Team Sky started their Spring Classics campaign with a bang with victory in the Het Nieuwsblad (formerly Het Volk) today in Ghent when Juan Antonio Flecha won by 18 seconds after making a decisive break with 19Km to go. Het Nieuwsblad is regarded by many as the first race of real significances in the Belgian spring calendar so this victory is a real feather in Team Sky's collective race caps.
Although he spent those last 19Km out on his own Flecha's win was a proper team effort afterwards he thanked team mate Matthew Hayman who sacrificed his own changes by giving the Spaniard his wheel when he punctured at a crictical point in the race. He also revealed that Sky's sports directors Scott Sunderland and Steven De Jongh had told him that it was a good time to go when he made his break.
After 183Km of racing what would prove to be the second most important break of the day occurred and Flecha made sure he was in it. Six kilometres later came the most important break of all when Flecha powered away from Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)and off down the road to finish a comfortable 18 seconds ahead of the chasing pack who swept up the chasing Gilbert who eventually finished 26 seconds back on Flecha in 26th place, mind you he has won this race twice before.
The sprint finish for second place was won by Cervelo's Heinrich Haussler, with Garmin Transition's Tyler Farrar coming home third. Edvald Boasson Hagen of Sky was sixth. Flecha won Sky's first Belgian classic in their first Belgian classic and became the first Spaniard to win the race in the process too. Roger Hammond was the first Brit home finishing in 19th place in the chasing pack, Torpedo Tom Boonen finished in 59th almost four minutes back on the winner and David Millar was 77th a further minute back, while Russell Downing came home 13 minutes behind his team mate in 125th place.
Aside from the mighty positive of grabbing a win in a prestigious Belgian race at the first time of asking, and the manner in which it was achieved in terms of team work, Sky will also feel pleased with how their equipment performed. Not everybody was convinced by their choice of bike and some traditionalists will have wondered whether using Shimano's electronic Di2 gruppo was something of a risk also, it shrugged off the worst of the Belgian weather on Saturday but then it has already been put through two cyclo cross seasons at the top level with no ill effects so Belgian wind, rain and cobbles shouldn't have been too much of a stretch.
1 Juan Antonio Flecha (ESP) Team Sky (5:07:15) 2 Heinrich Haussler (GER) Cervélo (+18) 3 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin (+18) 4 Luca Paolini (ITA) Acqua & Sapone (+18) 5 Marcel Sieberg (GER) HTC-Columbia (+18) 6 Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) Team Sky (+18) 7 Niko Eeckhout (BEL) An Post-Sean Kelly (+18) 8 Bernhard Eisel (AUT) HTC-Columbia (+18) 9 Tom Veelers (NED) Skil-Shimano (+18) 10 Filippo Pozzato (ITA) Katusha (+18) 11 Frédéric Guesdon (FRA) Française des Jeux (+18) 12 Borut Bozic (SLO) Vacansoleil (+18) 13 Bert De Waele (BEL) Landbouwkrediet (+18) 14 Yoann Offredo (FRA) Française des Jeux (+18) 15 William Bonnet (FRA) Bbox-Bouygues (+18) 16 Sébastien Minard (FRA) Cofidis (+18) 17 Roy Curvers (NED) Skil-Shimano (+18) 18 Michael Schär (SUI) BMC Racing Team (+18) 19 Roger Hammond (ENG) Cervélo (+18) 20 Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Quick-Step (+24)
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.