Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux) has won the Omloop Het Volk. The Belgian soloed away from a five-man lead group to win the 202-km race in 4:56:18. Bert De Waele (Landbouwkrediet) took second at 0:38, and Leon van Bon (Davitamon) won the sprint for third at 0:54. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /?>
The race was ridden in fair but cold weather, and the racing started early. An eight-man break formed, and at <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /?>14 km , Bram Tankirk (Quick Step), a last-minute replacement for Steven De Jongh, led three other riders in pursuit. At 21 km , the two groups merged, and the 11 remaining escapees led by 6:12 at 48 km . Discovery Channel, Liquigas, and Chocolade Jacques began to chase, and at 81 km , 2:38 separated the bunch from the break.
On the Valkenburg ( 100 km ), with the break?s advantage down to about two minutes, Frederic Mondory (Ag2r) was dropped from the lead group. After the Berendries ( 125 km ), the gap was down to 1:00. On the day?s final ascent, the Molenberg ( 138 km ), three more break members, including Tankirk, were dropped. Behind, van Bon and Tom Boonen (Quick Step) led the field in pursuit of the fugitives.
Davitamon took over at the front. The Belgian squad?s pressure created a new race. The escapees were caught, and 13 riders wound up in the lead.
With 30 km remaining, Gert Steegmans (Davitamon) began to bridge up to the leaders, and Boonen took his wheel. The duo reached the leaders with 26 km left. Not far behind, Gilbert, Joost Posthuma (Rabobank), van Bon, Roger Hammond (Discovery Channel), Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile), and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) attempted to reach the lead group.
With 20 km remaining, Gilbert began to bridge up to the leaders. He reached them six km later, and the lead group was composed of van Bon, Koen Barbe (Chocolade Jacques), Mark Scanlon (Ag2r), Pozzato, Wim De Vocht (Davitamon), Mark De Waele (Landbouwkrediet), and Gilbert. Boonen led a group that was at 0:29, and the world champion was marked.
With 10 km left, Gilbert attacked. The move dropped Scanlon and De Vocht, but De Waele led the others to the Francaise des Jeux rider. Van Bon counterattacked but was ridden down. Two km later, Gilbert tried again and got clear.
The chasers failed to cooperate, or they would have caught Gilbert. The Francaise des Jeux man led by only 0:07 with seven km left and by only 0:13 with five km remaining. It was not until the last three km that the Belgian led by 0:20. In the last km, De Waele attacked his companions, but he was riding for second place. Van Bon outsprinted Barbe and Pozzato for third place.
During the next two months, many of today?s riders will contest the classics. Who will prevail? Check in at http://www.roadcycling.com/ and find out!