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Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of the E3 Harelbeke one-day Classic in Belgium. The 212km race sees all the best Classics riders in action on the same roads that will host next week's Tour of Flanders.
The riders have signed on and are about to roll out from the start and begin to race.
The sun was shining in Harelbeke for the start, with Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) wearing number 1 after his victory last year.
The riders will tackle a total of 17 climbs or bergs during the 211km race.
Some are steep and include cobbles, others are on normal roads but are long. Each one will spark some kind of selection and attack.
These are the 17 climbs, with their name, position in the race and the distance left to race, length and gradient.
1 Katteberg 33,7 / 178,5 600m 6,7%
2 Leberg 43,1 / 169,1 700m 6,1%
3 La Houppe 101,7 / 110,5 3440m 3,32%
4 Berg Stene 110,3 / 101,9 1560m 7,3%
5 Boigneberg 114,9 / 97,3 2180m 6%
6 Eikenberg 119,1 / 93,1 1200m 6% in pavé
7 Stationberg 124,8 / 87,4 460m 3,2% in pavé
8 Taaienberg 129,4 / 82,8 650m 9,5% in pavé
9 Knokteberg 144,4 / 67,8 1530m 5,3%
10 Hotondberg 148,4 / 63,8 1200m 4%
11 Rotelenberg 156,8 / 55,4 1100m 3%
12 Kortekeer 158,4 / 53,8 1000m 6,4%
13 Kapelberg 170,8 / 41,4 900m 4%
14 Paterberg 174,9 / 37,3 700m 12%
15 Oude Kwaremont 179,1 / 33,1 2200m 4,2% in pavé
16 Karnemelkbeek 185,5 / 26,7 1530m 4,9%
17 Tiegemberg 196,5 / 15,7 1000m 7%
Tom Boonen leads the list of former winners, with five victories: four between 2004 and 2007 and another in 2012. Fabian Cancellara has won three times in 2010, 2011 ad 2013.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere has tweeted that the temperature at the start is 16C.
He added: Let's go boys.
The race is underway and the first attacks have begun.
We've also had the first crash, with Tim Declercq (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Vladimir Goesev (Katusha) going down.
Cyclingnews reporters Barry Ryan and Sadhbh O'Shea are in Harelbeke and will have exclusive interviews and news.
The first berg of the day, the Katteberg, comes after 33km of racing.
No breakaway has formed yet because the speed is high, close to 50km/h.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) is racing in Belgium for the first time this season. After a disappointing Milan-San Remo, he is looking for success on the roads of Flanders.
Read what he had to say here.
Milan-San Remo winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) is not riding E3 Harelbeke. However his is in Belgium and visited his fan club in Wervik for a quick beer. He is no-doubt targeting Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem.
The race has been underway for 30 minutes but no breakaway has managed to escape the grip of the peloton for now.
Belgian champion Stijn Devolder (Trek Factory Racing) rode aggressively but crashed hard in Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday. He went down together with Nikolai Trusov (Tinkoff-Saxo) who collided with a car.
At the start in Harelbeke Devolder told Cyclingnews that he felt much better but he’s taking anti-inflammatory medicine as a precaution.
“The knee cartilage was hurt but there’s no inflammation. The knee feels ok now. Wednesday evening the physio manipulated my back which received a big knock. Yesterday I did a test ride and that went really well. It’s important to race today. After Wednesday the time to test is over. The team leader (Cancellara) is good and if the opportunity arises I can go for the win too.”
The crowds at the finish in Harelbeke will be able to watch the race on a big screen but they will also be entertained by a sprinting competition between riders not in action in the race.
Riders will show their speed and power over 970m course along the finish of the race. Danny van Poppel is riding for Trek Factory Racing. Chris Sutton is riding for Team Sky.
Ian Stannard (Team Sky) was shouldered away by eventual winner Nikki Tersptra (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) in the fighting for the gutter at the foot of the Patersberg in Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday.
Afterwards Terpstra said Stannard was the man who tried to take his line.
“I read that,” Stannard told Cyclingnews. “I think I was in the gutter already. I guess it’s part of racing.”
Today the riders will hit the Patersberg again late in the race so stay tuned to find out if the shoulders are used again.
Belgian TV Sporza captured the moment Fabian Cancellara gave Tom Boonen a moving hug on the sign-on podium. Boonen's partner Lore suffered a miscarriage last week and Boonen missed Milan-San Remo to stay at home.
The two are huge rivals on the bike but have massive respect for each other.
The peloton has topped the first berg of the day and had their first taste of the cobbles thanks to the Kattenberg.
The riders are on the famous cobbles of the Haaghoek now, with a break of five riders going clear.
The five are: Maxime Daniel (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Sénéchal (Cofidis), Jay Thomson (MTN-Qhubeka) and Laurens De Vreese (Wanty Groupe Gobert).
They have opened a lead of 1:25.
Marc Madiot (FDJ.fr) was unimpressed that his sprinter Nacer Bouhanni vented his frustration about not being selected by the team for Milano-Sanremo.
Bouhanni fears his could be left out of the Tour de France team and considering out his options for next year. Cyclingnews asked Madiot about Bouhanni at the start of Harelbeke.
“I don’t mind his reaction. I talked with him before and after San Remo. We’re OK. It would be weird if a rider would be happy if he wasn’t selected," Madiot said.
A Tour de France selection? None of our riders are already certain of their spot so the same counts for Nacer.”
The peloton topped has taken the Leberg climb, with the pace steady. The gap is still 1:20.
Peter Sagan spoke to Sporza briefly before the start but he was not impressed to be asked about Milan-San Remo.
"Milan-San Remo was a strange race, it was wet and cold. It didn't go as I wanted but I've got other race ahead of me," he said.
We'll see how I get on today. I want to do well but we'll see hoe things go."
The gap for the five breakaway riders has reached 2:20.
One of the top favourites for the win today is Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin).
The Belgian rider didn’t race in Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday and was very eager to get going this morning.
“The good weather isn’t in my favour, it’s sunny. The cold doesn’t seem to affect me as much as others. Nevertheless I’ll try to race in an attacking way like I always do. I’m not putting all my money on Flanders and Roubaix as one crash can ruin it all,” Vanmarcke told Cyclingnews.
E3 Harelbeke is part of this weekend's double whammy of Flemish races.
On Sunday's the riders race in Gent-Wevelgem. Check out this video Cyclingnews has produced on the ten top favourites for victory.
Who is your favourite?
Cyclingnews was on the start line in Harelbeke and captured this great gallery of images that includes Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, Sylvian Chavanel and Alejandro Valverde.
Click here to see the full gallery.
The fast start to the race sparked an average of 46.100 km/h for the first hour.
The break has gained more time, with the gap now up to 4:20.
After 70km of racing, the break has extended its lead to close to seven minutes. The peloton seems happy to let the five riders enjoy a long spell out front, confident that an organised chase and the 15 remaining climbs will mean they are caught.
There is plenty of other racing across Europe today and we will have full coverage of the action from the Volta a Catalunya in spain and the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali in Italy.
Team Sky dominated the opening split stages on day one at the Coppi e Bartali, with Ben Swift winning the morning road stage and then Swift, Cataldo, Kiryienka and Kennaugh winning the afternoon time trial.
Check out the photo gallery of all the action here.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC) beat his Tour de France rivals Alberto Contador and Chris Froome on the queen stage at the Volta a Catalunya on Thursday.
He overcame the cold and snow to win at Vallter 2000, with the number indicating the altitude of the finish!
Read a full report and check out our photo gallery of all the action here.
While the race is deep in the Flemish hills, the crowd at the finish is enjoying a beer, some Belgian frites and the sprinting competition between riders not in action in the E3Harelbeke race.
Four riders race off in heats, sprinting to the line after a 970m loop.
Alexander Kristoff was a late entrant for Katusha and won his heat. Chris Sutton (Team Sky) also won a heat, beating Danny van Poppel (Trek Factory Racing)
Also through to the next round is Frederique Robert.
Back in the real race, the five breakaways still have a 6:30 lead. However the racing is about to get very serious with the start of the 15 bergs that will shake up the race.
The race will soon hit the La Houppe climb. It is 3440m long and climbs 3.3%.
A crash has caused panic in the peloton.
Several went down and were delayed, including Oscar Gatto (Cannondale).
It's no surprise to see Laurens De Vreese (Wanty) in the breakaway today. The 25-year-old is often on the attack. So far he's taken a second place in a stage of Etoile de Bessèges but is still seeking his first professional victory.
It's also no surprise to see the MTN-Qhubeka team represented in the escape. Jay Thomson is looking to overcome a illness- and injury-plagued 2013 season.
Both Thomson and Jerome Cousin competed in Milan-San Remo last weekend, and are probably happy that the weather is quite a bit nicer up in Belgium after the freezing cold rain of Italy.
The five leaders only have 4:15 on the peloton, where currently Belkin and Garmin are hammering on the front.
Oh dear, IAM Cycling puts the brakes on the chasing because of a crash in the peloton. Ian Stannard (Sky) has hit the deck and is in a great deal of pain.
Stannard is back up and riding, with two teammates at his service to help him chase back on.
The peloton is slowed by the Berg Stene, a 1560m climb that averages 7.3%.
Stannard is now back in the team cars, he'll surely get back into the peloton without a problem. Songezo Jim is back at the MTN-Qhubeka team car.
The breakaway is now on the Eikenberg, which kicks up to 10%.
The Eikenberg has a bit of a paved shoulder for the riders to hop off of the cobbles onto. The UCI has instituted a rule to keep riders from creating dangerous situations by diving off the road onto side paths, but this won't violate the rules.
Katusha has now taken up the chase, with Russian champion Vladimir Isaychev at the helm. The gap is now down to 3:42 and the surge has popped Danny Summerhill (UHC) off the back.
The breakaway makes quick work of the Stationsberg, actually putting a few more seconds onto their lead over the peloton.
At the back of the bunch, Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) has a problem. He signals for the team car.
Enrico Sanz is back getting bottles for the Movistar team. It's a rare thing that the Spanish squad sends a big gun to a Belgian Classic. Alejandro Valverde put in a good showing at Dwars door Vlaanderen in his first foray on the cobbles.
It is such a beautiful spring day in Belgium - it seems that the world has turned upside down when you compare this lovely day with the icy cold of Spain, where snow fell on the riders in Volta a Catalunya yesterday.
Thor Hushovd (BMC) is chasing back onto the peloton with a teammate. We didn't see what happened, perhaps a puncture. But it is poor timing as the Taaienberg is approaching. The peloton is still bunched at the front, but the long line of riders chasing at the back shows the pace is quite fast.
The break is on the Taaienberg, De Vreese setting the pace. Back in the peloton there is yet another crash, this one in a left turn that involved Jens Debusschere (Lotto) and John Murphy (UHC). Belkin's Tom Leezer has a puncture.
Yet another crash. This time Maarten Wynants (Belkin) crossed wheels with a teammate and went down hard.
Luca Paolini (Katusha) is now leading the peloton, upping the speed and lining everyone out.
We have a split in the peloton. But will it stick?
A group of 30 riders is being chased by a second group of 20.
Niki Terpstra is at the back of the now combined group.
Another group is trying to get back to the front peloton but riders are attacking off the front.
Terpstra has stopped for a mechanical problem.
After the attacks, there is a slight pause before the riders face the Knokteberg.
Damien Gaudin (Ag2r-La Mondiale) attacks hard and is trying to escape the peloton.
The riders are diving down to the centre of Ronse. That can only man they will soon begin yet another climb.
Team Sky duo Eisel and Knees are controlling the attacks that try to go clear.
Sagan has been forced to stop for a bike change. This could be costly but he quickly gets going again.
Fortunately he has several teammates with him to help in the chase.
Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) has also been delayed and has two teammates to help him get back on.
They're moving up through the cars in a moment of chaos.
up front the five breakaways are still working well together but they must know they will soon be swept up.
Cancellara spoke briefly before the start of the race.
“It was a tough recuperation after Milan-San Remo and maybe I had to rest more than I wanted to coming into this race. But it’s an important weekend and these two races are important for next weekend, and for me that’s what counts,” he said.
For now Cancellara is staying well protected on the wheels. We can expect him and Boonen to show their hand later in the race.
There is a quiet calm at the front of the peloton before the Knokteberg.
Someone holding a banner saying: 'Tornado Tom Frits' means we can only be in Flanders.
Thor Hushovd (BMC) was at the back of the peloton and has quit the race, opting to turn left as the peloton turned right. Perhaps today was just a training ride for Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem.
The speed is rising in the peloton as the next climb approachs. OPQS, Trek, Lotto Belisol and Team Sky are all fighting for position.
Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha) has suffered a mechanical, coming to a complete stop as the race accelerates away.
A rear flat for Greg van Avermaert. That could been a major blow for his chances, even if he gets a wheel from a teammate.
Steel van Hoof (Garmin-Sharp) has also been forced to stop. Van Avermert is back on the peloton but now needs to move up quickly. The race is about to hit the 1km long Rotelenberg climb.
The peloton is also on the Rotelenberg with the big teams firmly in charge.
The peloton is one long line of riders as it twists through the Flemish lanes. There is at least 20 seconds between the front and back of the peloton.
Upfront Marco Bandiera (Androni Giocattoli) goers away alone. But nobody is going after him.
The riders top the Kortekeer climb with just over 50km to go. There is a pause in hostilities; soon the riders face the decisive climbs of the Kapelberg, Paterberg sand Oude Kwaremonte.
Cancellara has dropped back to his team car to talk tactics. He seems relaxed but the race is about to explode.
Cancellara moves back into the peloton and grabs one last piece of solid food.
Another wheel change for Vanmarcke. It does not seem to be his day.
However a Belkin team quickly drops back to pace him to the peloton.
Movistar and Giant-Shimano are also driving the pace on the front to protect and set up Valverde and Degenkolb.
Several riders have gone hard, including Kreder of Garmin-Sharp. It seems to have been a high-speed touch of wheels.
Two Topsport Vlaanderen riders were also involved and are in pain. Their race is over.
Bandiera was quickly caught but other attacks will surely come soon.
This one has split the peloton and caused the team mechanics to dash up the road to service their riders.
A group of 15/20 riders is slightly clear. Boonen and Thomas are in there.
Other groups are spread down the road in hot pursuit.
Valverde is also in the front group but there's no sign on Cancellara.
He's chasing alone and trying to power past several groups.
Upfront they're not waiting for Cancellara. Eisel is leading the peloton for Team Sky.
Cancellara is making a huge effort to close the gap and drag some chasers back up to the front.
Here comes the Paterberg and so it is probably too late for Cancellara to get back on.
Vanmarcke leads the front group up the Paterberg. Thomas is there too, as in Terpstra.
The riders are lined out in the gutter but Cancellara is moving up on the cobbles.
Boonen is back with Boonen and so it seems Terpstra is again team leader for OPQS.
The race is on at the front. Sagan is also up there in a group of ten or so rides. But here comes Cancellara.
Cancellara has dragged the chasers up to the front group in an incredible show of force and fitness.
The Oude Kwaremonte is next. Get ready for an attack.
Thomas now hits the front as the climb begins to hurt. Gaps are opening in the front group.
Thomas has dragged Terpstra and Degenkolb clear but Sagan is about to get across to them. It is carnage behind.
And now Sagan attacks!
With Boonen, Cancellara, Stybar and Devolder just behind the attacks by Thomas and Sagan, with the break caught in the middle of it all.
Cancellara is leading the chase behind. The gaps are not huge but this is a huge moment in the race.
Devolder is helping Cancellara but Bonoen is sitting on. He has a teammate in the front group that includes Sagan and Thomas.
The long descent is a pursuit match with Trek chasing hard to get Cancellara back into contention.
Cancellara has let Devolder go away alone, forcing the other riders in the chase group to go after him and do some of the work.
Sagan, Terpstra, Thomas and the remains of the break are in the front group. Do they have the power to stay away? The gap is just 15 seconds.
It's tine for climb 16/17, the Karnemelkbeek. It's 1.5km long and will surely decide the fate of the Cancellara chase group.
Devolder is still leading the chase. But up front Sagan accelerates again.
Thomas goes with him, Terpstra is there too plus his OPQS teammate Vandenbergh.
But behind Cancellara refuses to give up hope and digs deep, forcing everyone else fight to get on his wheel.
Degenkolb is stuck in no-mans land but is about to be caught by the Cancellara group.
The front four are 20 seconds ahead.
The two OPQS riders are working with Sagan and Thomas.
Behind Stybar is forced to stop for a bike change just before a key section of pave.
Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) is pounding away on the front and switches to the footpath. Behind Cancellara leads the chase and is also on a path to avoid the cobbles. Nobody seems to care about the new UCI rule.
Sagan has called for neutral service. Was he asking for a drink? He grabs a bottle from the OPQS team carer anyway.
It's time for the Tiegemberg climb. The last of the 17 bergs.
Behind Giant-Shimano is helping Trek with the chase but the gap is growing.
And so Cancellara decides to go in pursuit on his own!
Paolini (Katusha), Vanmarcke and Stybar get on his wheel.
The speed is so high that De Vreese messed up his line and ended up in the trees.
Cancellara's surge has brought the gap down to 35 seconds but he blown out teammate Devolder.
Upfront the tactical games seem to have begun. Terpstra touches his radio as if under orders not to work anymore.
Terpstra will have to take on Sagan in a sprint finish.
The slight headwind on the road back to Harelbeke is also a factor.
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) is also in the Cancellara group.
Sagan tries to wave Terpstra through to do a turn but he refuses.
On a slight rise Terpstra attacks and gets a gap but Sagan closes him down and the four remain together.
The OPQS riders are taking turns to attack. Sagan does not reply to Vandenbergh, letting Thomas chase him down.
Sagan and Thomas seem to have shared the chasing just as he OPQS riders have shared the attacks.
What a race! What a finish!
This finish will be a real test of Sagan's tactical ability and sprint. Can the two OPQS riders beat him? What can Thomas do to win?
The four are looking at each other but need not worry about the chasers. They are now a minute behind with three kilometres to go.
Vandenbergh will surely sacrifice his chances to help Terpstra.
Sagan is forced to ride on the front but the four are moving across the road.
Vandenbergh goes for it, now Thomas.
But Sagan responds with power and leads out the sprint to win.
The Cannondale rider showed who was the strongest there.
Behind Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) crosses he line ahead of the chasers, with Farrar winning the group sprint.
Tersptra finished second, with Thomas third and Vandenbergh fourth.
After starting his sprint, Sagan had the time and confidence to look round and celebrate victory by waving his arms in a sign of relief and happiness.
Wow! What a race. If today's action is a sign of what is to come, it's going to be a great spring.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep clearly has the strength to boss the racing but Sagan showed he knows how to win under pressure even when he is out numbered.
Cancellara was caught out by a crash and showed his strength when he lead the chase.
Team Sky also showed their strength with Boasson Hagen and Eisel up there in he action in support of Thomas.
Thanks for joining us for the Cyclingnews live coverage of E3 Harelbeke.
We'll have a full race report, news, exclusive interviews and a photo gallery on cyclingnews.com very soon.
Also, join us on Sunday for full live coverage of Gent-Wevelgem. The Belgian spring Classics are in full flow!