Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux participated to the first race on Belgian soil this Saturday, the Omloop het Nieuwsblad (1.UWT, 26/02), traditional opening race of the Flemish classics campaign.
After the start in Ghent, the seven riders of the Belgian World Team had to accomplish 204 kilometer towards Ninove containing nine cobble sectors and thirteen hills in the heart of the Flemish Ardennes.
After a crystal clear beginning of the race, during which a breakaway of seven riders escaped, the race situation changed on the Wolvenberg. When the gap with the leaders decreased to one minute, Loïc Vliegen attacked from the peloton with Vermeersch (Lotto) and Küng (FDJ) with 54 kilometer and joined the breakaway 10 kilometer later.
In the peloton, local riders Dimitri Claeys and Aimé De Gendt controlled the accelerations in the Marlboroughstraat and on the Leberg, enabling the group with Loïc Vliegen to stay ahead until the foot of the Muur van Geraardsbergen.
As Claeys (mechanical) and Alexander Kristoff (crash) had bad luck, Andrea Pasqualon was part of a group of strong riders on top of the Kapelmuur. The Italian rider then passed the top of the Bosberg, the last hill of the day with 15 kilometer to go, in third place.
Pasqualon reached the finish line in the first chasing group behind Van Aert and the Italian rider sprinted for second place. He finished eighth after almost five hours of effort.