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Hello and welcome to Belgium! It's February, it's cold and rainy, it's Omloop, it's the opening of the Spring Classics! What could be better?
The first attack came 10km into the race, with Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoliel). He was soon joined by Roy Curvers (Skil-Shimano), Roger Kluge (Milram) and Frederic Guesdon (Francaise des Jeux). The quartet took off and now has a 5:30 gap over the peloton.
The race got off to a start this morning at 11:45 at the St. Pietersplein in Gent. The peloton will return there later today for the finish, too.
Ok, so there have been some races already this season, but to a lot of people, The Season really starts in Belgium. Just ask the Belgians.....
Who's going to win today? You know, surely. So tell us all. Be the first to get the whole podium right, and you can win! What can you win? Howzabout a signed musette and cap from none other Heinrich Haussler of Cervelo TestTeam, who, by the way, is a good candidate to stand atop the podium this afternoon.
Go here: http://forum.cyclingnews.com/showthread.php?t=6171 and give us your tip!
You have to be a member of the forum to enter the contest. If you need to register, the forum is here: http://forum.cyclingnews.com/
A handful of riders is trying to get away from the peloton, but they haven't gotten far yet. Gregory Habeaux (Verndas Willems), David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoliel) now have 10 seconds on the field. The leaders are over 8 minutes up now.
Who are the top favourites today? Well, Tom Boonen has to be THE top favourite. This is one race which he hasn't actually won yet. And he has shown himself to be in good form this early part of the year, with three wins so far.
Nikolay Trussov was the last rider to leave the St. Peter's square in Ghent. The Russian rider showed up late and panicked a little when he noticed the peloton had already left the start-finish line. Can you say, "Oooooooooops!"?
Those two groups in the lead are serous about getting away. The four in front are now nine minutes ahead of their chasers, who are 2:35 ahead of the field. That makes a total of 11:35 from the first group to the last group.
Robbie McEwen looked motivated at the start. The Australian is building up nicely for the season but admitted today was about working for others on his Katusha team. “I think for this race and for this course our two best guys are Pozzato and Ivanov. So we’ll ride for those two guys and try and keep them at the front.”
Daniel Benson spoke to Tyler Farrar. The Garmin-Transitions’ rider lives here in Gent so knows the roads well. “My form is all right. We had a nice set of preparation races with Qatar and Oman so I can’t complain so far.”
The gaps continue to grow. And now the lucky fellows are just about to hit the first of the "hellingen", those nasty little climbs.
We have 12 climbs today, those dreaded Belgian “hellingen”. And those include such well-known names as Valkenberg, Muur and Molenberg. The latter is actually the last of the day, coming some 45 km before the finish.
Frank Hoj was not at the start. Daniel Benson spoke to a Saxo Bank henchman at the start and they confirmed that the rider spent the night in hospital with a fever. No replacement was called up.
Meanwhile teammate Matti Breschel, or the Danish Dynamo as he’s known to some, said, “I’ll try and stay in the front group and we’ll see. The weather will be a big factor and it’s cold and windy today. I don’t know how my form is but it will be harder without Frank."
Stuart O’Grady, his teammate, added: "It’s never nice to start the race with a man down and he was a really important part of the team. He knows all these roads a lot better than me. As for me, I’ve not ridden in leg warmers for a while so it’s a bit of a difference from where we’ve come from."
BMC's Marcus Burghardt is not worried about the weather. “It's weather for true 'flandriens',” he told Brecht Decaluwe. Is he Flandrien? “Me? A little bit.”
“I'm not worried about the new finish. It's all straight roads, isn't it?,” Burghardt continued.
“I'm in good condition. I had no crashes and illness so far. Too bad that the racing in Oman and Qatar wasn't hard enough for me. There were a few stages in Qatar where we battled with the crosswinds but overall it was too controlled. I want to be in top form for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.”
That was enough of that nonsense, the peloton has decided. They have picked up their speed and cut the lead of all those escapees by nearly two minutes.
What did it look like at the start today? Take a look: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/on-the-startline-at-omloop-het-nieuwsblad
“Tornado Tom” Boonen took a new approach to training this year, avoiding the nasty northern European winter. (Believe me, it has been a particularly nasty one!) Instead of heading back to Belgium after the Tours of Qatar and Oman, he went straight to his new home in Monaco. Yup, he has moved back there. The weather there has been much nicer and warmer and dryer. Let's just hope he didn't get a shock when he got to Gent for today's race!
Daniel Benson spoke to Sky’s Dave Brailsford at the start: “We have a few cards we can play today. It’s the first race where the guys are coming into it with a real sense of purpose. They’re all excited and ready to go and they’re all looking forward to it. It’s good to be here.
I don’t think it’s the start to the season but it’s certainly a different phase. It’s a new team and it’s important to get off to a good start and get some wins under our belt. A win is a win.
We’re happy with the progress so far and happy to be here today.
It’s not the greatest forecast but that’s what you expect. It’s par for the course. The guys have discussed it and they’re aware of the impact the conditions will have and have planned accordingly.”
The gap continues to drop, slowly but surely. The leaders are now 6:25 ahead of the chasers, who are in turn 3:05 ahead of the peloton. Makes a total of 9:30.
Some bad luck for Milram. Björn Schröder flatted not once, but twice, at 75km.
The men aren't the only ones out on "Omloop"ing today. The women are racing too, and Daniel Benson tells us the peloton is all together at the moment. Think we can expect a mass sprint there?
According to HTC-Columbia's Bernhard Eisel, “If Burghardt says the racing in Qatar wasn't hard then he's a liar. He's going extremely well.”
“We have many good guys in our team. Last year I was up front until I crashed on the cobbles. The day after in Kuurne was even better with a second place. I want to get some results but the real targets are the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix.”
“The new finish? Well, the race had a new start place since last year and I don't like, so I figure I will not like the finish either. It's crazy. We're going left right for a long time to get out of town while I thought there were main roads to get out of town too. Peter Van Petegem created the course and I figured he would know we don't like this.”
Guesdon punctured, but his escapemates waited for him. Meanwhile, Daniel Lloyd (Cervelo) has attacked out of the peloton.
Lloyd has now picked up 28 seconds on the peloton, which is now 9:10 behind the four leaders.
Garmin's tall Belgian, Johan Van Summeren, didn't expect a great result yet. “My legs are still not great but they're not bad either. The good thing is that I'm steadily improving.”
Nick Nuyens told Cyclingnews, “Let's hope that it stays dry.”
At the Ten Bosse climb, the gaps are shrinking again. The lead group has 6:34 over the first chase group, with Lloyd only .46 behind them, and the peloton 1:18 behind him.
Fumiyuki Beppu is making his season debut today, in the colours of RadioShack. The Japanese rider, who is there as a helper, and says he will aim to be in at the end to help whichever of his teammates is riding strongest. He started the year under contract to both Skil-Shimano and RadioShack, a rather awkward situation which was settled when he bought out his Skil contract.
The peloton grinds its way along a cobble passage, some six and a half minutes behind the leaders. A mechanical for AG2R's Krivtsov, his chain has juimped off.
The race has a new ending this year, returning, as we said to the St. Pietersplein. Last year Thor Hushovd won on the slightly uphill finish at the Charles de Kerchovelaan. The reason for the change? Space. There's simply more of it in front of the St. Peiter's Abbey.
We have a handful of riders including two Rabobankers moving their way up through the team cars and heading towards the back of the peloton. Don't know what happened to have thrown them back.
Philippe Gilber looks like he is dropping back to the team car He is getting a little impatient that it is taking so long for the team car to catch him.
Gilbert gets either a new bike or a new tyire, and continue on his merry way.
Gilbert is one of a group of six trying to work his way back up to the peloton.
Garmin's Tyler Farrar told Decluwe that he is looking forward to the race. “It's the first Spring classic of the season and everybody's a little nervous. Maybe I will not have a result yet today because it's not likely that it will come down to a sprint but I can do my work for the team. It's a special race for me because I live only one kilometer away from this start area; it's a home race for me.”
This race has ben run 65 times, and been won 53 times by Belgians. Is this a surprise?
Sky and Garmin-Transitions are leading the chase.
Martijn Maaskant told Decaluwe, “We have a couple of guys who can go well in these races. During previous editions I never went too well in this Belgian opening weekend. It would boost the moral if my performance would show that I'm ready for what lays ahead.”
Crash! Mitchell Docker of SkilShimano went down. He is back up though. OH, it looks like he tried to cut a corner by jumping up onto the sidewalk, and didn't think about the fans standing there. Nobody injured, though.
The gap is down to 6:06 now. Milram is also showing up at the head of the chasing field.
Lloyd has apparently been caught by the peloton. The gap continues to fall.
There are only four former winners at the start today: Thor Hushovd, 2009 (Cervelo TestTeam), Nick Nuyens, 2005 (Rabobank), Filippo Pozzato, 2007, and Philippe Gilbert, 2006 and 2008.
Looks like a Quick Step jersey at the head of the field right now.
A Cofidis rider has gone down. He limps around a bit, picks up his water bottle, makes sure he is still ok , and rides on. It is Jens Keukeleire.
The four leaders now head up the Pottelberg.
And another crash. An HTC-Columbia rider is a bit slow to get up again. It is Tejay Van Gerderan, but he is ok, don't worry. A BMC rider was involved, too. He is not going again yet, but it is his bike that has suffered, not him.
The peloton has now caught the "in-between" escape group. The gap from front to back is now down to 5:13.
Romain Feillu is having some mechanical problems. Looks like the chain.
Three men have won this race three times: Ernest Sterckx (1952, 1953 & 1956), Joseph Bruyère (1974, 1975 & 1980) and current race director, Peter Van Petegem (1997, 1998 & 2002).
Popular Tom Boonen added a show element to his appearance at the start by starting in a tricolore bike. That bike turned out to be nothing more than show and the Belgian champion switched bikes shortly after the start.
The gap continues to come down, and it now under five minutes.
Looks like the peloton is riding through some sand on the road, which is rather blowing around. Can't possibly be dust!
The chains are making problems today. This time it has truck a RadioShack rider, Sebastien Rosseler. He gets a new bike, and one of his teammates has waited to help him move back up.
The lead four now head up the Kruisberg. It is 500 metres long and has an average gradient of six percent.
Oopsie! A train barrier has closed! Most of the peloton was through, but not all of the team cars, and a few riders back there in the team cars. Like Rosseler.....
And did we mention that there are cobblestones at this climb?
The barrier has raised again and those few riders are now furiously trying to catch up. We never did actually see a train go by.
The gap is now down to 3:32, as the peloton heads up the climb.
Who is leading the chase now? No one team in particular. We see BBox, HTC-Columbia, Lotto, Sky.....
Edvald Boasson Hagen went back to Norway for some nordic skiing before the Spring classics season got under way.
“I'm relaxed,” Boasson Hagen said. “I don't think too much about the races actually,” the young Norwegian explained how he dealt with the pressure of being a top favorite.
The gap is now at 2:59.
We now have only three riders in front. Kluge has had to fall out of the group.
The peloton has picked p the pace, and a group of 20-30 riders is having a hard time holding on to the group.
And we have some more mechanicals as they hit the next batch of cobblestones. HTC's Goss was the first victim, now two other riders are suffering.
The other two were Quick Step riders, they are now together with Goss and Cofidis' Blot, trying to catch up.
Oh very bad timing. A mechanical for Nuyens. His teammate Rick Flens gives him his back. Nuyens heads on, while Flens waits.
Boonen attacks on the climb!
He powers his way up the cobbles and quickly opens a gap.
The gap from the three leaders to the peloton is only 1:25, now, with Boonen in between.
The womens' race is over and the title goes to Emma Johansson of Redsun Cycling Team.
Boonen's attack has blasted things apart. He is followed by group of 20 or so, with the rest of the peloton spread out trying to keep up.
Boonen has never won this race -- one of the few -- and it sure looks like he is determined to change that today!
There is a roughly 40-50 man group now giving chase to Boonen.
Boonen keeps on going, cutting the lead down to just over a minuted.
There is a larger group now behind the group chasing Boonen. They have almost caught Boonen now again.
Boonen leads everyone up yet another cobble climb. He looks over his shoulder to see the next group not at all far behind him.
He hits the top, and back on regular pavement. His lead is now maybe one second.
Boonen is now part of a group of seven, which includes Haussler and Posthuma. They are some five or six seconds ahead of the next group.
Philippe Gilber is also in the Boonen group, which is pulling away from its chasers. The trio is still in front, let's not forget them, with about 57 seconds.
The leaders are showing the effects of their efforts, as the uphill going is slow.
Haussler attackes out of the Boonen group.
The next group behind the Boonen group has now made contact. A large bunch is not far behind them.
The group wasn't willing to let Haussler go, and have him again.
Lars Boom (Rabobank) has jumped out of the Boonen group, and Haussler gives chase. As do the rest of them, much to Haussler's disgust.
All of the big names are in the Boonen group.
There is a gorup of five or six riders ahead of the larger group. It is a bit complicated to know exactly who is where at this moment....
A mechancial for Gilbert. He is off and going again quickly, but still--- Oops, not a mechanical, it looks like he went down on a turn!
Boom is still ahead of the chasers, but not for long. He knows now that he is caught.
Sylvain Chavanel is the next to try his luck. So far he is unable to get away, though.
Joost Posthuma has been hit by a mechanical. That drops him out of the lead chase group.
A Columbia rider takes off now, not sure who it is.
Whoever the HTC-Columbia rider is, he has a nice lead. And it turns out to be the team's big German Marcel Sieberg.
Meanwhile, our three heroes out front struggle up yet another cobbled climb....
Boonen leads his group up the climb.
Sieberg comes over the top first, but the others aren't far behind him. And the whole peloton is slowly gathering again.
Sieberg is going to be caught any moment now.
Boonen powers easily on past the two-meter man.
Boonen seems to really, really want to win here. He continues to lead the chase.
Only a handful of seconds for the trio in front.
Sieberg won't give up and takes off again.
Sieberg has been joined by a Sky rider, and now the rest of the group scurries to catch up with them.
A BBox rider takes off, with a Rabo rider hot on his trail.
The pair has built up a quick lead of 6 seconds or so.
Looks like Roelandts is now the first chaser behind the leading trio, with the other two somewhere behind him. Roelandts has nearly caught the three leaders.
The two chasers are Rabobank's Bram Tankink and BBox' Steve Chainel.
Yikes! Tankink has a mechanical, and then goes down on the cobbles. That leaves Chainel on his own.
The three leaders are caught now. Actually we have two leaders now, Curvers and Guesdon. Their lead is 22 seconds.
They have now been joined by Roelandts, and they turn onto the next cobbled passage.
Nuyens is working his way up to the front, and has just passed Chainel.
Guesdon takes off from the leading group. Nuyens now passes Roelandts. The two are together behind Guesdon and Curver.
Mechanical for Boonen!
He is very slow to get going again. This has thrown him back very much -- can he get back up to the front?
We have a gorup of six in the lead: Flecha, Gilbert, Guesdon, Curver, Nuyens and ....
Roelandts is of course the sixth rider.
At 20km to go they'll have a 2.5km cobble section, which should be the decisive point.
Nuyens has dropped out of the lead group.
Haussler leads the chase group, which is some 18 seconds back. They have Nuyens in their sights now.
The chase group zips right on by Nuyens. Is he waiting for someone?
Or possible a mechanical for Nuyens? Boonen leads the next chase group, he is furiously trying to get up to the front again.
It was a mechanical for Nuyens. He gets a new front tyre.
The five leders now hit the long cobbled section. Will they get away for good here? Or will a mechanical spoil some plans?
Cervelo has moved to the head of the chase group, some 30 seconds down.
At least this is a flat section of cobbles. With very large puddles on either side.
The lead group is split! Flecha takes off in the lead, followed by Gilbert.
Flecha takes off, pulling further and further away from Gilbert.
The race has been blown wide open. Flecha leads, with Gilbert trying to catch up. Then it is a looooooong way back to the next two chasers.
Those next two chasers are Roelandts and Guesdon.
That long cobble section lived up to its reputation and may well have decided the race.
Roelandts and Guesdon have now caught Gilbert. Perhaps they can make better time as a trio. But Flecha is now 28 seconds up.
Flecha now has 30 seconds, with the third group 10 seconds behind the three chasers.
Sky's auto moves up past the three chasers.
Flecha makes an excellent impression, very fluid. It seems likely that he will be able to stay away. Right now he receives from encouraging words form Scott Sunderland in the team auto.
There's not really a hill between Flecha and victory, and only one cobbled sector left, only 700m with 3km to go.
Hammond and Hunt of Cervelo lead the chase.
If Flecha wins, he would be the first Spaniard ever to win the Omloop!
Interesting that the peloton is leaving the chase work to Cervelo. What has happened to Quick Step? And Boonen?
The chase group is about to catch the three chasers.
They have all come together, and now everyone eyes one another. Who will be the next to go? The gap is 41 seconds, that is not impossible to close.
Haussler moves into the lead of the chsae. He actually has a few metres now away.
Haussler is up out of the saddle giving furious chase.
They have all moved into the outskirts of Gent now. The large chase group seems to have lost interest -- but that doesn't really seem likely.
Looks like the only race now is for positions two and three.
Flecha works his way through the city streets.
Flecha takes the last pave section, with Haussler still giving chase.
Onl<y two km to go for Flecha, and a major win for the new British team.
The last km for Flecha!
He gets moderate applause from the few people on the sidewalks.
He looks back one more time and heads into the final 100 metres.
Flecha makes his Archer pose, points to his Sky logo and crosses the finish line!
It's a one-two for the British team, as Edvald Boasson Hagen takes seocnd place. The sky's the limit!
A major win today for Flecha and Sky. The first Spanird to win this event, and the first win of the Belgian Spring season goes to the upstart new British team.
Wait, we're not sure on places two and three. We are getting conflicting information here.
A very grumpy looking Tom Boonen finally crosses the finis line, nearly four minutes down. This is not how he had planned the day.
“Gilbert attacked and there was a little bit of sidewind, the word came from the car and said go - it's a good time,” Flecha said. “I've been knocking at the door for so long. I want to dedicate the victory to them, the whole team,” and especially to the teammate who gave him a wheel before the Eikenberg.”
“My first victory in Belgium, he noted, and added that part of the victory was for Frank Vandenbroeck
Our provisional podium is:
1. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky)
2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions)
3. Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo TestTeam)
That's it for today, folks! What an exciting day! Join us again tomorrow for Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, and thanks for reading along.
OK, let's swap numbers two and three there. Haussler is now second, and Farrar third.