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Welcome back to the second race of the Belgian season! Today we travel from Kuurne to Brussels and back to Kuurne, a total of 194 kilometers.
The weather could play a major role today. A storm system is moving up from France which brings strong rain and hurricane force winds. No telling at this point how it will affect the race today, but the possibility of problems is there. It was raining at the start.
Don't forget our competition to win a Cervelo musette bag and cap, signed by yesterday's runner-up, Heinrich Haussler. Just guess the top three for today – preferably in the right order, but today we will settle for the top three.
The thread for the competition is here: http://forum.cyclingnews.com/showthread.php?p=156490#post156490
If you aren't a forum member, you can sign up here: http://forum.cyclingnews.com/index.php
A 16-rider group got away early, and it is now down to 12 riders. We don't have all the names, but do know that Gorik Gardeyn (Vaconsoliel), Gert Dockx (HTC-Columbia), Davy Commeyne (Landbouwkreidet) and Kevyn Ista (Cofidis) are in it.
That group only had about 20 seconds on the peloton, and now has been caught. The peloton has now split, with the first group about 20 seconds ahead of a 70-rider strong second group. The wind is definitely affecting things.
Robbie McEwen (Katusha) wasn't at the start this morning. He banged his knee against his bike in yesterday's race, hurting it. According to the team, he could barely stand up after the race. So he is taking a break and will be off to find a doctor.
Also not at the start today were Sebastien Hinault (AG2R), Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank) and Francesco Di Paolo (Acqua & Sapone).
Cyclingnews' Daniel Benson was at the start today, and tells us he got soaking wet. “Riders and journalists were met with atrocious weather at the start this morning. Many of the riders were late to sign on with pre-race favourite Heinrich Haussler last of all.”
We have our first DNF of the day. Lloyd Mondory (AG2R) dropped out after a crash.
Daniel Benson talked to Cervelo DS Jens Zemke this morning. He said, “If you see the conditions, the weather and the storm coming up and rain then you know from the beginning that people will be going full gas to make it even hard. I think a lot of riders will pack. Our boys are alert and we’ll try and get them in a good position.”
The peloton got back together, but has split again. A group of 44 is already 1:20 behind the main field. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) was originally in the last group, but was able to make his way up the front group.
The organisers have promised to keep a close eye on the weather, saying that of course they don't want to take any risks, and that the riders' security has the top priority.
Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo) was second yesterday in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. He told Daniel Benson this morning, “I feel pretty good actually. Iit was a hard race but I’ll give it a go today, that’s for sure.”'
“I don’t think I’ve been in conditions as bad as this and it could split right after the start. The cross winds will be there all day and it wont be pleasant.
I don’t enjoy those conditions, I don’t go to bed hoping it rains but I think I have a little bit of an advantage over other riders in this type of weather.”
No big changes. The two groups are holding steady. Julien Fouchard ( Cofidis) tried to get away from the front group, but it didn't work out.
Nick Nuyens of Rabobank won here in 2006, but isn't sure how it will go today. “I’m not feeling super. It really hurt to come back three times yesterday but we’ll see how I feel after the start,” he told Daniel Benson. “Oscar (Freire) is in good shape and is one of the fastest guys.”
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) got a bit in front of the peloton, but didn't stay there long. Several riders have had to fall back out of the lead group, including Cervelo's Andreas Klier.
Brecht Decaluwé of Cyclingnews was also at the start this morning, and tells us:
Due to the foul weather at the start riders were waiting until the last minute to get out of the team bus and sign on at the hippodrome in Kuune. The last fifteen minutes almost everybody stormed towards the podium, ending up in a long queue at the table.
Eventually everybody was ready in time to leave at noon but some Cervélo riders were unsure whether or not their brakes were well installed. Jeremy Hunt asked Heinrich Haussler about it and together they tried to solve the problem, stressing out and questioning whether or not the levers should be up or not.
Nick Nuyens (Rabobank) was unlucky during the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad as he flatted three times during the race. The last flat tyre occurred when he was in the decisive six-man breakaway group and he was thrown far back. "People also talked about Flecha that he was a rider who had the capabilities but never grabbed the victory. I hope that I can do what he did one day," Nuyens told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé at the hippodrome in Kuurne this morning.
No sooner do we write about Nuyens, and what happens? He abandons the race, as does teammate Joost Posthuma.
Well, here's a surprise! The next to drop out of the race is none other than Tom Boonen!
We're having a bit of trouble finding out what is going on in the race, so please bear with us.
Things are happening. The peloton is exploded, lots of small groups. It is still a bit tricky to figure out who is where, but it looks like we have a 10 man group or so at the front.
Lots and lots of DNFs today. Juan Antonio Flecha and Filippo Pozzato are the next to abandon.
OK, it looks like we have a group of eight or so in the lead, including Jeremy Hunt (Cervelo), Jürgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Thor Hushovd (Cervelo), Dominique Rollin and two Vacansoliel riders in the lead.
A Cervelo rider has jumped out to try to join them -- Haussler, perhaps?
Can we change that? Have we said this is confusing? Now we have a Vacansoliel rider alone in the lead, going up a cobble climb.
That would be Arnoud van Groen, of Vacansoliel.
Greg Van Avermaet has now abandoned.
RadioShack is actively leading the chase. Also in this chase group are Hunt, Roelandts, Hushovd, Hoste, Rosseler and Langeveld.
Van Groen has been caught by the chasers. His teammate Bobbie Traksel is ahead in the lead. We apologize again for the confusing situation.
We have a chase group of about 15 riders, including Stannard, Rast, Hoste, Langeveld and Hunt. Then there is a third group, including Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Stannard takes off out of the chase group and tries to break clear.
Traksel looks good out there in the lead, spinning a small gear. The Dutch rider ought to be used to this kind of weather.
Ian Stannard of Sky is now 41 seconds behind Traksel, with the chase group about 200 metres behind him.
It may be the middle of the afternoon, but you would never guess it. It is as dark as it can be, with rain. The wind is not too awful, at least at the moment.
Stannard is still chasing. The group with Hushovd is now about a minute back. Another group with Boasson Hagen, Haussler and Chavanel is nearly two minutes back, and the peloton is at 2:30.
It was surprising to see Oscar Freire Gomez at the start in Kuurne and maybe he was motivated to do well because of his compatriot Flecha's victory one day earlier. "It's the second time I race here actually," Freire told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé. Freire was the last rider to cross the line in the stormy edition of 2003 when his former team-mate Roy Sentjens won the so-called donkey race. With the headwind on the way back to Kuurne riders will be reluctant to attack, offering chances to the sprinters.
A Cervelo rider, Hunt, is having a problem on the cobblestones.
We will have a change in the course. The Cote du Trieu has been scrapped. The climb would have been 70 km before the finish. The winds have knocked a tree down over the road.
The Haussler group has now been caught by the peloton. Not sure if Boasson Hagen is there or not. Meanwhile, Ian Stannard has been joined by a Rabobank rider.
Stannard and the Rabobank rider are about to catch Traksel. The Rabo rider is Rick Flens.
Apparently Rosseler (RadioShack) has crashed. Not surprising, given the weather and conditions.
Brett Lancaster (Cervelo) is the next to jump from the group.
Rosseler is going again and is moving his way up through the team cars.
Flens, Stannard and Traksel now have a 1:30 lead.
The lead trio is working well together and building up a nice little lead.
Lancaster has now been caught by the group again. Chavanel and a Quick Step rider have been able to move up into the group, which is now being led by Cervelo.
The course change shortens the race 20km. They've also had to take down the inflatable banners that are the km markers in the last few miles because of wind.
Two Cervelo riders have broken off from the chase group, with a very slight lead. The group is probably about 15 strong now.
The two Cervelo riders are Hunt and Hushovd, and they have been joined by Hayden Roulston.
Roulsten is now with HTC-Columbia, but used to ride with Cervelo.
The trio of chasers is pulling away, and the field is too disorganized to give chase.
If you look at the six leaders (two groups of three) you will notice -- none of them are Belgian......
50 km to go for the leading trio, on these wet and slippery roads.
The three leaders now start up the Nokereberg -- up the wet cobbles in the pouring rain, what fun!
The good news is that this is the last climb of the day.
A huge trash can has blown into the street and taken down Stijn Devolder. A teammate gives him his bike. The trash can stays in the road. Hope someone removes it before more riders come by.
The first large chasing group now makes its way up the climb.
There are about 15 riders in the large chase group, and once again, a Cervelo rider takes off out ot it.
It is Dominique Rollin of Cervelo, who is hoping to move up to join teammates Hunt and Hushovd.
We haven't heard about the peloton in a while. Wonder if they are still there?
It is beginning to look more and more as if our winner will come from one of the first six riders. Or will the chase group get its act together enough to catch them?
Another rider has broken from the chase group. It looks like Davy Commeyne of Landbouwkrediet.
No changes. The first three are still together, the second three are still together. Everyone else is probably wondering why there are out here in this not-so-lovely weather.
The largest chase group is now 3:46 back, with 35 km to go.
Hm, the chasing trio is now a duo. Hunt has just abandoned the race.
The first riders are going through Harelbeke now.
The Vacansoliel team car moves up to Traksel for a short visit.
The Belgian Quick Step team wasn't very lucky on Saturday. Boonen flatted out of the favorites group together with Maarten Wynants, Stijn Devolder wasn't there at all and Sylvain Chavanel could not make the difference alone. "I was there but that was it," Chavanel said to Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé in Kuurne. "I can still progress so I'm not worried. I haven't got much time left though as my first real goal is Paris-Nice," Chavanel added.
The three leaders cross the finish line for the first time and set off on the first of two laps of a closing circuit course.
Roulston and Hushovd are about 40 seconds back.
Once again, we had four former winners at the start today: Tom Boonen, Nick Nuyens, Roy Sentjens and George Hincapie. None of them will have anything to do with today's outcome.
Rollin finally makes it to the finish line, 3:48 down. There is a small chase group at 4:20, looks like 5 or 6 riders. More groups dribbling along after them.
Rollin may not be in at the win today, but he is giving his best. Read more about him here: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/rollin-confident-ahead-of-kuurne-bruxelles-kuurne
This closing circuit runs through Kuurne, Kortrijk, Harelbeke, and back to Kuurne.
Hushovd is at his team car, getting a drink. Is Roulston pulling away?
This is not Cervelo's day. Hushvod is still by the team car, not making any effort to follow Roulston. Looks like he has been dropped.
There are troubles everywhere: n the GP Lugano, the race was shortened by a lap after a car got on the course going in the opposite direction of the race and hit Simon Spilak.
It looked as if Hushovd had given up hope, but he has finally separated himself from the team car and is in pursuit of Roulston. Will he make it, or did he leave it too long?
Over at GP Lugano, a bunch of riders pulled out, perhaps in protest. Roberto Ferrari (De Rosa Stac Plastic) won the race ahead ofJure Kocjan (Carmiooro NGC) in a photo finish. Giampaolo Cheula continued Footon Servetto's strong start with third, while Maxime Bouet (Ag2r) was fourth.
It looks more and more as if one of the leading trio will take it. Roulston has fallen to 51 seconds back.
16 km to go for the leading trio. They are probably thinking of the warm drinks and dry clothes waiting for them at the finish.
Flens, Traksel and Stannard are approaching the end of the first lap of the circuit. Roulston is holding steady at 56 seconds back.
It's the bell lap for the trio.
The Rabobank team car has moved up for a quick word with Flens.
Hushovd is way back, just crossing the line at 2:54. Up ahead, Flens thinks it would be a good idea for his companions to share the lead work, and he lets them know that.
The rest of the fiield is now hitting the finish line, in little groups.
Only 9 km to go. Will the three let it come down to a sprint, or will one of them try to break away? Who, and when?
Flens goes! The others give chase.
The leading three are together again. Stannard closed the gap, but is looking a bit ragged. Traksel has had it easiest, is he going to be the freshest at the end?
Stannard is the next to try his luck. But the other two stick right to him.
Lots of looking back and forth and wondering what the other guy is planning....
Stannard was planning his next attack. He has a slight lead over the other two. Can they not follow?
Yes, they can. They catch him again.
Traksel hasn't tried anything yet. He may well be biding his time.....
Traksel leads the trio now, but looks back frequently over his shoulder. Flens takes off again.
Traksel quickly catches Flens. Stannard is a few meteres back.
The two Dutch riders would be happy to dump the Briton. Of course, they would be happy to dump each other, too.
The three are together again. Stannard makes a slight move, but the others shoot that idea down.
Stannard tries again, but again to no avail.
It looks as if the long day and bad weather have taken their toll. None of the three seems to have the power left to get away.
Flens goes again, with Traksel on his rear wheel. Stannard can't keep up, and the two build up a quick lead.
The two leaders couldn't maintain their lead, though, and all are together. Stannard has noticeable done the least amount of lead work.
The Briton gives it another go, and the trio goes togehter into the final km.
Traksel is able to dig down and find a burst of speed, taking the victory by a few metres ahead of Flens and Stannard.
Roulston is fourth at 59 seconds.
Our provisional results are:
1 Bobbie Traksel (Ned) Vacansoleil
2 Rick Flens (Ned) Rabobank
3 Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky
Rollin and Hushovd approach the finish line together. They cross it at 2:58 down,
This race was blown so far apart, who knows when the rest of the field will come in!
Congratulations to Bobbie Traksel, but also to Rick Flens and Ian Stannard. And to all the other riders who managed to suvive and finish the race.
That was it for the opening weekend of the Belgian season! We had two surprise winners -- is this a foreboding of what the coming season will be like?
Thanks for joining us and readlng along. Be sure to join us again for our next live report at Milano-Sanremo next month.