Can Gilbert finally win for Omega Pharma-Lotto?
Today's 50th edition of the Brabantse Pijl, the Brabant Arrow or La Flèche Brabanconne, marks the switch from the cobbles of Flanders to the lanes of the Ardennes. The cobbles are a fading memory and it is time to get ready for the smoother, but hilly races in the western region of Belgium.
The Brabantse Pijl has a new date and a new route and the team line-ups have changed dramatically since Paris-Roubaix, with most of the cobbled Classics specialists being replaced by the contenders for Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, and next week's Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The cobbles have been replaced with short climbs and there are 31 of these along the 200 kilometre route today. 23 of them come in the second half of the course, when the race covers a twisting circuit around Overijse, east of Brussels.
Milan-San Remo winner Oscar Freire (Rabobank) wears number one. He is joined by Belgian Nick Nuyens in the Dutch squad's line-up.
French-speaking Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) got the biggest cheer when he signed on in the spectacular main square in Leuven, but was clearly nervous. He is under immense pressure to land the first victory of the season for the Belgian team. Could today be the day?
There was a wide selection of teams at the start, ranging from big-budgets squads such as Rabobank and Team Sky, down to the much smaller Qin Cycling Team and Verandas Willems.
Garmin-Transitions are in the race, with Steve Cozza, Danny Pate, Cameron and Travis Meyer riding for on-form young Dutch rider Michel Kreder. Simon Gerrans leads Team Sky as he prepares for Amstel Gold Race and Karsten Kroon is the star of the BMC team.
The race rolled out of Leuven at 12:30 local time, for some reason after a rousing rendition of Edward Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory was played loudly across the square. The race is due to finish at 5:30pm CET.
There will be a full report and images of the race here on Cyclingnews.
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