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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage from Dwars door Vlaanderen.
After the weekend's Milan-San Remo we're back in Belgium for the resumption of the cobbled season. Cycling shifts to Belgium with Dwars door Vlaanderen kick-starting a three week period of racing that will take in E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
The race is virtually unchanged from last year with flat country roads from the start in Roeselare before the first climb, the Nieuwe Kwaremont at 93 kilometres.
Typically a break goes clear at this point but depending on the wind out on the course there's a strong chance that a group could go away a lot earlier.
We're about 15 minutes away from the official start right now and teams are going through the sign in area. As you would expect the biggest cheer was for Tom Boonen, who makes his return to racing after missing Mila-San Remo for personal reasons.
Boonen has of course won here, and so has his teammate Niki Terpstra who won here in 2012. Both men will line up for strong Omega Pharma QuickStep team looking to re-start their Classics campaign.
Of course Milan-San Remo winner Alex Kristoff is also here. He's on the start line now and is all smiles, as you would expect, after his fine win on Sunday. You can read a pre-race story about the Katusha man, right here.
No Paolini for Katusha today. The experienced Italian was crucial in Kristoff's win but he hasn't made the trip for today's race.
And the riders are off.
The peloton are passing through the neutralized zone at the moment. A few of the Omega riders scattered on the front. Wet roads at the moment and the chance of further rain ahead.
Into the first 5km and there haven't been any escapes from the field. With so long to go until the first climb it seems as though the peloton are happy to wait. They'be a long cobbles campaign ahead of them.
Oscar Gatto wears dossard number one for this year's race. The Italian claimed a dramatic victory at Dwars Door Vlaanderen after his powerful sprint saw him overhaul late breakaway Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) in the dying centimetres in Waregem. Now with Cannondale he finds himself at the head of a super strong team for today's race. No rider has ever won this race two year's running though.
15km into the race and there are still no attacks, still no breaks and still no action. In the meantime we've put together this gallery and news story as it's 100 days until the start of the Tour de France.
But in other news the plot thickens in regard to Henao's blood value(s) and tests with Team Sky. Now the rider and his agent have come out with comments about the test, when it took place and what it could mean. It's only created more questions than answers. But here's where the story currently stands.
It's been a poor start to the season for British team it has to be said. Chris Froome had a back injury, Richie Porte has pulled out of the last two races and Bradley Wiggins has looked short of form as well. Stannard, Thomas and Swift have flown the flag but the Henao news and the Locke blood passport case have hung over the team in recent weeks.
Less than 25km into the action and it's a former Sky rider who has jumped clear of the peloton. Alex Dowsett, now riding for Movistar, into his second year with the squad, is alone and leading the race. It means one thing: we can show you this video of what's in his race suitcase. It's a tad old (the video) but it's a classic. I say classic.... here's the video.
Dowsett was clear for just a few moments as the peloton have gobbled him back up.
The bunch have just gone through Kuurne. They're flying along with 171km left to race.
The Nieuwe Kwaremont comes at 93 kilometres.
Typically a break will have formed at this point but with the Kattenberg and Leberg coming in quick succession, the pace will likely ramp up as the strongmen and their teams battle for position at the front of the peloton. The two cobbled sections – Holleweg and Haaghoek – between the Kattenberg and the Leberg may also prove decisive.
However, the most challenging sections are yet to come, with the Berendries (123km), the Valkenburg (128km) in quick succession.
The Eikenberg, at 141 kilometres, then starts a run of five bergs in 40 kilometres of racing, with the Paterberg at 169 kilometres sure to see fireworks. But another key point could arrive just after the Paterberg, with a two-kilometre stretch of cobbles leading into the final set of climbs. Hesitation or a moment of brilliance could see a rider escape and hold off the chasing pack.
There are three more climbs before the finish: the Vossenhol, Hostraat and Nokereberg, with the climb summit seven kilometres from the finish in Waregem.
Tailwind: And with no assistance it's no wonder Dowsett was caught/sat up. One rider that won't be too used to this terrain is Alejandro Valverde. He's here for the first time, in fact he's hardly raced in Belgium, if you take out Fleche and Liege. He's here to gain experience on the cobbles ahead of the Tour de France but he's been in such strong form already this season it wouldn't be a massive surprise to see him in the action later today.
There's been a crash in the field and Florian Senechal is left to chase alone.
Daniel Klemme, Veuchelen, Wallays and Verhelst have a slight gap on the peloton but it's certainly not enough at this stage to bring the cars up.
51kph for the first hour of racing. I think they want to be back in time to watch the summit finish in Catalunya. The bunch are back together again after that slight split.
No Cancellara in the field today, not a huge surprise given his exploits in Sam Remo. Instead Trek Factory Racing have Stijn Devolder in their ranks. The Van Poppel brothers are also in the American team's line up.
BMC have Daniel Oss here. The race suits the ltalian but he hasn't had too much racing so far this season.
Having missed out on a place in Milan -San Remo Matt Goss is here for Orica. On paper the race suits him, while Hayman, who has raced well here for Sky in the past, is also in the line up for the Austrlian WorldTour team.
Garmin's David Millar has rolled the dice and jumped clear of the field. He has a slight lead at this stage.
20 seconds for Millar and three other riders.
Millar in fact was bridging over to the other three riders: Kris Boeckmans, James Vanlandschoot and Kenneth Vanbilsen.
Aldo Ino Ilesic is in between the peloton and the leaders. He' ten seconds down on the Millar group with the peloton a further ten seconds down.
That's a pretty strong lead group out in front but the peloton don't look too keen on given them too much room at this stage. It looks like several counter attacks are forming.
There's a group of 12 riders off the front of the peloton and just behind the four leaders. It's hard to imagine such a large group will settle.
And that 12 man move has been brought back, leaving just the four leaders up the road. They have 30 seconds over the field.
The leaders have 17 seconds over the peloton but more and more riders have bridged up to increase the numbers in the leading pack.
122km to go and there are now over 20 riders in the lead group with Longo, Sutton, Cummings, Millar, Alafaci, Wild, Maes, Moeravjov, Smukulis, McCarthy, Bagdonas, Van Emden, Boeckmans, Saramotins, Vanlandschoot, Veuchelen, Vanbilsen, Van Asbroeck, Zingle, Songezo, Jarc, Scorn and Murphy.
Despite such a large group the leaders have pulled out to 36 seconds over the peloton. Who will chase?
Movistar, Androni and Orica are the only teams who haven't put a rider up the road.
The main question is whether the large group can work together.
The gap is up to 1;15 so it's crunch time for the peloton and the main favourites. Do they take their chances or try and bring this break back before it starts to splinter on the climbs?
2'20 now between the leaders and the peloton.
The 23 leaders are approaching the Nieuwe Kwaremont
It's hard to imagine Savio leaning out of the car and asking his Andron riders to chase this one down.
A reminder of the firepower in the break: Longo, Sutton, Cummings, Millar, Irizar, Silvestre, Maes, Moeravjov, Smukulis, McCarthy, Bagdonas, Van Emden, Boeckmans, Saramotins, Vanlandschoot, Veuchelen, Vanbilsen, Van Asbroeck, Zingle, Songezo, Jarc, Schorn and Murphy
And the lead is up to 3 minutes as they hit the foot of the first climb.
After his impressive victory at Milan-San Remo on Sunday, you would have forgiven Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) a bit of a break, but the Norwegian rider is diving headlong into his cobbled classics campaign.
Unlike many who rode San Remo Kristoff is riding Dwars door Vlaanderen today. He spoke to Cyclingnews at the start and said that while he’s over the moon about his result he must forget it for today.
“I understand now that I did something special, but I need to refocus now. It won’t help me that I won on Sunday today. It was not super in training yesterday, but it’s a new day and a new race and I hope I can be there in the final.”
In 2013 Kristoff enjoyed a solid classics campaign with a stage win at Driedaagse de Panne and top 10 finishes at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. He looking to improve on that in the coming weeks. “I hope I can be on the podium and fight for the victory in the next races. Now a little bit people will look for me also and it can be difficult, but I was fourth in Flanders last year and I know that I can do well in these races,” he told Cyclingnews.
Jarc has been dropped by the leaders so they're down to 22 riders:
Longo, Sutton, Cummings, Millar, Irizar, Silvestre, Maes, Moeravjov, Smukulis, McCarthy, Bagdonas, Van Emden, Boeckmans, Saramotins, Vanlandschoot, Veuchelen, Vanbilsen, Van Asbroeck, Zingle, Songezo, Schorn and Murphy
The peloton have shaved 30 seconds off the front group's lead, so it's down in the region of 2'30.
Over the top of the first climb of the day and the race is finely balanced with the 22 man group 2'30 clear of the peloton.
Alejandro Valverde is riding Dwars door Vlaanderen, and on the cobbles, for the first time in his career. The Spaniard is hoping to use the race as preparation for Stage five of this year’s Tour de France. He got a very Belgian welcome to the race, as the heavens opened just before the race start. Despite the downpour, he was all smiles at the start.
“It is my first time and I am very happy to be here,” said Valverde. “The weather could be better, but I hope to have some luck. The pavé is complicated and with the rain it is even more complicated.”
Defending champion Oscar Gatto leads for Cannondale in the absence of Peter Sagan, who will only arrive in Belgium on Thursday. Cannondale directeur sportif Stefano Zanatta was hopeful that Gatto could line the line well in Sagan’s absence.
“He has decent condition, he’s worked hard to come here in the best possible shape and we’ll see how he’s recovered from Milan-San Remo, which was a tough race in difficult conditions,” Zanatta told Cyclingnews. “We’re hopeful he can do a nice race. He’s a rider who gives us some guarantees of being up there with the best at the end of the race.”
And we have this startline gallery from this morning.
There are reports of a crash in the peloton with Devolder one of the riders on the ground.
Over the Kattenberg and the leaders are holding 2'30 over the peloton. It's only the second climb of the day.
84km to go with the Leberg just around the corner for the 22 leaders.
Meanwhile Devolder is back on the bike but chasing on his own.
Overcast conditions for the riders at the moment as Devolder makes contact with the peloton but is forced to change a shoe. The break meanwhile have hit a short section of cobbles before they hit the Leberg.
There are a few passangers in the break though and the strongest riders are trying to force a selection.
It's GreenEdge and Movistar who are setting the tempo at the head of the peloton for now and the gap is down to 1;49 with 79km to go.
Cummings has done quite a bit of work on the front of the break as Maes comes through and does his share of the pace setting. The gap to the peloton is at 1'32 though, with 73km to go.
That's Tuft on the front of the peloton for Orica. They missed the move so the onus is on them to set the pace.
I'd estimate that around half the riders in the lead group aren't doing any work on the front, leaving less than 10 men to set the pace. Millar comes through takes a quick turn for now.
And the leaders hit the Valkenburg with an instant attack coming from Van Emden from Belkin.
He'd made a couple of little digs earlier but this third acceleration is a far bigger test and he'll be hoping that it draws out a handful of strong, willing riders from the second group.
A reminder of the riders in the break: Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R La Mondiale), Dmitriy Muravyev (Astana Pro Team), Stephen Cummings (BMC Racing Team), Paolo Longo Borghini (Cannondale), Romain Zingle (Cofidis), David Millar (Garmin Sharp), Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling), Kris Boeckmans (Lotto Belisol), Songezo Jim (MTN - Qhubeka), Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step), Gatis Smukulis (Team Katusha), Daniel Schorn (Team NetApp-Endura), Christopher Sutton (Team Sky), Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff-Saxo), Kenneth Van Bilsen and Tom Van Asbroeck (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise), Markel Irizar and Eugenio Alafaci (Trek), John Murphy (UnitedHealthcare), and James Van Landschoot (Wanty - Groupe Gobert)
While the lone leader is Jos van Emden (Belkin)
Orica are still setting the pace for the peloton as Omega move up with a handful of riders. Out in front and Jos van Emden (Belkin) only has a handful of seconds on the main break.
At the back of the peloton a number of riders are getting rid of jackets and extra layers as we move into the final 65km of action.
Van Emden is back with the break but they only have around a minute now on the peloton with 63km to go.
Smukulis is the next rider to chance his arm from the break. Again he goes alone and there's no reaction from the rest of the break.
There's a crash near the back of the peloton. A couple of riders down but they're all up smartly and back on their bikes. Testi from Androni is the only rider with a slight mechanical from the fall.
Onto the Eikenberg though for Smukulis who has about 20 seconds on the break.
The Katusha man hugs the right hand side of the smooth road in a bid to avoid the cobbles as IAM Cycling now set the pace for the peloton as they hit the climb too.
The next climb is just around the corner but there's a couple of little attacks from the peloton. The break meanwhile have brought back Smukulis.
The break has split in half with the peloton at 47 seconds.
Onto the Taaineberg and there's a huge attack from the break as there's also an huge attack from Boonen at the foot of the climb.
A rider from Orica tries to hold him but Boonen keeps going.
A couple more riders have tried to bridge over to the Belgian but it should all come back together.
Boonen has been joined by a much large group, including Valverde.
Maes is starting to work a bit more in what's left of the lead group. Millar has been dropped but Sutton might still be in there at the back.
The main peloton had split in half on the last climb but they're slowly coming back together as well.
Not one team has taken control of the race but the call has come for Maes to really put the hammer down for Omega.
Just five more climbs to go with the Kwaremont next. Meanwhile there's a dangerous move with Hayman up the road. Groups are all over the place at the moment.
The entire race though is only spread by 35 seconds with 45km to go.
8 riders have stayed out in front from the original break. They have 32 seconds over the peloton with a few riders still caught in between.
Markel Irizar Aranburu (Trek Factory Racing), Kenneth Van Bilsen (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise), Gatis Smukulis (Team Katusha), Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R La Mondiale), Jos van Emden (Belkin Pro Cycling Team), Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team), Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling) are the leading riders with 43km to go.
A front wheel change for Stannard.
As AG2r launch a rider off the front of the bunch, it's Damien Gaudin.
The Frenchman isn't going anywhere though and the peloton are quickly on him.
Just 21 seconds for the leaders. It's really not looking good for their chances with the next climb within sight. Expect major attacks from the peloton.
A reminder of the riders leading the race with 38km to go. Markel Irizar Aranburu (Trek Factory Racing), Kenneth Van Bilsen and Tom Van Asbroeck (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise), Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R La Mondiale), Jos van Emden (Belkin Pro Cycling Team), Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step), Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling)
Cannondale, Omega and BMC are fighting for position as the peloton head in towards the Kwaremont. The Paterberg will be after that.
Cannondale, Omega and BMC are fighting for position as the peloton head in towards the Kwaremont. The Paterberg will be after that.
The lead group are now onto the Kwaremont with the peloton at 28 seconds. Sky have Stannard on the front. Omega are there in numbers.
And the peloton hit the climb Keukeleire sets the pace with Stannard taking over soon after.
Up ahead and it's Maes who is taking a huge turn on the front for the break, as Terpstra sits on Stannard's wheel. He doesnt even look in any difficulty.
The pace in the bunch has caused a split and the bunch are only 10 seconds down on the break.
Van Keirsbulck has gone solo and will soon link up with Maes in the lead group as the break hit the Paterberg.
And it's Terpstra leading the peloton with Stannard on his wheel. The race could all come back together on this climb. Chavanel is up there too.
Terpstra has forged clear and he's alone now. He went right over the lead group and left them for dead. He's alone now ahead of the race with 27km to go.
Terpstra has around 15 seconds on the field. He has a little look back but then carries on.
It's Trek who lead the chase though. Lotto have a couple of riders in the peloton still but they've had a quiet, some would add smart race, so far.
Terpstra has 8 seconds. Valverde is still in the main field aswell.
Still three more bergs to come as Terpstra heads under the 25km to go banner with 11 seconds of a lead.
The second group on the road consists of around 30 riders and Devolder is organising the chase.
The second group has swelled to include another batch of riders as Terpstra continues alone, his gap now at 17 seconds. He's won this race before, back in 2012. Could he do it again?
One Terpstra, three Treks but the lead continues to grow. It's now at 25 seconds and the Trek rider on the front of the bunch is almost done. Devolder doesn't look too happy.
Belkin have numbers, Lotto have numbers as go Katusha. Gatto has a couple of teammates too but the chase have let the gap go out to 33 seconds.
Boonen is doing his best to slow things down as well.
Hayman is moving up to the front to see what the problem is and why the chase has slowed. The Australian wastes no time and hits the front. the gap is now 36 seconds with 20km to go.
Hayman out of the saddle is at least holding the Omega rider, as Kristoff sits at the back of the peloton.
And Devolder has had enough. He's attacked. It almost looked like he was moving in slow motion but somehow he's clear. And he as a Tinkoff rider with him. Boonen will try and shut this one down.
Valverde has spotted the move and he's made it in there as well. The gap is 30 seconds as Devolder pounds on the pedals.
It's Devolder, Steegmans, Valverde and Sorensen in the chase group. Terpstra's lead is down to 22 seconds with the bunch at 32.
Steegmans is in the perfect position here. He'll sit on and wait for now.
The four chasers have Terpstra at 19 seconds.
Onto the Holstraat now for the lone leader.
Devolder is charging up the climb now and he's taking the race by the scruff of the neck. He has Terpstra at 15 seconds.
Terpstra looks to be suffering but the Devolder group can't move the gap below 15 seconds. The bunch meanwhile are at 40 seconds with 13km to go.
As Steegmans continues to just sit on and wait. The gap is now out to 19 seconds.
It's not all over for the peloton but they remain at 42 seconds down on Terpstra.
It's Garmin who are chasing at the head of the peloton.
10km to go. Terpstra has 18 seconds. The bunch are at 36.
Terptra hits the Nokereberg with 18 seconds on the three chasers plus Steegmans. The bunch are 32 seconds back. There's an attack from Garmin and it's marked by Boonen.
It was a move from Nuyens but he and Boonen have sat up.
And this could all come back together because the Devolder group are closing on Terpstra and the peloton are closing too.
The peloton are less than ten seconds down on the Devolder group with 6.1km to go. Terpstra silll has 20 seconds though.
The bunch have Terpstra at 32 seconds. The Omega rider could do this. No more climbs and a flat run in, he's heading to victory.
3.7km to go now and Terpstra has 23 second over the Devolder group.
Terpstra has his second title in this race in the bag, surely. He has 26 seconds over the chasers with the bunch another 8 seconds back.
He checks over his right shoulder but the coast is clear. The chasers will be caught by the bunch though.
Less than 2000m to go for the Omega Pharma QuickStep rider.
1km to go and the peloton are 30 seconds down on Terpstra. The Devolder group have been caught.
A final left hander and into the finishing straight. Terstra takes the win for Omega Pharma QuickStep.
Here come the peloton.
Farrar second and he bangs the bars in frustration.
The American looked pretty good in that sprint but his team couldn't bring back Terpstra in the finale.
Bozic took third. Chavanel in fifth and Gatto 8th. It was a decent sprint for Farrar and he's done well here in the past but today Terpstra was simply too good for everyone.
1 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team
2 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin Sharp
3 Borut Bozic (Slo) Astana Pro Team
4 Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) Wanty - Groupe Gobert
5 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling
6 Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Belisol
7 Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise
8 Oscar Gatto (Ita) Cannondale
9 Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica Greenedge
10 Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) AG2R La Mondiale
It was a fine performance by Terpstra to hold onto his lead, and excellent teamwork by Omega Pharma-Quickstep.
Thanks for following the race live on Cyclingnews. We'll be back on for the E3 Harelebeke on Friday and Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. Tune in then!