'm very happy with how we won. I could have won myself, but we had said beforehand that we had different riders to win, and we showed that," said Wout van Aert, who was part of that sextet before mopping up for third place.

"It was great how we dared to take the initiative and we were rewarded for that."

The Belgian media, however, appeared keen to hone in on those moments where a race that had seemed under total control briefly turned into open-ended chaos.

“In the end, it all worked out because of the strength of our team,” said Matteo Jorgenson, the new signing who looked set to win the race when he went solo with 20km to go.

Tiesj Benoot, locked with Tratnik in the group behind for much of the race, added: “I think that at the end two people were still able to pull away, precisely because we had made the race so difficult.”

Indeed, Visma ripped the race to pieces in the wind with some 130km left to run, creating a group of 23 riders that they then whittled down to six through Jorgenson’s forcing on the Wolvenberg going into the final 50km. It was Jorgenson who went solo with 20km to go, leaving Van Aert and Christophe Laporte in armchairs alongside Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), Toms Skujiņš (Lidl-Trek), and Arnaud De Lie (Lotto Dstny).

'We're in for a brutal Spring'

However, the bunch came roaring back over the Muur and Bosberg, where a headwind halted Jorgenson and created an entirely new scenario.

“It would have been better for the boys to keep turning to the foot of the Muur,” posited Van Aert. “But the attack [option] was chosen. However, we always had the advantage because there were also teammates behind us. It's nice to see that we understand each other.”

Jorgenson himself made an instant impact in his first Classic for Visma, following his breakout spring with Movistar last year. He looked well set for victory at one point, but could hardly be disappointed at the outcome.

“When I was alone in the lead, the wind was blowing all the way towards Muur - that ruined me,” he said. “But it was still fun racing, I really enjoyed every minute.”

As the race came back together over the Bosberg, with 10km to go, Van Aert and Laporte issued fresh accelerations, before the newcomer Tratnik ripped away with Nils Politt (UAE Team Emirates).

“After the Muur, it was also logical that we continued to opt for the attack and that we could not simply assume that we would beat those who had returned,” Van Aert said, indicating he took heart from his sprint, which saw him mop up from the bunch.

As for Tratnik, the man of the day in the end, the 34-year-old domestique with little Classics pedigree has now earned a seat in what is an incredibly stacked leadership table.

“Ask my sports director,” he said with a grin when asked whether this would change his status in the team.

In the end, Visma-Lease a Bike won the race, threw it away, and won it again. There may be hope in there for their rivals, but then again it may be doubly demoralising.

“I think we can summarize the race in one word: chasing,” said Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale’s Oliver Naesen. “It was another super impressive piece from Visma-Lease a Bike. We sat there and watched it.

"If the race is 200 kilometers long and the final starts at 150 from the finish, then we are in for a brutal spring."

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