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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews's live coverage from Amstel Gold Race.
Hello and welcome to the race. The blimp is up and running and so are the riders.
The riders got under way in Maastricht around 30 minutes ago, under blue skies. As far as we know everyone started, so no last minute changes to the rosters. We've got a great day of racing ahead of us, so get comfortable and sit back as we bring you all the action from the first of the Ardennes Classics.
The Ardennes week attracts a different set of riders, with the climbers replacing the cobbled classics specialist. Only a rare few, including last year's Amstel Gold Race winner Philippe Gilbert, have the ability to win on both types of terrain, where the ability to absorb the constant accumulation of lactic acid from the climbs is more decisive than power and speed across the pave.
The Amstel Gold Race is the youngest of the spring classics having been created in 1966, and a move from the end of April to the first weekend of the Ardennes has made for a better race.
The race now finishes on the climb of the Cauberg, with the huge crowds enjoying the race after a few glasses of Amstel beer. It is perhaps only fair that one final climb decides the winner after 31 other climbs and 258km of racing through the twisting and turning lanes of Holland.
The Cauberg is of course covered three times during the race and it's an incredible climb. The number of fans that line the roads, pack the bars and cafes is an amazing sight, and sound. The Dutch fans love, love their cycling.
The Maasberg, that's where the bunch are right now. There has been a number of attacks but so far no dice and the bunch is still together.
We've put together this gallery of images ahead of the race. It's a look back at some of the most iconic images from the last 15 or so years.
The question a lot of people have been asking is whether Gilbert is beatable today. Well there are a lot of of strong riders in the race today. Arguably a much deeper field than Cancellara faced in the cobbled classics. lets take a look at some of the favourites.
Gilbert won last week's Brabantse Pijl with a strong display, beating Leukmans in the sprint, so he's clearly a man in form. Last year he came into the race with pressure but a different kind of pressure. in 2010 Lotto hadn't won a race by this point in the season and there was immense pressure on Gilbert and his boss Marc Sergeant.
Coming into this weekend Gilbert is the number one favourite and everyone seems to talking about marking him out of the race. Problem with that, in my opinion, is that he has more strings to his bow than someone like Cancellara, and of course, if he attacks on the last climb again, well it's very hard to mark a move that late or that strong.
His biggest challenge could come from the Leopard Trek team. They've got the Schlecks, Frank won this race a few years ago and Andy has knocked on the door a few times. They're both very dangerous but probably need to attack before the final climb and finish alone. Then of course there's Cancellara. For the first time this spring he's not the number one favourite so perhaps he won't be as heavily marked. Will that freedom, that he mentioned here help him today?
Another team with three cards to play is Katusha. They've got problems off the bike but in Danilo Di Luca and Ivanov they have riders who have won this race before and of course there's Rodriguez, who was the world number one last year. He's got all the attributes to win a race like Amstel.
Here's the complete start list by the way.
Another team with off the bike problems is Lampre. Rumours that Saronni could quit and the fact that riders are under investigation are of course important but with regards to racing they have Cunego on the team. A winner in 2008, he's at least won a race or two this year. Not won a classic since the Lomdbardy in 2008.
Astana of course have Vino a winner of this race in the past and Gasparotto, who was third last year. Neither ride can be ruled out.
But it wouldn't be Amstel if we didn't talk about Rabobank, the biggest Dutch team in the world. Twice winners, through Boogerd and Dekker this year they line up with Gesink and Luis Leon Sanchez. Gesink the big hope for Holland has marked this race as a big objective and there's no doubt that he'll be aggressive. He could win.
Other contenders include Chavanel, Hesjedal, Visconti and Nuyens.
The bunch are still together and we've been racing for just over an hour.
Want to have your say on the race, how you think it might play out, just drop me a tweet here twitter.com/dnlbenson
46 km covered in the first race and the Bergseweg has been covered. Still all together.
The next climb will be the Sibbergrubbe, roughly 4.1% gradient and it's 2000m in length.
via twitter michielveedeeb says @dnlbenson Phille or GregVAvermaet will take it, I've given up on Jurgen VdB ever winning a stage/classic
And nice conditions out there for the bunch. Warm, still with very little wind to speak of.
Both Garmin-Cervélo directors Johnny Weltz and Eric Van Lancker told Cyclingnews this morning that they expect a lot from Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek). “He's still keen on showing everybody what he can do,” Weltz said. After missing out on the win in Flanders and Roubaix due to tactical situations the Swiss surely wouldn't mind to convert his great form into a win.
Italian national champion Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) has been in ill the last few days but has recovered and hopes to use his climbing and fast finish in the fight for victory on the Cauberg.
"I'm feeling better. My form was there before I got ill and I don’t think I've lost it all. Our race tactic will be to see what the big favourites do and ride a little defensively. The other teams are stronger than us and so we'll them control things," he told Cyclingnews.
"On a perfect day the finish on the Cauberg would be perfect for me. We'll see what happens. This is a long, hard and very nervous race. You need a bit of luck to win it."
At last we have some action in the race and a group of five riders have taken off and have a gap. Timmer is there from Skil. We'll bring you the rest of the names as soon as we can.
The five leaders have a gap of 1.30
In fact it's four leaders, apologies. They are Thomas Degand (Veranda's Willems – Accent), Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano, Paolo De Negri (Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli) Simoni Ponzi (Liquigas-Cannondale)
Cyclingnews spoke to BMC team manager Jim Ochowicz about Cadel Evans missing the Ardennes Classics. He confirmed that the Australian will not head to Belgium even for Liege-Bastogne-Liege because the race was never on his ace programme for 2011.
The Amstel Gold Race finishes on top of the Cauberg and the same finishing climb be used in the 2012 world race championships. The finish line will be a little further along the flat road at the top of the climb than today, perhaps allowing for some riders to close the gap on whoever attacks on the Cauberg.
Steve Cummings (Team Sky) is riding the Amstel Gold Race for the first time in his career and told Cyclingnews that the team would be riding for Simon Gerrans and Lars Petter Nordhoug.
"They're are the protected riders today. Simon was coming good in Pais Vasco and Lars was good there too. I was ok but a bit up and down. My legs are good but this id the first time I've ever done Amstel and so I've got to fight for position to be in the final," Cummings told Cyclingnews.
The lead continues to grow. It's up to 3.30 now.
This morning Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé talked to all four favourites who're part of the strong Katusha team: Sergey Ivanov, Danilo Di Luca, Joquin Rodriguez Oliver and Alexandr Kolobnev. Ivanov and Di Luca both are former winners of the Amstel Gold Race but Di Luca told Cyclingnews that the team wasn't putting its money on them but on Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver. “Rodriguez is our leader,” the Italian said.
Ivanov didn't confirm this tactical decision though. “I feel like a fighter before the start. I know the race, I know the course and we have a great team with four fighters in it,” Ivanov said. The Russian also looked back to the pavé-classics and hoped thing would turn around for the Katusha team; in Paris-Roubaix none of its riders made it to the vélodrome in Roubaix. “It was unbelievable how much bad luck we had. My saddle broke off and I rode 40km with a flat tyre. I hope our bad luck stayed in Roubaix so we can flick the switch today,” Ivanov said.
Rodriguez hoped he could keep up with top favourite Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto). “He's the top favourite. I don't bother to go in the breakaway with him because that'll kill me. Luckily we have several cards to play,” Rodriguez said.
Last year Kolobnev came very close to the win but his solo attack was caught at the foot of the Cauberg. The Russian received the Herman Krott price for his efforts. After the minute of silence in memory for Krott we asked Kolobnev if he appreciated his award from last year. “I tried to win so it's not comparable. It brought little consolation,” Kolobnev said before adding. “Again we'll try to ride aggressive and make things go our way because we possibly have the best team.”
The last riders to sign up this morning were Saxobank-Sungard team-mates Jonas Aaen Jörgensen and Nick Nuyens. By the time they left the podium the peloton had left the market in Maastricht. While Jörgensen was acting nervous to find his way through the crowd that started spreading out Nuyens didn't look bothered. The latter, winner of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, has the tradition of showing up late at the start so he knew things would turn out fine. Unsurprisingly they quickly bridged up with the peloton while still in the streets of Maastricht.
The first time up the Cauberg and the leaders have just under six minutes on the bunch. That's a healthy lead at this stage.
And it's a strong group, all four of these guys are quality. Skil will be happy to get a guy in the break, without doubt. They're a Dutch team so this for them is a huge event.
Via twitter: farizkyrahman Farizky Rahman @dnlbenson I hope Vino will attack and win. #agr
If there's one rider who knows how good Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) is riding then it's Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM). The Belgian rode in the successful breakaway group during the Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday. "Everybody's talking about isolating Gilbert in the finale. It might be a good idea but if he's as good as last year then it's futile. Personally I hope I still have some power left in my legs but I can't stay frustrated, can I," Leukemans smiled when referred to his frustrated post-race talks after Paris-Roubaix and the Brabantse Pijl. "I hope to do well and if I don't finish in the top-10 I'll be disappointed.
Ponzi, 24, signed from Lampre at the end of the season. He raced TDU earlier in the season but has had a couple of top ten placings already this year. He's also a former Italian U23 road champion. This is his third year as a pro.
De negri is also 24 and Italian. He's been with the same team since the start of his career. I remember him having a good Tour of Britain a few years ago, a number of top ten placing, but he's still waiting for his first pro win.
Onto the Wolfsberg and the lead is creeping up to 8 minutes. How long before a few teams hit the front and chase?
Bad luck for Gilbert, who has a broken bike. It doesn't look like he's crashed but he's forced to change bikes. Luckily it's still early doors and he's got plenty of time to get back to the bunch.
The lead now up to 9.50.
Jochem Valkeman @dnlbenson Don´t rule out the Orange guys from Rabobank! Gesink has been showing form so far and well, you never know with the spanish guys
As for Gilbert, we caught up with him at the team's press conference on Friday. You can watch a video interview with him, right here.
The lead continues to grow. It's up to 11.40 now.
Just like in the Ronde van Vlaanderen there will be flashes with in-car video footage during this 46th edition of the Amstel Gold Race. Local World Tour teams Rabobank and Vacansoleil-DCM have cameras on board of their team car. Rabobank's director sportif Erik Breukink seemed pleased that he wasn't the man in the team car in the Amstel. “Frans Maassen is driving the car today. I loved the footage we saw in Flanders,” Breukink told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé. When asked whether code-language would be used Breukink denied. “We only use the race radio for general purposes. The tactic has been discussed before the race although there might be quick orders during the race but that doesn't mind. With the delay it'll be too late for others to make use of it,” Breukink said.
160 to race, all the big guns safely in the pack. In fact they've hardly broken a sweat at the moment. The leaders, up the road, have 12 minutes on the bunch.
PiesG David Gardiner @dnlbenson One of the Schlecks, Gilbert and Chavanel for me:is Fab racing LBL?
No. Just Amstel. Then a break for Cancellara.
The leaders are now on the Loorberg.
Still little in the way of reaction from the bunch. By the way, we've talked about the favourites today but there are plenty of underdogs out there too. San Remo, Flanders, Roubaix all went the way of the underdog. The same could easily happen again.
Finally the bunch wake up, just as the live tv cameras turn on and it's Rabobank on the front and setting the pace. The gap now comes down by around two minutes.
Thomas Degand (Veranda's Willems – Accent), Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano, Paolo De Negri (Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli) Simoni Ponzi (Liquigas-Cannondale)
Pelton at 10.00
With the gap being this huge there's probably a tactical battle going on to see which teams will be leading the chase. The pressure is on teams like Rabobank, Omega Pharma-Lotto and Katusha. Breukink told Cyclingnews this morning that his boys wouldn't be trying to be dominant early on. "We don't have the top favourite in our team. Don't expect us to be pulling in the peloton on our own like we did in previous years. If we work it'll be together with other teams. We don't want to be as dominant early on as we tried to be before," Breukink said. For now, he's sticking to his word.
Well, his team are on the front now.
Marylineee Maryline @dnlbenson My pick for today: Schleck brothers!!! They are in good shape and they have a strong team today!!!So go Leopard!!!
More teams hit the front and the gap comes down even further. The four leaders haven't slowed in pace, it's just the bunch are tearing along now.
UCI_Overlord Not Pat McQuaid @dnlbenson my pick is Di Luca. Only because I court controversy everywhere I go. And he partied like a rockstar last night.
dnvgl dnvgl @dnlbenson Any thoughts on Sammy Sanchez? #AGR seems like his kind of course.
Not seen much of Luis Leon so far this season but he's in with a shout. It really depends on how Rabo play their cards and if Gesink has the legs.
145km still the race, the gap to the leaders is dropping like a stone - it's just above 7 minutes - as Rabobank still lead the bunch. A lot of pressure on them to do well today. They had a strong start to the year but missed Breschel in the cobbled races, although they still managed third in Paris Roubaix.
Erik Dekker, the last Dutchman and last Rabo rider to win the race, is in the team car these days. He knows what it takes to win this race and has a strong team to carry out his orders on the road.
135km to race and the gap has stabilized for the first time in a long while. It's currently hovering around the 6.45 mark.
TRDean1 Timothy Dean @dnlbenson I wanna make a darkhorse pick..Skil rider Simon Geschke for the win...well, maybe not, but a top 10 placing...
simplicityrd08 Ryan Dean @dnlbenson I think its the top 3 today would be Gesink, Gilbert, Andy Schleck... The winner from any three...
Onto the Gemmenich, as the race takes a quick tour into Belgium for a few kms. There's a Belgian in the lead group so he'll certainly get a few cheers from the fans on the roadside.
Roughly half-way though the race and here's where we are:
Thomas Degand (Veranda's Willems – Accent), Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano, Paolo De Negri (Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli) Simoni Ponzi (Liquigas-Cannondale)
Pelton at 6.45
And Leopard come to the front and give Rabobank a helping hand. Still no sign of Lotto. the lead coming down to around 6 minutes.
Down, down down. The tight, twisting roads mean position in the final 120km is critical and that, combined with Leopard setting the pace has meant the pace has increased further still. The gap is 4.45
Onto the Gulpener and the lead continues to drop. How long will the bunch stay together? Surely there'll be a counter attack from someone before the break is brought back.
Sky and Astana are now on the front helping with the pace.
Astana have most of their team in the first 20 riders, in fact. While Roubaix winner, Van Summeren is at the back of the bunch.
The lead is still holding for now. it's at 3:10.
It's going to be so important to stay near the front from now on. A crash, even if you dont hit the deck, could destroy your race if you're held up behind it.
Devolder up near the front of the bunch, Rabobank, moving back up there too, having let other teams do some of the work.
And here go Rabobank, three men on the front lining out the bunch.
The Dutch team are really pushing the pace, the entire field strung out and the gap to the leaders dropping rapidly.
Devolder's team also moving up the front. In fact Devloder is very close to the front. Will he be working for Leukmans today?
A Katusha rider has to stop and fix his front wheel as Barredo moves up and sets the pace.
the gap is just over a minute and the leaders are about to be caught.
Just 55 seconds now between the bunch and the leads. It looks like Van Summeren is sitting up.
Rabo continue setting the pace. Four, now five men on the front.
And they've attacked. It's Luis Leon Sanchez.
Now Rabobank can call off the chase and make other teams do the work.
Timmer has been dropped by the break.
@dnlbenson Greg van Avermaet ftw... @BMCProTeam are due
Sanchez is closing in on the break. There has to be a reaction to his move from behind. There's still a long way to go but....
A number off moves off the front with Devolder spearheading one attack and a number of other riders trying to get across.
Over the top of the Cauberg and it's all coming back together.
Devolder was closely marked there by Chavanel and Barredo. All back together in the main field. A couple of the men from the early break are still up the road but their advantage is small. 73km to race.
Devolder sits up and eats an energy bar. It's for energy, it's certainly not comfort eating.
Barredo goes again. Plucky little fella isn't he?
he looks back, realises he has a gap and carries on. Sanchez was caught by the way.
Thomas Degand (Veranda's Willems – Accent), Paolo De Negri (Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli)
Pelton at 20 seconds
Barredo pressing on alone. He's looking good for now, still behind the two leaders.
Lots of traffic island and roundabouts for the bunch at the moment, it's very dangerous out there, even if the weather conditions are good.
The bunch is splitting already, a few riders off the back. Alexandr Kolobnev at the back.
These two leaders are still plugging away. They're doing a good job considering how long they've been out in front. Barredo still hasn't made it to them.
Di Luca back in the cars too. Could he win today? twitter.com/dnl.benson
Barredo on the Bemelerberg makes the bridge and moves straight to the front. Barredo on the Bemelerberg - great name for a rock band.
Jan Ghyselinck (HTC) has come from know where and makes it four riders up front.
Thomas Degand (Veranda's Willems – Accent), Paolo De Negri (Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli), Barredo (Rabobank), Jan Ghyselinck (HTC-Highroad)
Pelton at 20 seconds
Barredo looks back and sees another rider has made it across. Doubt that will change his tactics for now.
Just a quick shout out for http://www.cyclingfans.com
They're always handy and always link to our text coverage for races. So thank you.
philgrant80 Phillip Grant
@dnlbenson I am calling Ryder hesjedal or a leopard rider
Lotto move to the front. Gilbert is close to the front. Monfort moving up.
A Topsport rider is having a go, in fact there are a few attacks.
None of the attacks work. Still four leaders up the road. they have a gap of a minute.
Chavanel is being paced back by a teammate. he'll get back but that's wasted energy. He must have had a bike problem. He's made it back but he's going to have to move to the front.
Ivanov attacks but BMC are chasing.
The four leaders are working well, stretching their lead to 1.10.
Rabo of course not chasing so Lotto move up and set the pace. They'll keep it at around an minute, that's fine.
Considering how strong they are both Garmin and Leopard have done very little work so far. We've seen little from Lampre either.
As you would expect the two early riders from the break aren't doing much of the work, just happy to sit on and follow. I think they've earned it.
Lotto still on the front, pushing the pace. The gap is still around a minute, but it's come down by a handful of seconds. 50 to the bunch.
One guy we've not talked about much today is Gerrans. If there's one rider on the bunch that needs a result it's him.
BMC move up. Reminds me of their move at Flanders when they brought back Cancellara. But they're joined by Lampre, Garmin, lotto and Astana.
andy Schleck is at the back of the bunch looking for his team car.
Devolder and hist teammates move back to the front, as the gap to the leaders comes down to 40 seconds. 44km to go.
Barredo continues to set the pace in the group. Perfect tactics from Rabobank at the moment, saving their main guys for the finish and not having to do any work back in the bunch. So far so good for the Dutch team.
Degand is really struggling with the leaders. Andy Schleck still sitting at the back of the bunch.
Frank Schleck, who crashed hard last year, is a bit nearer the front. Hesjadal was back at the medical car but he's coming back. Dont know if he crashed.
The lead down to 30 seconds.
Vacan still leading the bunch, Garmin up there too as the bunch hit the Loorberg. Millar taking a turn on the front for Garmin. A few riders dropped off the back.
Barredo at the front but the gap is small and Pineau from Quick step attacks and he's chased by Fuglsang. The pair go right passed the Barredo group.
A couple of other riders latch on but it looks like it's coming back together.
All back together.
Liquigas setting the pace at the moment. Nothing from Rabobank since barredo was brought back.
Crash. A Liqugias rider on the floor and Visconti held up.
It's Nerz. He's out of the race.
As Lampre move up for Cunego.
Gulperberg for the rider to get over now. It reaches 17 %.
BMC on the front, two riders from that team and two from Vacan.
Final feed in the race. It's all out for the win and Vacan send a rider up the road. Johnny Hoogerland. That's a good move. he's got a little gap already.
Three riders chasing and Elminger also on the attack.
We could have a group of five riders off the front.
It looks like a reaction from the bunch though and they're all back together again.
Everyone just looking at each other. No one wants to make a mistake.
Still a big bunch, maybe 60-70 riders here but five important climbs still to come.
This is all playing into Gilbert's hands so far.
Frank Schleck and Cancellara both fall.
Both riders up and chasing but that's bad luck.
Schleck went down first and then took out Cancellara.
Leopard on the front and they slow it all down.
Lotto remind everyone it's a race and that they dont have to wait and set the pace again.
Frank needs a new bike.
It's not going Leopard's way today.
Schleck had a problem with his gears but he's chasing again now on a new bike.
That could be race over for Cancellara and Schleck who still aren't back with the bunch. Rabo send Tankink off the front. Great riding but he's getting blocked by the motorbikes.
Tankink looks good, really good but Leopard are chasing him.
Shut down! All back together. Fuglsang does all the work. Gerrans is near the front too. We said he needed a result today.
Lots of Rabo riders up near the front still.
Kolobnev setting the pace now on the next climb. he's splitting the race apart.
Gap are appearing everywhere.
That's a big gap with around 15 riders. Lotto setting the pace.
Van den broeck is there. Gilbert too.
Leopard have riders here, Rabo too and Katusha. This could stick.
Quick Step are here as well. Sky too and one Astana rider, Cunego I think and one rider from Shack.
Andy Schleck is here. Moreno, Cunego, Gilbert, Gesink.
Van Den Broeck on the front, making the gap as big as possible. That rider from Astana, guess who it is? Yep, it's Vino.
The Belgian is doing a good job for Gilbert. The gap around 15 seconds.
The gap is getting bigger. it's 20 seconds. Looks like the big losers here are Garmin.
Gilbert has another team mate with him. Kolobnev here, Gerrans, Hoogerland as well.
Two more climbs left. Can Lotto keep it together for Gilbert or will Gilbert go on the attack early?
max of 22 % average of 16%. here we go.
He looks back, he has maybe 50 meters.
Gilbert and Lotto lead the chase.
Chavanel hanging on but guess who else is here? Oscar Freire!
Kolobnev now attacks. Katusha aren't going to wait for the final climb. Andy Schleck marks him and it's going to come back together.
Van den Broeck again on the front and that's Leopard who attack with Andy Schleck!
No teammates, all alone but he's giving it everything. He wont win the sprint so he has to finish alone. Lotto still setting the pace.
Fuglsang is with the leaders so Leopard have two men. Luis Leon for Rabobank is also there.
Andy Schleck is giving it 100 per cent.
schleck has about 6 or 7 seconds on the Gilbert group. he'll need more than that at the foot of the final cllimb.
Ben Hermans is the radioshack rider.
A bit of hesitation from the Gilbert group and the gap is now 10 seconds.
Five seconds now.
Gilbert at the back of the chase group. Is he worried about Freire?
And dont rule out Gerrans if it all comes back together.
just 5km to go. Lotto still setting the pace as they try and chase Schleck. Freire has to be a concern for Gilbert.
Now Gilbert reacts and moves to the front. Fuglsang follows him.
Is Gilbert reacting too soon?
Gilbert doing the work to chase, Leukmans, Freire and Rodriguez on his wheel.
3 to and Andy Schleck still leads. Can he hang on?
This is going Freire's way if it comes together.
It doesn't look like Schleck is cracking though. He's still got a gap.
one to go!
50 meter gap
Gilbert takes it!
That was perfect riding in the end from Gilbert.
Just as they had Schleck in their sights Gilbert moved up but it was Rodriguez was the rider who chased and went for it. Gilbert sat on his wheel and in the final 400 meters he came through and took the win.
Rabobank, the final climb was too much for them and Gerrans took third.
Schleck looked around, saw the Katusha rider go passed with Gilbert on his wheel and then the Belgian put the hammer down. He had plenty of time to celebrate, just like he did last year. That was class.
A big pat on the back for van den broeck, who did so much work for Gilbert in the final 30kms.
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
2 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
3 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Sky Procycling
4 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek
5 Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Katusha Team
6 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team
7 Björn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
8 Ben Hermans (Bel) Team RadioShack
9 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
10 Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank Cycling Team
Thanks for joining us today. We'll be back on Wednesday with live coverage from Fleche Wallone.