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Stage one of the Eneco Tour takes us through Belgium, 173 kilometers from Koksijde to Ardooije.
Welcome to our live coverage of the first stage of the ENECO Tour. We are starting out in Belgium this year.
The race got underway a little less than two hours ago. Three riders got away early and built up a huge gap. Laurens De Vreese (Topsport Vlaanderen), Pieter Jacobs (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Benjamin Verraes (Accent Jobs-Wanty) had built up a lead of over eight minutes after only 50
That was too much of a gap for the sprinters, who are looking for their chance today, and so Lotto-Belisol and Argos-Shimano started leading the chase.
Argos-Shimano is riding for John Degenkolb, who has extra incentive today. He had his church wedding over the weekend, and tweeted, “After an unforgettable weekend we are here for @EnecoTour, lets thank god that we start with a flat stage” Congratulations to him and wife Laura!
The gap is now down to 7.13 minutes.
Lotto is of course riding for Andre Greipel.
Degenkolb is not the only Argos sprinter here. The team captain is actually Marcel Kittel, who won so gloriously in the Tour de France.
De Vreese won the first intermediate sprint of the day.
There was a crash earlier, with Borut Bozic, Tom Dumoulin and Tiziano Dall'Antonia amongst the victims. None are injured, we are happy to say.
Last year's edition of the race was won by Lars Boom. He is, of course, here to defend his title.
1 Lars Boom, Rabobank Cycling Team 24:51:13
2 Sylvain Chavanel, Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:00:26
3 Niki Terpstra, Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:00:49
4 Alberto Contador Velasco, Team Saxo Bank / Tinkoff Bank 0:00:55
5 Luke Durbridge, Orica GreenEdge
The gap is coming down, but slowly. It is now 6:50.
Actually it looks like the gap is dropping even faster than we thought. with 78 km to go, it is at 5:15.
This is one of those interesting summer days, with bright sunshine and black clouds.
Bradley Wiggins is here in the race, continuing his comeback from injury and illness. You will of course remember how he dominated the Tour of Poland time trial recently.
Here is another big name in the race, World Champion Philippe Gilbert of BMC. He has called for the team car, and is getting a new tyre.
Down, down, down, goes the gap -- now at 4:33.
Greipel is back amongst the team cars. We don't know why, but he is moving up nicely.
Gilbert now hangs on to his team car whilst the mechanic hangs out to fiddle with something on the bike. Greipel zips on by, while a Saxo-Tinkoff rider drafts a bit behind the BMC car.
The newest member of the Cyclingnews staff, Jono Lovelock, took a look at this race. Check out his preview here.
And now the gap is down to 3:56.
Boom would gladly repeat his win in this race, but if not, Belkin as another candidate in Wilco Kelderman. “I think Wilco and I make each other stronger. We can help each other," Boom said. Read more here.
Neither Tom Boonen nor Mark Cavendish is here, but Omega Pharma-Quick has still sent a big-name sprinter. Alessandro Petacchi is making his debut here for the Belgian team.
Orica-GreenEdge's Daryl Impey picks up a bunch of bidons and stuffs them in his jersey to carry back up to his teammates.
Wiggins and two teammates at the back of the field, now moving their way up.
And in other news around cycling: The Tour of Britain has announced its teams, including five WorldTour teams.
OPQS now at the head of the field and putting up a fierce tempo. For one thing, the gap had crept back up to nearly four minutes, and for another, the wind has picked up. The team hoped that it could possibly drop some of its hopefully-inattentive sprint rivals.
Everyone was paying attention, though, and the echeclons didn't form. The gap is down to 3:04, though.
The three leaders are still doggedly working hard and co-operating beautifully, but they really don't stand a chance.
Wiggins deep in conversation with teammate Bernhard Eisel.
The peloton is riding through a heavily agricultural area here, fields with neat green rows, and then some rather bored-looking cows.
Cycling goes to court again. The CAS will hear Riis' appeal re Contador's WorldTour points next week.
The three Belgian riders in the lead are doing a good job. The peloton is finding it hard to cut the gap, which is now at 2:34.
The three leaders cross the finish line for the first time. Let's see what the gap is.
Here comes the peloton, at 2:09. They aren't in a particular hurry at the moment.
There are quite a number of sharp turns on this narrow road in the circuit course. Happily they are now back on the regular road.
Lotto and Orica looking rather casual at the head of the field.
The gap is approachiing the critical point: 25 km and 2 minutes. Time for the sprinter teams to get serious.
Having said that, the peltoon apparently decided to stop fooling around. With 22km, the gap is now at 1:28.
Wiggins is still at the very back of the field. He is obviously not going to go for the win today, anyway.
20 km and one minute....
De Vreese isn't ready to give up and takes off.
All three together again, only 42 seconds ahead of the field.
Orica-Greenedge firmly in control of the peloton iat the moment.
17 km to go and only a handfull of seconds....
The three leaders come to the finish line again, with the peloton breathing down their necks, some 6 seconds back.
The three leaders shake hands and Orica-GreenEdge smoothly leads the field right past them.
The peloton snakes through the sharp turns on the agricultural lane again. Everyone stays upright.
And we have echelons! No gaps, but that very distinctive shape.
The Australian team is holding the pace high here, and we see a dozen or so riders dropped of the back, including Wiggins.
BMC has now moved to the front of the field, but is keeping the pace equally brutal.
10 km to go and Belkin moves up to the front.
That was the last intermediate sprint of the day, and Boom took the points ahead of Ferrar.
Greipel fairly far back in teh field, but there is still 8 km to go.
Marcus Burghardt and his distinctive yellow shoes are leading the way.
There are a lot of traffic islands here. Itmakes us nervous....
4 km to go.
And Garmin-Sharp moves up to the front, ahead of Belking.
A puncture for Delage, very bad timing.
The Wiggins group has gotten larger, and is now two minutes down.
Two km to go and the field goes through a tricky seciton of curves. Renshaw jumps!
And it looks like he will take it!
The Belkin rider fooled the field and his sprint rivals, taking off in the last km on the corners, and wins the first stage of the Eneco Tour.
That is only his second win this season. Earlier he won the Clasica de Almeria.
Renshaw is leaving Belkin after this season and he will join OPQS in 2014, re-uniting with Mark Cavendish.
The Wiggins group finally comes in, at 3:50.
Greipel finished second, leading the field across two seconds after Renshaw. Giacomo Nizzolo of RadioShack-Leopard was third.
Our top ten on the stage:
1 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
2 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol
3 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) RadioShack Leopard
4 Maximiliano Ariel Richeze (Arg) Lampre-Merida
5 Elia Viviani (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling
6 Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing Team
7 Michael Van Staeyen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise
8 Davide Appollonio (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
9 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Merida
10 Ruslan Tleubayev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team
We don't yet have confirmation on the GC yet. One or more of the break riders could have picked up enough bonus seconds to play a role.
And indeed, Jacobs has placed himself third in GC.
1 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
2 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol
3 Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise
Thanks for joining us and be sure to read along again tomorrow, as the Eneco Tour wends its way through Belgium and the Netherlands.