Luca Paolini has continued the rich vein of form he enjoyed last season with Katusha, taking out the cobbled classic opener Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in a two-up sprint over Stijn Vandenbergh.
It was a special triumph for me in a very prestigious competition, one of the most beautiful Belgian classic race.
After making the 10 man selection over the Eikenberg, Paolini followed the winning move with 25km to go of the 198km Belgian classic, when Vandenbergh attacked during a lull in the pace.
The presence of team-mate Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) behind helped to neutralise the chase of the two riders, who quickly gained theselves a gap of 30 seconds.
Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Greg van Avermaet (BMC) were the most active of the group behind, trying to organise some sort of a mounted effort to bring back the leaders, but were unable to get much cohesion.
Despite a block headwind, and icy cold temperatures making for a devilish ride out front, the Paolini and Vandenbergh were able to keep, and extend their advantage to the finish.
With more than a minute to the group of eight, which had by this time lost any sniff of the win, Paolini and Vandenbergh began the shadow boxing for the sprint finish. Paolini easily taking the sprint of the taller Belgian, getting his spring campaign off to the best possible start.
"I’m absolutely delighted about this win," said Paolini.
"It was a special triumph for me in a very prestigious competition, one of the most beautiful Belgian classic race. I felt in a great condition despite the cold weather, and in the end I managed to win thanks to my bigger experience.
"I have to thank the whole team, they worked great: in the morning we decided the strategy, and everything went as we planned. I wanted to anticipate the most favorite riders, and thanks to my shape I managed to."
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: 198.9km, Ghent-Ghent
1 Luca Paolini (ITA) Katusha 4hr 52min 15sec
2 Stijn Vandenbergh (BEL) Omega Pharma-Quick-Step Cycling Team
3 Sven Vandousselaere (BEL) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise 0:01:13
4 Geraint Thomas (GBR) Sky Procycling
5 Greg Van Avermaet (BEL) BMC Racing Team
6 Marco Bandiera (ITA) IAM Cycling
7 Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Omega Pharma-Quick-Step Cycling Team
8 Jurgen Roelandts (BEL) Lotto Belisol
9 Maarten Wynants (BEL) Blanco Pro Cycling Team
10 Egoitz Garcia Etxegibel (ESP) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
19 Heinrich Haussler (AUS) IAM Cycling
90 Baden Cooke (AUS) Orica-GreenEDGE
93 Mitchell Docker (AUS) Orica-GreenEDGE
98 Christopher Sutton (AUS) Sky Procycling
103 Zakkari Dempster (AUS) Team NetApp-Endura