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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage from Gent-Wevelgem.
Good morning and welcome to Gent-Wevelgem! Susan here to get things started and to get everyone on their way.
The riders have gathered at the Grote Markt in Deinze and are awaiting the neutralized start.
This race usually comes down to a sprint finish, and Tom Boonen has to be the favourite, after winning the E3 Prijs on Friday. One of his rivals is missing today, though: Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD). The Italian has been suffering from the flu since Milan-San Remo, missing Friday's race as well. He is still not well enough to get back to racing.
They're off! Out of the neutral zone already and the race is on.The first to attack is Bobbie Traksel, of Landbouwkrediet.
That didn't last long. They have been absorbed back into the field and now seven other riders are trying to get away.
Not your typical Belgian spring weather – it is today, in a word, gorgeous! Sunshine, no wind and warm temperatures. What more could one ask for?
The next group is: Ion Izagirre Insausti, Vladimir Isaychev, Anders Lund, Stijn Neirynck, Koen Barbé, Kevin Van Melsen and Thomas Bertolini.
And here the list with team names: Ion Izagirre Insausti (Euskaltel), Vladimir Isaychev (Katusha), Anders Lund (Saxo Bank), Stijn Neirynck (Topsport Vlaanderen), Koen Barbé (Landbouwkrediet), Kevin Van Melsen (Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda's) and Thomas Bertolini (Farnese).
They have 22 seconds on the field.
The gap of the seven leades has now jumped to 42 seconds. 22 seconds behind them are Kenny Dehaes and Julien Fouchard.
It looks like our "Situation" feature isn't functioning, so we will update things here.
The seven leaders now have 42 seconds on the two chasers, with the peloton at 1:10.
Matt Goss of GreenEdge is still looking for his first individual win of the season, and thiks it likely he can win here. He talked to Cyclingnews about it here. You know the Australian already finished third here in 2009.
The seven leaders still have 42 seconds on the two chasers, but the peloton is now at 2:45. Looks like the field is happy to let this group go.
Let's take a look at the course today. 235km, with 11 climbs, including two climbs each of the Baneberg and Kemmelberg. And all of the climbs come between kms 135 and 200.
The second climb of the Kemmelberg is closely followed by the Monteberg, the final climb. That one-two combination may well decide the winner.
The two chasers' hard work has paid off and they have joined the lead group, which now has five minutes on the field.
Ion Izagirre Insausti (Euskaltel), Vladimir Isaychev (Katusha), Anders Lund (Saxo Bank), Stijn Neirynck (Topsport Vlaanderen), Koen Barbé (Landbouwkrediet), Kevin Van Melsen (Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda's), Thomas Bertolini (Farnese), Kenny Dehaes (Lotto-Belisol) and Julien Fouchard (Cofidis)
Peloton at 5:00
Matti Breschel signed with Rabobank last year to lead them in the Classics. Well, his knee problems put a stop to that idea in 2011, but the Dane is back stronger than ever. He put in a strong performance in the E3 Prijs, but the final “click” is still lacking. He hopes to find it in time for the Tour of Flanders, though.
They always say it is easier to become number one than it is to stay there, and hasn't Philippe Gilbert just been living proof of that. He dominated things in 2011, but this year he has been struggling. Continued dental problems – and can't we all sympathize with that? -- are still dragging him down. The BMC captain will be on the bike again today though, still looking for a change of fortune.
Yup, the field is definitely happy to let this group go. The gap is now 6:30. There is still a looooooooong way to go, and those climbs won't be around for a while either.
Fabian Cancellara probably believes in the saying, “If it weren't for bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all.” Three punctures and two crashes in the E3 Prijs knoecked him out of contention. Plus the whole season hasn't really gone as hoped. He had an impressive win the Strade Bianche, and won the Tirenno-Adriatico time trial, but got pipped at the line in Milan-San Remo. You're not going to see this RadioShack-Nissan rider give up, though.
Over seven minutes now, and no one in the peloton feels the need to head up a chase.
Gent-Wevelgem is always an exciting race, with its share of drama. Mario Cipollini chasing down a break group to win the sprint – and then being disqualified the next year for throwing water btottles at a race car. Nico Mattan drafting behind motorbikes to chase and overtake Juan Antonio Flecha for the win. George Hincapie winning a sprint, Tom Boonen winning a sprint......
Check out our gallery of memories here.
A puncture for Isaychev.
We have several former winners here today. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) has won it twice, including in 2011. Mark Cavendish and his Sky teammates Bernie Eisel have all won here, as well.
WE have a change in the lead group. Someone along the line made a mistake identifing one of the riders. It is not Kenny De Haes of Lotto-Belisol, but rather Yuriy Krivtsov of Lampre.
Here is the updated situation and it probably won't surprise you to learn that the gap has increased again. It is now up to 8:40.
Ion Izagirre Insausti (Euskaltel), Vladimir Isaychev (Katusha), Anders Lund (Saxo Bank), Stijn Neirynck (Topsport Vlaanderen), Koen Barbé (Landbouwkrediet), Kevin Van Melsen (Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda's), Thomas Bertolini (Farnese), Yuriy Krivtsov (Lampre) and Julien Fouchard (Cofidis)
Peloton at 8:40
Needless to say, that last posting for the kms left was wrong. They have ridden 51.6km out of 243km total. NOT only 51.6km left!
But wouldn't the break group be happy if it was that way?
Oscar Freire (Katusha) was caught short at the finish in the E3 Prijs and was pipped by Tom Boonen. The Spaniard knows it was his own fault and we doubt it will happen again.
The gap has increased again, and is now 9:10. None of the teams back in the peloton -- over four km behind the leaders, by the way -- seem to feel any need to exert themselves. Yet.
Peter Sagan of Liquigas is another rider with a good chance here today. He is also another rider who admits to having made mistakes in the E3 Prijs.
John Degenkolb of Project 1t4i thought he had a good chance of winning the E3 Prijs and was very disappointed with his sixth place finish. Thnk he will do better than that today?
Handing things over to Dan now, who was at the start.
So our leaders have 9:20 on the field
Le Vert Mont 166km
Triple world champion Oscar Freire (Katusha) was a close second behind Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) on Friday afternoon in the E3-Prijs Harelbeke. Freire didn’t know the finish area too well and figured there was still a few meters to go. This morning in Deinze the Spaniard arrived late at the sign-on table and didn’t want to think too much about his mistimed sprint of Harelbeke. “It’s a different finish [than E3-Prijs Harelbeke].” Today Freire is among the top favorites if it comes down to a bunch sprint but Freire feared that a group might stay away. “Before the finish we have a really hard race. It can be complicated with the roads and climbs. A lot of riders can do something here. I think I did this race four times and sometimes a small group goes to the finish. It’s too difficult to know how the race will unfold.”
Freire is certainly in very good form. He was strong in Tirreno too but his sprint at E3 really showed that the 36-year-old still has the legs.
From today's break: Krivtsov is 33 and became a naturalized French citizen in 2010, and was able to start riding as a Frenchman last year. His best season was 2003, with Jean Delatour, when he won stages at the Tour of Romandie, Circuit de la Sarthe and Tour de l'Avenir.
At the start this morning we took this gallery of images.
As well as this video with World Champion Mark Cavendish.
There not much wind out on the course today so we should see all the action on the climbs, with little chance of the peloton splitting into echelons.
The first two climbs of the Casselberg shouldn't have too much effect on the race and there's roughly 20 km from the base of the second descent to the next climb.
From there though the bergs come thick and fast with the Kemmel and Baneberg set to be decisive.
We've gone through the feed and the bunch are close to Alveringem. From that point it's roughly 30km to the first climb of the day.
Cancellara at the start:
“I’m here to see how it goes. First it was in doubt if I could start but in the end I had a good treatment from the osteopath, doctor and soigneur. We did the maximum to get out of it. Now we’re here and we’ll see how it goes. The ambitions are for sure less than they were on Friday. I feel like I finished a war but survived. I’m pretty lucky that nothing more happened and that I could arrive. In the race, right after those crashes, you don’t feel the pain but the day after and especially last night I really didn’t have a good sleep. We’ll see. You don’t see anything but sometimes when you don’t see it there’s even more pain. Thankfully I have the support from Trek. It probably hurts them even more than myself. That’s life as an athlete and as a cyclist and you have to live with that. I was never so down with so many bad luck. I’m looking for positive signs now.”
Cancellara could be the difference between a group staying away and a sprint. The Swiss rider was in great form despite his back luck in E3 and we've seen him drop an entire bunch in Belgian races before.
The gap has dropped by 50 seconds or so. It's now 8:35.
Gilbert has started today. Tooth problems are the reason he's been so sluggish in recent weeks. He's certainly not in the form he had at this stage last season but he still has some time to recover for the Ardennes. Flanders is probably a case of too much too soon.
Gilbert's former teammate, Andre Greipel, is here and does look in slightly better nick. This is probably the German's best chance of winning a spring classic. He was out-thought and out-classed by Cavendish in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne last month but we all know that if he gets the final few kms right he's as fast as anyone in the world.
And at the start this morning we also caught up with American Taylor Phinney. You can watch the video interview here.
Another minute has been sliced off the lead group's advantage. It's down to 7:35.
One team we've not really talked about this morning is Farnese Vini. The Italian team were incredibly aggressive in E3 putting a number of riders in the break. Oscar Gatto was the last man standing and Pippo Pozzato was with the best on the climbs. They came away from the race empty handed so they'll be motivated for today.
Garmin are on the front right now with a bit of help from Omega
100km of racing left, with the gap between the break and the peloton at 7:22
Cavendish is near the front of the field with Eisel and a handful of other Sky riders for company.
And Jeremy Hunt is also present. The veteran Brit a key part of Cavendish's team.
GreenEdge also close to the front. Matthew Goss is also at the race and the Australian team will go top of the WorldTour rankings today if Albasini can keep hold of his lead in Catalunya and Goss gets a decent result here.
GreenEdge will be looking to make the race as hard as possible and expose any of Cavendish's weaknesses on the climbs. They helped drop him in Sam Remo, can they do it again?
And they're doing a good job now, with two men on the front as we hit the Catsberg.
O'Grady has called the team to the front and they're putting down the hammer.
94km remaining and the gap is at 6:28
Correction the leaders are on the second ascent of the Casselberg.
Sky and Greenedge both on the front of the bunch as they tackle the climb.
GreenEdge lead the bunch over the top of the climb, a few of their riders grabbing fresh bottles. 88km to go.
The Australian team mean business and they're continuing to set the pace at the head of the peloton. It's causing chaos behind with a number of riders being dropped. The bunch has blown apart. It looks like Oscar Freire has been caught out.
The bunch is in three main groups.
Freire is at the back of the second group, that contains a lot of Liquigas riders.
Garmin, Sky both have their leaders in the front group.
The second and third groups have merged.
Gilbert is in the second group.
Paolini has a problem with his bike and is forced to stop by the road side.
O'Grady take a turn on the front and there's still a huge group off the back of the bunch.. The chase isn't organised though. The gap around 15-20 seconds.
Ballan, Cancellara are both in the lead group.
Matt Wilson takes over from O'Grady on the front
FDJ and Lampre are leading he chase in the second main peloton.
The second peloton are 45 seconds down on the GreenEdge led bunch.
The only big name who appears to have been caught out is Gilbert, who is in the second main peloton - the third group on the road. Cavendish, Boonen, Pozzato, Goss, and Cancellara all in the lead group.
GreenEdge have eased off slightly and Cav has moved to near the front of the peloton, making sure he's well-positioned. All of that energy has reduced the gap to the break to 4:48 with 75km to race.
Eisel is on the front of the bunch, Cav on his wheel.
The break is on the lower slopes of Le Vert Mont
Mark Renshaw needs a new wheel and a Rabobank teammate kindly provides him with one.
Vansummeren makes his first appearance at the front of the bunch, and drags a number of Garmin riders along with him. Astana also have numbers at the front , but GreenEdge are still there too.
63km of racing left and the gap is 3:48
Cancellara has been back to see the race doctor, perhaps still feeling the effects of his crashes in E3.
The bunch hit the base of the Baneberg with Quickstep setting the pace.
Steegmans is the man on the front, while Cancellara gets a front wheel from a teammate
Stannard is on the radio trying to get instructions from the Sky team car
He's obviously made it back to the peloton and he's decided to test his legs. It's on a flat section of road and he's not got a huge gap. Sky immediately close it down.
Cavendish is glued to Eisel's back wheel.
Tuft has moved to the front as well. He can ride on the front of the bunch for hours but he's not really suited so some of the climbs. He'll do a job for GreenEdge though.
Mark Renshaw finally makes it back to the bunch after a long, long chase after a puncture.
The gap to the leaders is down to 2;56 and the break are struggling.
Next up for the bunch is the Kemmelburg.
Pozzato at the front, Sagan is also there.
Pozzato setting the pace on the lower slopers. Cavendish is around half-way in the bunch, close to Freire.
Pozzato is slowly pulling away with Stannard on his wheel.
Sorry, make that Hayman and Pippo's move has been closed down.
It wasn't really an attack but his pace was such that a number of riders couldn't hold his wheel.
He looks more and more like the Pozzato of 2009.
No real splits in the bunch on the first climb of the Kemmel.
With 50km to go the lead is down to 2:13
George Hincapie is on the front. BMC, probably working for Hushovd and Van Avermaet.
Just three climbs remaining for the bunch, the Baneberg, another trip up the Kemmel and then the Monteberg.
Sky, BMC, GreenEdge and Garmin swarm the front of the bunch. They would all take a sprint if you offered it to them now.
Lund and Insautsti have slipped clear from the break and both men are on the Baneberg. The Spaniard is riding and inspired race and leads the Saxo Bank man.
Van Avermaet is on the front of the bunch and Eisel has a quick word with him. Eisel doesnt want to chase down attacks today. He wants the bunch to stay together for the sprint.
There's a crash in the bunch
Oroz is up and back on his bike.
42km to go and the gap is at 3:10.
A bit more life from the bunch after a slight lull with BMC on the front. Omega have been very quiet so far, haven't they?
The pace is going to remain high as we head towards the Kemmel for the second and final time. The break have lost 20 seconds in no time at all.
Rabobank playing their cards and moving their men to the head of the bunch, while up ahead the two leaders tackle the Kemmel for the final time. The Spaniard sets the early pace.
The remnants of the break start the climb, with the bunch 2:45 back.
Oss leads the bunch onto the climb, Breschel close by, Van Avermaet too.
There's an attack, from Breschel.
Boonen is sitting tight, Cavendish too. And Gilbert.
Breschel has two seconds but BMC are chasing him down.
Kittel is there too.
Breschel, Oss, then Ballan over the top.
No real gaps though and it's all going to come back together.
We've not mentioned Bennati but he was second last year and he's looked good so far today.
Meanwhile our two leaders are on the final climb of the day, with a 2:19 gap with 35km to race.
Well there have been a few splits in the main field on the Kemmel. Can they be exposed further on the Monteberg?
Paolini is leading a group of around 15 riders clear but Van Avermaet attacks and Breschel is straight on his wheel to close it down.
Cancellara and Sagan are both in the lead group and trade attacks and they're both away.
They have to do something because with a gap of 1:48 and 32km to race this race is far from over.
The bunch is coming back together again, but slowly. Cancellara and Sagan are still away.
Boonen, Freire and Breschel are both in the chase group.
Cancellara, and Sagan have caught the main part of the original break. The Swiss rider moves straight to the front of the group and sets the pace.
Sagan takes a turn - he's clearly not watched San Remo.
So we have two leaders, the Cancellara group, followed by a group that contains around 15 riders including Paolini, Brsschel, Boonen .Then the peloton that has Cavendish. No sign of where Goss and Greipel are.
Two Quickstep riders on the front of the chase group, which is 16 seconds down on Cancellara.
Freire is in the Boonen group.
The Cancellara group is about to be caught.
So the two leaders, Lund and Insausti have 1:02 on the bunch with 25 km to race.
Cavendish is with Greipel and Degenklob in a group further back.
And now Susan will take over for the rest of the race.
I'm back and if I can ever figure out who is in what group.....
38 seconds for our two leaders over the Cancellara/Boonen group, with the Cavendish/Greipel group at 53 seconds.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step is looking for a bit of help in the chase, "encouraging" the other riders to take their turn.
17km and 17 seconds to the first group, 47 to the second group.
A noble effort by Lund and Insautsi, but they have no chance again the interests of the sprinters.
Ad that was it for the two leaders. They are caught.
Things are looking bad for the Cavendish group. They have lost time and are now about 40 seconds back. No one seems to want to help Sky bring Cav up to the front, wonder why....
Ciolek, Paolini, Langeved are amongst those keeping the pace high at the front of things.
Looks like the lead group is about 30 men strong.
GAllopin punctured and now has to hurry back up to the field.
Things are defintely looking bleak for the Cavendish group -- they are now one minute down.
Bennati also punctured back there and is very close behind his team car in his attempt to get back to the front.
Cavendish attacks! YEs, really! He wants this, and decided it is time to take matters into his own hands.
Bennati has weaved his way through the cars and motorbikes and reached the field. But will he have anything left for a sprint?
Cav's attack didn't bring him anything. It is now officially over for his group, as they are 1:30 down with only 7k left to go.
Boonen's team has once again grasped control of the group.
They are setting such a high pace that the field is strung out single file.
Ciolek and Steegmans have done their duty, and now fall off the back of the field.
With 4 km to go , there is a bit of looking around -- who is still here?
Two km to go....setting up the "group gallop".
The final km! Who will go first?
Liquigas opens the sprint...
Sagan gives it his all, but it is Boonen who takes his second consecute Gent-Wevelgem!
There was a crash shortly before the finish. At least one rider is still done and looks like he will have to be taken to hospital.
Rojas was one of those who went down.
Sagan takes second and Breschel third.
Here, in fact, is today's top ten:
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
2 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
3 Matti Breschel (Den) Rabobank Cycling Team
4 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Katusha Team
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
6 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Radioshack-Nissan
7 Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
8 Steve Chainel (Fra) FDJ-BigMat
9 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Farnese Vini - Selle Italia
10 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team
Thanks for joining us, and be sure to stay with us in the coming weeks for all the Classics action!