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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage from E3-Harelbeke.
Good afternoon and welcome back to Belgium for the latest instalment of Classics action with E3 Harlebeke.
The 211km event takes in many of the sections and climbs used in the Tour of Flanders, next week's monument but it's a WorldTour race in its own right and with Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan all on the start like this morning there's set to be fireworks.
15 bergs little the demanding course although as last year pointed out, a sprint win is certainly possible.
The conditions today: cold 4 degrees but thankfully we have blue skies.
We have 175 km left to race and after a flurry of attacks it looks as though a break has finally gone clear of the peloton.
A bit of news from the start, and Tony Gallopin failed to make the startline, pulling out this morning due to illness.
As we gather the riders in the break, which was initiated by a Movistar rider, here's a startline gallery from earlier this morning.
We've covered 42km in the first hour of racing.
Eloy Teruel is the lone leader at the moment but he's about to be joined by a chasing group of riders.
Our race leaders are Eloy Teruel (Movistar) Anders Lund (Saxo Bank), Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil), Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana), Koen Barbe (Crelan – Euphony) and Staf Scheirlinckx (Accent Jobs – Wanty), and they currently hold an advantage of 25 seconds over the peloton.
At the start this morning Jane Aubrey spoke to Mat Hayman:
I’m not too bad. We’ll have to wait and see how I’ve recovered from Wednesday. We’ve strengthened the team here today with Edvald and Bernie so hopefully we’re in for a good one.
Traditionally it’s been a bit of a precursor to Flanders and everybody’s out to test themselves, test the opposition, test equipment but we saw last year that it still came down to a fairly big group and in a sprint like that, Bernie was third last year and I think there’s a few guys who have got some better form than that so anything short of the podium and we’d be disappointed.
167km left in the race and the break are being held at 30 seconds. It's an interesting mix up the road with Lund, Mol and Scheirlinckx the most experienced on this terrain.
Scheirlinckx, 34, has finished in the top ten in the Tour of Flanders before too, while Mol was on the attack a few days ago in Dwars Door Vlaanderen.
Liquigas, Sky, RadioShack, Omega and BMC have all let this move go though, so they'll all have to work later in the stage in a bid to reel the move back in.
A correction: It's Stefan van Dijck in the break and not Scheirlinckx. So our leaders are,
Eloy Teruel (Movistar) Anders Lund (Saxo Bank), Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil), Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana), Koen Barbe (Crelan – Euphony) and Stefan van Dijck (Accent Jobs – Wanty)
The Leberg with a maximum gradient of 15 per cent is the first climb in today's race. It comes after 15 kilometres and it's highly likely that we'll see several counter attacks due to the break being only 30 seconds ahead.
If a few of the WorldTour teams can take advantage and slip riders up the road it will change the dynamic of the chase later on in the race.
I’m good. I have a little bit of a sore throat from San Remo for the other things my legs are still good and I have a good feeling so hopefully I can be good in the final today.
It would be nice if we could get a guy on the podium and even nicer to get the win because we have a strong team and guys in good form. We’re just missing the win in the classics and we’ve had a good start to the season with the team and hopefully we can do the same in the classics now... asIt would be good to go into Flanders with a victory.
We just try to do our best... the win will come we don’t have to be worried about it. If everybody’s performing well, the victory will come.
I think it’s a bit different today; last year was a bit strange. Today there’s a lot of wind and cold so there won’t be a bunch sprint.
The leaders are on the approach to the Leberg, which is 850m in length. They've extended their advantage out to 40 seconds.
The big boys are going to wait for the real final – the Kwaremont and I hope smaller groups are going to go in front of that section and I hope me or Sebastian will be in there. If we survive that final section in the first group, anything can happen I think.
Over the top of the climb and the lead has pushed out to 1:05 the biggest it's been so far in the race.
The leaders are struggling to press home their advantage at the moment.
Tom Boonen, a five time winner of this race, took to the startline with the usual Belgian fanfare this morning. After abandoning Milan-San Remo due to the conditions no one is sure where the Belgian stands in terms for form so today is bigger day for him than it is for Cancellara and Sagan who already proved their condition at Milan-San Remo with second and third.
Boonen has a top team at his disposal but this time last year he went on an incredible run that included E3, Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders and Roubaix.
Boonen is ready. The results he put down last year were a once in a lifetime run. We're not so stupid in thinking that we can repeat this but what's important is that Tom is ready in the head.
Chavanel has a free role. He's the leader in the WorldTour and we'll look to defend that.
The leaders, meanwhile, have pushed the time gap up to 2 minutes. The next climb is at 98km, the oude Steenweg.
Last night Cyclingnews' Belgian correspondent Brecht Decaluwe called up Classics legend Roger De Vlaeminck. Here's what the former pro had to say
"I expect Cancellara, Sagan and Boonen for the podium on Friday and Sunday. For Boonen to win I think that the E3-Harelbeke and - Gent-Wevelgem are coming too soon. He’ll need more races. It would be good if he did the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde. He’ll be ready for Roubaix. It’s the moment for men like Van Avermaet and Roelandts to get a breakthrough win."
Sep Vanmarcke started today's race, his first venture back since crashing out of Tirenno. Cyclingnews spoke to him last night at length about anti-doping, Gilbert's alleged cortisone injections at Lotto, and the Classics. You can read the interview here.
His teammate, Mark Renshaw also sat down with Cyclingnews. The Australian is also racing today but should feature more in Gent-Wevelgem.
“I feel very good. I’m going the way I wanted to go. I’m in good condition and we’ll see how the races go in Belgium. I don’t know if it will be a sprint, we’ll see how it goes. QuickStep and Sky will be the favourites but there are other strong teams here too.”
It's interesting that Sagan mentions Sky. The British team have looked strong this spring, fresh from their classics training camp at altitude. Hayman, Thomas, Stannard, all look in form while there's still time for Boasson Hagen to pick up too. However the team probably lack a star leader in the same league as Cancellara, Boonen and Sagan. That status could all change today if one of their riders come away with the win.
It won't be E3 though.
“Will it be a bunch sprint again? Well, I think Harelbeke is a hard race, very difficult and a small group can finish in front. So let’s hope I’m up there.
“The two favourites are definitely Cancellara and Sagan. They’re the two strongest and they showed at San Remo that they had a bit more than the rest. Then, there are riders like Boonen and Paolini – a lot of rivals.”
Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) was not especially effusive with Belgian television at the start, although he was smiling throughout.
Reporter: Is the “Machine” working again?
Chavanel: I’ll tell you later on. Nah, I’m ready.
Reporter: What’s the QuickStep tactic?
Chavanel: To win the race.
Reporter: Does being world number one change much?
Chavanel: Nah, that doesn’t change much. I’ve got a race to do today, I’m thinking about that.
The break continue to extend their advantage and now lead by 3'05.
The climbs left today:
oude Steenweg 98km
La Houppe 118km
Berg Stene 130km
Berg ten Houste 152km
The leaders are approaching the second climb of the race, still with their 3'05 advantage over the field.
The call has come over the radio and Omega Pharma Quick Step have come to the front of the peloton. Their plan from the start was to try and isolate the likes of Cancellara and Sagan from their teams and then try and push home a numerical advantage in the finale. Nice plan if they can pull it off, but Sagan and Cancellara were so strong in San Remo it's going to be a huge task to make any numerical advantage stick.
Over the second climb and the lead is still at three minutes however with the peloton approaching the feedzone it could go out a little bit further.
We've not mentioned BMC yet today but today could define the rest of their classics campaign.
Gilbert, Hushovd and Van Avermaet have been granted team leadership roles but Taylor Phinney is allowed to ride his own race. If the American can pull out another ride, like the one that put his more experienced teammates in the shade, he could lead at Paris-Roubaix in a few weeks time.
Lund currently leads the break as they head towards La Houppe. Nick Nuyens has pulled out of the race meanwhile, the Garmin rider still suffering with longstanding injury issues.
Sky are moving up towards the head of affairs as well, with Eisel and Boassan Hagen their men if the race comes down to a sprint.
In the peloton Dowsett is looking after his sprinter Rojas as Gilbert rides mid-bunch with a gaggle of BMC riders around him.
Quicktstep continue to do the grunt work at the head of the peloton with Sky's plugging a few gaps in the Belgian train with their own men. The break's lead has been cut back to 2'16.
The rain is holding off, the roads are dry but there's a bit of cross winds out there as a number of riders in the bunch begin to shed their extra layers of clothing.
Maxim Iglinskiy who has made the podium in this race, and who looked strong in Dwars door Vlaanderen is near the front. Could he pull of a coup and win a cobbled race for Astana?
Boonen looks relaxed, dancing out of the saddle in the middle of the peloton. The five time winner of the race has the strongest team in the race to support him.
Breschel and Vanmarcke are both near the front of the bunch too. Both have flown under the radar this year due to injury and illness so today's a major test for them ahead of Flanders.
Vansummeren and Rosseler are muscling their way to the front as well. Positioning going into the climbs is so crucial and the bergs come thick and fast from this point onwards.
Mol currently leads the break but their advantage has dropped further still, it's down to 1'41 with 84km to go in the race.
Gabriel Rasch and Mat Hayman have moved into the omega train on the front of the peloton as Farrar also moves closer to the action.
The leaders begin the Beg Stene, which has an average gradient of 7.3km.
Terpstra has a bike change and is quickly on the move again as he chases back through the team cars.
there's a crash with Puccio and Rojas looking for bike changes. Devolder too.
Quickstep increased the pace coming into a tight left hander and there simply wasn't enough road for the entire bunch to come through safely.
FDJ have decided to come to the front of the peloton and join Omega and Sky in setting the pace as the lead to the break drops down to 52 seconds.
The leaders tackle the Boigneberg the peloton already have them in their sights.
Tleubayev blows completely on the climb and begins losing ground as Eisel moves to the front for the first time, Chavanel on his rear wheel.
At the back of the bunch there's another hold up with riders coming to a complete stop.
Two FDJ riders seem to have had a problem and have been dropped as a result.
Stijn Vandenbergh, Michal Kwiatkowski and then Tom Boonen head the peloton as they crest the climb and start the descent towards the Eikenberg.
The leaders hit the Eikenburg with a 37 second lead. Michal Kwiatkowski takes over on the front of the bunch and there's no sign of Cannondale but Sagan is in there, don't worry.
Vacansoleil, despite a man in the break move to the front and the peloton is starting to fragment on the climb due to all the pressure.
Omega look in shock as a Movistar rider pops up and sets the pace for them at the front. It doesnt last long as Eisel takes over for Sky, Hayman right there with him. It's clear that Hagen is their man if it comes down to the sprint.
Three riders are left in the front but the game is almost up despite one last turn from Lund. Ladagnous has attacked from the bunch and is about to make contact with the remnants of the break.
Teruel, who started the move, sets the pace for the leaders as BMC show their faces on the front for the first time in the race. Reports were that Gilbert has abandoned earlier, but they weren't true, the world champion is right in the action.
Now we have four leaders but the gaps is less than 10 seconds.
Terpstra is still chasing at the back of the peloton after his bike change and Hushovd has been dropped.
The BMC leader is with Gaudin but it's unlikely they'll get back to the peloton at this stage, as the break is caught with 65km to go.
Sagan and several teammates are around half-way back in the 60-strong peloton at the moment.
And now Sky show their hand, moving their entire team to the front of the bunch, the slowing in pace is enough for Hushovd to come back to the bunch but he needs to move right up to the front before the next climb, otherwise he'll have to chase on all over again.
Eisel has the entire peloton strung out.
Boonen hammers to the front on the Taaienberg as always expected.
Roetlands is with him for company simply because he already had a little gap but Sky have been blown away. Cancellara is leading a small chase group that includes Hayman and Stybar.
Behind, a second group led by a BMC rider are trying to get on terms. There's no sign of Sagan though.
The second group is about to latch on with 60km to go.
Stybar, Canellara, Boonen, Oss, Vanmarcke, Roetlands, Hayman, Boassan Hagen are all there.
Garmin are leading the chase behind but it's being marked by a number of Omega riders. This could be the winning move if Astana and Cannodale don't wake up.
Haussler tries a move but it's countered by Chavanel and Sagan.
Sagan is looking around for help but it's not going to come as the gap goes out to 23 seconds, so they're still within touching distance.
Gilbert, Boom and Langerveld are leading a chase group but Sagan is missing from that move too.
Gilbert is actually about to be caught by the bunch so BMC only have Oss up the road. It will be interesting to see if they chase this down because Oss is certainly a decent finisher.
And Sagan is changing bikes.
57km to go and this is turning into a tough day for the Cannondale leader.
Sagan goes right passed Terpstra who has been chasing for much of the race
Sagan is all alone though, without any teammates so he's going to have to do all the hard work on his own as the Boonen group push out to 41 seconds and Boasson Hagen has a gap too.
The chase group is Vandenbergh, Boom, Langeveld i Jérôme and they're 16 seconds back.
There's still a long way to go in the race though as Boasson Hagen is brought back. The chase group should make contact in the next few minutes, and that will give Boonen two teammates.
And Boom is slipping back from the chase group.
The two lead groups merge and hold a gap of 38 seconds.
Stybar moves to the front of the lead group, flanked by Hayman. As back in the bunch Van Avermaet, Devolder, Thomas and Degenkolb try to launch a counter attack.
So Boonen calls both of his teammates through and this is the most crucial moment in the race because it's essentially Quickstep versus whatever Canndonale and BMC have left.
Haussler has tried another move off the front but Devolder brings him back this time. 50km to go and the gap is still holding at 25 seconds.
Sagan finds one teammate in the bunch and moves him to the front of the chase but Chavanel is doing his best to be a pest and scupper the chase.
Stybar looks to be struggling at the moment as Cancellara comes through and takes a turn as Cannonale find their reserves and begin a proper chase.
Vanmarcke has been dropped from the lead group as Boonen is now forced to take a turn on the front .
The lead group is down to Tom Boonen, Zdenek Stybar, Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma), Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack), Daniel Oss (BMC), Edvald Boasson Hagen, Mathew Hayman (Sky), Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol), Sebastian Langeveld (Orica Greenedge), Vincent Jerome (Europcar), Lars Boom (Blanco)
Boonen slips back, assessing the condition of those riders with him in the lead break. The race is finely poised at the moment but Cannondale are coming back into it thanks to their chase effort, and have reduced the gap to just 16 seconds.
Boom has made it back to the leaders.
Cannondale looked out of the picture when Sagan changed bikes but they've ridden a very smart race, letting Quickstep do all the early damage but if they can catch this group before the next climb Sagan will surely try a move to test Boonen and Cancellara.
45km to go and even Boonen looks to be suffering out there and the leaders hit the Kapelberg
The gap is just 10 seconds.
44km to go and the catch is made.
The climb has caused so much damage and echelons are all over the road with the cross winds starting to pick up as well.
Sagan is in the lead group now but Gilbert isn't.
Omega still continue to set the pace though with the lead group growing to about a dozen riders as more attempt to come across.
Flecha has launched a counter attack as he attempts to make contact with the leaders.
Thomas is also in the lead group but Pozzato isnt.
Now into the Paterberg and Boonen leads.
Into the gutter and the 2012 winner has the leaders strung out as Cancellar comes through and takes second wheel. Sagan is holding back, is he struggling or racing like a sprinter today?
Amador and Flecha are fighting to get back on terms
The leaders come over the climb together, with Thomas at the back of the group.
Chavanel is coming into the frame too as Sky look good with Thomas, Hayman and Boasson Hagen in the first group that includes Langeveld, Boonen, Sagan, Cancellara and Oss.
And it's all starting to come back together as the pace drops in the Sky led group.
Onto the Kwaremont and Flecha gets out of the saddle and sets the pace.
And Cancellara moves to the front and winds things up with 35km to go.
Sagan is chasing but Cancellara has a small gap.
QuickStep can't allow Cancellara this much room and they set up the chase.
Van Avermaet, Stannard, Bole, Rojas, Iglinski, Offredo, Ventoso, Vansummeren in chase group behind the Boonen group.
Roetlands has popped as Cancellara continues to push on alone.
Boonen has been dropped.
Quckstep have left him and it looks like Cancellara has around 15 seconds.
Boonen is back with Flecha and Hayman.
Roetlands had a flat.
Cancellara still has 15 seconds as Boonen finds himself in the third group on the road.
Boasson Hagen who was also dropped is on his own.
Cancellara has extended his lead to 27 seconds.
Chavanel, Sagan, Oss, Thomas, Langeveld are the chasing group behind Cancellara. Oss is riding very well indeed and if it comes to a sprint he could push Sagan close, but right now Cancellara is off the front and has 28 seconds on the chase, with 54 seconds on the Boasson Hagen, Boonen group.
Thomas doesnt want to work, as Boasson Hagen is chasing back.
So Cancellara pulls out a couple more seconds.
These 'super teams' have cancelled each other out and Cancellara has taken advantage.
28km to go and Cancellara has 41 seconds.
The second group are taking turns but Cancellara reaches the lower slopes of the Knokteberg with 47 seconds.
Stybar and one other Quickstep rider are coming back to the chase group of Chavanel. That could be the team's last roll of the dice.
Cancellara now has a minute wit 25km to go.
Cancellara has just one climb to go and a lead of 59 seconds. The Boonen group has grown though and has brought the RadioShack leader to within 1;17. They'll soon have the Sagan, Chavanel chase group in their sights.
Cancellara grabs some food from the team car and then moves back into TT mode. Sagan hasn't given up the chase though and has pegged the Swiss rider back by a couple of seconds.
Cancellara has been in this position so many times, he knows exactly what's needed and just doesn't panic. The gap comes down by a couple of seconds but he pushes on the pedals and the advantage moves back out to 1'03.
If Cancellara takes this win it's arguably better than his win in 2011 simply because all the best riders in the world are here.
It's exhibition stuff from Cancellara at this point, and he may well even exceed his one-minute winning margin from 2011. On that occasion, Cancellara's decisive attack also came on the Kwaremont, although he still had a group ahead of him to chase down before hitting the front alone.
Onto the final climb of the Tiegemberg for Cancellara, who shows no sign of relenting as directeur sportif Dirk Demol draws up alongside him.
Sagan tries to inject some life into the chase behind, but there is precious little to be done.
Sagan is doing the bulk of the pace-setting in the chase group on the way up the Tiegemberg. He doesn't have many allies here, but it's debatable as to whether it would many any material difference.
Meanwhile, a frustrated Yoann Offredo (FDJ) leads the third group, but they are 2:12 down on the flying Cancellara. Juan Antonio Flecha and Filippo Pozzato are among the beaten men in here.
Sagan's friend and former teammate Oss is lending some weight to the pursuit, and the gap is down slightly, to 45 seconds.
On a long, exposed road, the Sagan group can catch a glimpse of the car following Cancellara, which has lifted their morale somewhat, and the margin is still dropping slightly. 40 seconds the gap.
Dirk Demol pulls up alongside Cancellara to protect him from the crosswind, but is quickly warned off by a commissaire. The gap seems stable now at 44 seconds.
Sagan is putting in longer turns than anyone else in the group of chasers, but it's hard to imagine that they will peg back Cancellara at this point.
Sylvain Chavanel gives a dig out with the chase, but Cancellara's gap is now creeping back up towards the 50-second mark.
Hands buried in the drops, the bill of his cap upturned and his teeth gritted, Cancellara is betraying no signs of weakness in his pedalling.
A grimace, or perhaps a smile, as Cancellara takes on some advice from Demol in the team car.
Into the final 5 kilometres with 58 seconds in hand on the Sagan group, Cancellara is going to hand RadioShack-Leopard a badly-needed big win.
IAM Cycling are leading the main peloton, but they are racing for 7th place, over 2:30 behind Cancellara.
Crashes destroyed Cancellara's 2012 season, but the Swiss is in the process of taking his first win since the Tour de France prologue last June. And, more importantly, he is sending out an ominous message ahead of the Tour of Flanders next week.
The chasers look as though they are already thinking about the sprint for second place behind Cancellara. 1:04 the gap.
Into the final kilometre for Cancellara, who will have plenty of time to think of a celebration to match Peter Sagan's colourful collection.
Cancellara is in the streets of Harelbeke and cruising towards his third E3 win in four years.
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) wins E3 Harelbeke after a 35km solo break. He sits up and punches the air in celebration.
Daniel Oss takes a flyer with 800 metres to go in a bid to take second place.
Sagan opens his sprint and looks to have overhauled Oss for second place. Geraint Thomas was also in the mix for the podium, but they came home 1:07 down.
Cancellara, meanwhile, is already sitting in a press tent, peeling off his armwarmers and cleaning himself up for the podium ceremonies.
A dejected Tom Boonen claims the bunch sprint for 7th place, over two minutes down on Cancellara.
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack Leopard
2 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling 00:01:08
3 Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing Team
4 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling
5 Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge
6 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
7 Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
8 Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha
9 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
10 Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Team Europcar
Thanks for joining us on Cyclingnews for today's live coverage of E3 Harelbeke. We'll be back with more from Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, but before that, stay tuned to Cyclingnews for all the news from Belgium. We'll have a full report, results and pictures from E3 Harelbeke here, as well as all the reaction from a fascinating day of racing in Flanders.