Wout van Aert opened the classic season by surging away from a powerful pack to win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday.
Van Aert attacked with 13 kilometres to go at the foot of the Bosberg, the last climb. A star-studded leading group hesitated before giving chase but even when they organised a pursuit, Van Aert continued to power away from them.
“I didn’t think I was in such good shape already,” he said.
He finished 22 seconds ahead of Sonny Colbrelli who edged Belgian pair Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen in a sprint for second.
“Considering what Wout showed today, his phenomenal power, second place was the best I could achieve,” said Colbrelli.
Another Belgian, Victor Campenaerts, was fifth, even though he twice had to scramble to catch up to the leaders after a crash and swapping his bike.
Van Aert said he was targeting the first two monuments of the season: the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
“My big goals are in a few weeks. But winning this early in the season is already a nice bonus.”
In the women’s race, 39-year-old Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten held off compatriot Demi Vollering in a two-woman sprint.