The Muur van Geraardsbergen and the Kapelmuur are the iconic climbs of classics season. Regarded as two, but really one, they are (or it is) such staples that every photographer knows where they need to position themselves for the shots that will be on front pages and newsfeeds around the world within minutes. The gnarled cobbles that lead up to, and round, the man-made mound, on which rests a neo-baroque church
The pair are, moreover, the shimmering jewels in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad crown. Typically coming, as they do, in the final twenty kilometres of the race, they’re guaranteed to give us something worth watching, even if nothing notable actually happens on their slopes.
But because of where they are positioned in proceedings - not as the final theatre of the day, but the penultimate; with the race finishing not at the summit but some half an hour later - they often serve more as appetiser than entree, prelude than performance proper.
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The real action often takes place on the far less picturesque Bosberg, just a couple of kilometres down the round. It is straighter, and looks flatter, and doesn’t make for particularly good pictures. But looks can be deceiving. Its cobbles are rougher, rounder and suck the life out of the legs of anyone who hasn’t saved their effort.
Which is precisely why, while the good will try their luck in front of the big crowds, the great will make their move before a smaller, more discerning audience.
And it was Wout van Aert, riding his first competitive road race of the season, who reaffirmed his greatness there on Saturday.

Highlights: Van Aert puts hurt on rivals to power to Omloop success

There is seldom a more ominous indication of the threat a rider poses than if you do not notice or mention them. If the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, then Wout van Aert has surely been taking tactical tips from beelzebub over the off-season.
The first mention of him on the liveblog came with 37km to go. And it wasn’t provoked by anything he did, but by the realisation that we hadn’t caught a single glimpse of him in the 100 miles of racing that had preceded.
It had been a cagey first imperial tonne: not exactly awash with excitement, or noteworthy events, but crammed with a spring’s worth potential and almost creaking with tension.
A septet of odd-against-em, little-known riders galloped their way through the flatter parts of East Flanders knowing that if they didn’t buy a ticket, they definitely weren’t going to win the lottery. They weren’t going to win the lottery anyway, but kudos to Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost), Juri Hollmann (Movistar), Alexander Konychev (Team BikeExchange - Jayco), Quentin Jauregui (B&B Hotels - KTM), Ruben Apers (Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise), Donaven Grondin (Team Arkéa Samsic), Morten Hulgaard (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team).
Their lead grew bigger and it lasted longer than we might have expected. It was a brisk but bright afternoon, and they surely enjoyed their first day in the sun of 2022. Far more pleasant to be riding the narrow roads in a small, cooperative group than a large one, with every rider fighting for position.
Because behind them in the peloton, it was getting ugly. Arriving at the first set of bergs and cobbles, beginning with the Kattenberg, the Hostillerie and the Valkenberg, the race descended into, if not actual conflict, then certainly open squabblefare.

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Crashes inevitably came. Most of the tame variety, but a few worse than that. Some riders seemed to decide they were better off burying themselves out front than taking their chances in the bunch. That would certainly explain a few moves that came when they did, because they definitely weren’t tactical.
An aggressive dig from Brent van Moer of Lotto-Soudal was the first to stretch the pack out. Next Ineos’ Magnus Sheffield, the youngest rider in the race, actually managed to break free.
With 57km to go, and the breakaway’s lead down to less than two minutes, Jumbo Visma took the race by its scruff.
It looked like the break was done for before, some ten kilometres later, it was replenished by the legs of first Florian Vermeersch and Loïc Vliegen, and then the Swiss diesel, Stefan Kung.
More cobbles, more climbs, and plenty of both, filled our screens, but still the favourites seemed keen to keep their powder dry. Everyone watching Wout? In retrospect, probably.
But the thing about Wout is: you can watch him all you like, but that doesn’t mean you can beat him. The best you might be able to manage is to glue yourself to his wheel.
When the Belgian champion did decide the time was right to show off his jersey, it was only team-mate Tiesj Benoot, Tom Pidcock and Jhonatan Narvaez (both Team Ineos) who were able to do just that. Actually it was Benoot who led the charge on the Berendries, but there was no question whose interests he was working on behalf of.

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Sonny Colbrelli was able to tag onto the late train, and the quintet swiftly caught up with the remaining escapees, ready for the showdown in Geraardsbergen. Benoot clipped off the front of that group at the foot of the Muur, soloed up and over it, while every rider except his captain had no choice but to chase.
A few minutes later, having been carried to the foot of the Bosberg by his rivals, Wout van Aert decided it was time.
And like that, he was gone.
“Pure class this, it’s everything I wanted to see from Wout van Aert today,” purred Adam Blythe on commentary. “I don’t suppose he could believe it when he looked around and there was barely any reaction. From that point onwards it was always going to be extremely difficult to catch him,” added Daniel Lloyd.
Powering steadily across the cobbles like they were nothing, before anyone else knew it, Van Aert had twenty seconds, a tailwind and the will to win. Behind him there were squabbles and, soon, little more than the dream of second place. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) who took the prize for first loser, with Greg van Avermaet rounding out the podium.

'They just watched each other!' - Watch the moment Van Aert attacked at Omloop

Van Aert's win represented a first win for an incumbent Belgian national champion at the race for 33 years, since Etienne De Wilde won in 1989.
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