Ballerini sprints to victory in opening classic
Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2021 ahead of Jake Stewart (Groupama - FDJ) and Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation). After a solo effort by world champion Alaphilippe, no elite group was able to break away anymore. Ballerini eventually took the win in a bunch sprint on the Onderwijslaan in Ninove.
Just last October there was racing on Flemish roads, but the enthusiasm to start the season again in Ghent was enormous. That was certainly the case for Kenny De Ketele (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Bert De Backer (B&B Hotels p/b KTM), Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana-Premier Tech), Ryan Gibbons (UAE Team Emirates) and Matis Louvel (Team Arkéa-Samsic). After about 5 km their attack attempt immediately proved to be the right one.
The peloton waited and let the gap get to more than 8 minutes. They had to wait for an acceleration until the Wolvenberg, just over 50 km from the finish line. That's when Lampaert and his teammates, in the service of world champion Alaphilippe, picked up the pace.
This also happened in the run-up to the Molenberg. There Stybar took the world champion with him. After that acceleration, an elite group including Alaphilippe, teammates Stybar and Ballerini, Van Avermaet (AG2R Citroën Team), Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) and Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation) rode to the front of the race. A little later, it was the British Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers) who could join the group together with Kévin Geniets (Groupama-FDJ), just before the last passage on the Haaghoek, thus creating a leading group of 13.
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On the Berendries, it was time for the world champion to shine. With a strong acceleration he knocked the rest out of the wheel and went off by himself with 32 km to go. The chasers kept the world champion in sight for a while and tried to work together. Stybar crashed, leaving Ballerini to play the role of jammer in the pursuit.
In the run-up to the Muur van Geraardsbergen, the gap started to narrow, meter by meter. The world champion looked back and knew on entering Geraardsbergen that his story was over. The peloton also rejoined the others shortly afterwards. Everything had to be redone at the foot of the Muur. Italian rider Moscon (INEOS Grenadiers) attempted a solo effort after the Muur, but everyone regrouped again at the Bosberg. A large group headed towards Ninove.
After a hectic final kilometer with a flat tyre for Kristoff and a crash, a large group sprinted for the victory. Ballerini was the best of the group. Coming from the wheel of his teammate Sénéchal, the Italian sprinted to victory in the opening classic after 201 km, ahead of Stewart and Vanmarcke.