In Ninove, Stefan Küng had to settle for twelfth on Saturday in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the first Flemish Classic of the season. The result does not reflect his influence nor his impact on the race, as the Swiss man opened things up fifty kilometres from the finish. However, this long-range attack did not play to his advantage as everything got back together in the final, and that only Wout Van Aert was eventually able to go away. In the sprint for the remaining places, Stefan Küng finished just outside the top-10.
“We wanted to make the race”, Frédéric Guesdon
A sweet scent of Classics was floating over Ghent this Saturday morning. The opening of the Belgian calendar was as usual also the opening of the Flemish campaign through the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. There was therefore tension, but also excitement starting 204 kilometres made of bergs and cobbled sectors. The traditional early breakaway was quick to establish itself with Ruben Apers (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Donavan Grondin (Arkéa-Samsic), Ben Healy (EF Education-Easy Post), Juri Hollmann (Movistar), Morten Hulgaard (Uno-X), Quentin Jaurégui (B&B Hotels-KTM) and Alexander Konychev (BikeExchange). The peloton even gave them a maximum lead of eight minutes before it started to chase. “Once the breakaway was gone, we focused on Stefan”, said Frédéric Guesdon. “We had to protect him, be attentive and try not to suffer any incident in the first part of the race. When it started to get a little more nervous, we asked Lewis to follow the moves. He did that very well.” For nearly twenty kilometres, the young Briton was vigilant at the head of the bunch and made sure to fully defend the team’s interests. “We then knew that we had to be well positioned before the series of hills and cobbled sections sixty kilometres from the finish”, added Frédéric. “Everyone was involved, Tobias and Antoine positioned Stefan, and the others followed. Then Stefan attacked in the long sector of Kerkgate. We said that he could try if he was in a good position as this section could suit him. We wanted to make the race, to have no regrets. We didn’t want to get caught behind.”
There were still fifty kilometres left when the double European time trial launched his strong offensive and opened things up. “As there was no Molenberg on the route this year, we knew that it could be tactical, and so I seized the opportunity at that moment”, he said. “I was in a group of three together with Vermeersch and Vliegen, but the cooperation wasn’t great. I felt strong, but I knew that there was still the Muur and the Bosberg to go for, so I didn’t want to give everything at that point”. The trio very quickly caught the break’s survivors, but despite the gap growing, the collaboration was still not quite effective in front. Therefore, after an attack in the bunch, Wout Van Aert and a handful of other riders managed to come across with twenty-five kilometres to go. “We believed it could go well for Stefan, because they had a fifty second-lead, but then it came back very quickly with Van Aert, and everything finally came back all together at the bottom of the Muur,” added Frédéric. This was especially caused by the attack of Tiesj Benoot up front, which disrupted collaboration in Stefan Küng’s group. Eighteen kilometres from the line, everything was still to be decided. “Stefan doesn’t have much luck in these races”, Frédéric said. “It never goes his way… If Benoot doesn’t attack, the scenario can be very different. For us, it is really a pity that everything got back together” However, the Swiss rider still had enough power left in this penultimate climb to cross the summit in the first positions. A small group of about twenty men made the cut and Tobias Ludvigsson was also there.
“I have the feeling that I could have done a better result”, Stefan Küng
All of them then headed to the Bosberg, the last climb of the race, but Van Aert did not wait for the bottom of it to make his decisive attack. The Belgian champion went away and was never seen again. “I came up from the back in the Bosberg, and I lacked a bit of power to be with Van Aert at the top”, confessed Stefan Küng, who did not manage to get rid of the rest of the group. Behind the solitary winner, a sprint then decided the remaining places and Stefan Küng finally got twelfth on the line. “Today, I was offensive, and that’s what I wanted,” said the Swiss man. “I felt good physically, but I have the feeling that I could have done a better result”. “It is disappointing because we did a great race, but we don’t get a good result”, added Frédéric. “Everyone did his part today. Lewis was very good for his first Classic, but we did not have much doubt. He has the qualities for this kind of races, he knows how to position himself, he listens, and he wants to be successful in this kind of events. In the end, we had five riders in the first three groups, within one minute and a half. As a team, it was good. We must continue like this, and we will end up getting a good result in these races. It was the first Classic, and we were in the mix”.