The 2018 classics season starts: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

February 23, 2018 - Stephan van Uijtregt

Only a few days left until we can see the big guns on the cobbles again. The classic opening weekend of the season with "De Omloop" and "Kuurne". 49 Years ago, the opener was still called the Omloop Het Volk, the winner was Roger De Vlaeminck.

We all know Roger De Vlaeminck as the incredible classics specialist, but in March 1969 he was only in the very first weeks of his professional career. Just a week earlier he was still racing the Cyclocross World Championships as an amateur, a championship he finished second after his countryman and cross specialist René De Clercq

So on the 1st of March he finds himself in Gent for his debut as a professional in the traditional Flemish opening classis; the Omloop Het Volk. The days preceding the race had been very cold and the organisers had even been worried about the possibility of the race being cancelled, but the day of the race the weather turned out better and the 1969 season in Flanders could take off.

Like every year expectations for the first cobbles race were high, and this seemed to scare off the big guns from opening up the race too early. Just one early breakaway attempt of Julien Stevens, Bernard Adams and Jean Monteyne lightened up the first half of the race. But their escape was short lived and just after the Tiegemberg the main pack caught them back.

WIth 40 km to go the favorites seemed to be looking at each other and it would take no other than Eddy Merckx to break up the field during the climb of the Varentberg. Initially only Frans Verbeeck went with him, but a little later they were joined by 13 others, the last one being Roger De Vlaeminck. Together these would show to be the strongest of the day, and although Tonnie Houbrechts and Herman van Springel made attempts to avoid a sprint finish, it was the teams of fast sprinters Sercu, Van Ryckegem, Vansweevelt and Leman that kept evryone together for a royal sprint.

And that's when the big surprise happened, all the established sprint canons fell flat before the finish and it was De Vlaeminck, already then very smart, who jumped to the opportunity and with a final jump passed everyone and grabbed his first big win.