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Today's breakaway went off after only two kilometres. We have a three-men group in front: Olivier Kaisen (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Jérome Pineau (Quick Step) and Tom Stamsnijder (Rabobank). Their lead was quickly established with the peloton willing to let them go. After 40 kilometres, the escape had build up an eight-minute advantage.
Martin Kohler (BMC Racing) did not start the stage today. The Swiss rider was victim to one of those many crashes the nervous race saw on Sunday.
As a consequence of the pancake-flat profile, the day will be a sprinter's feast. One of the top fast men will certainly take the stage, with the maglia rosa a further incentive for those within reach. With plenty of bonus seconds on offer (20, 12 and 8 for the first three place), yesterday's stage winner Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions), his clostest and greatest rival André Greipel, as well as Matt Goss (both HTC-Columbia) and Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank) could all have a shot at the leader's jersey today.
Speaking of which, the overall favourites will again have to be very cautious as traffic islands as well as cross winds so common at the coast could provide for crashes and wind echelons. At the moment, there is some rear breeze coming from North-East at about 25-35 km/h, which means the peloton has a light back wind throughout most of the stage. But the last 20 kilometres might prove to be more tricky.
Temperatures are tolerable, around 12°C. At least the sun is out with only a few scattered clouds in the sky.
One uncertainty the riders must live with today is how they're going to get back to Italy this evening. With the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull again spitting its unfriendly ashes over Europe, airports in Northern Italy are currently closed, which could mean a nasty train or bus ride over more than 1,000 kilometres for our poor riders. And the loss of the rest day tomorrow!
Cyclingnews is still gathering information on this situation and will keep you posted once decisions have been taken.
At the intermediate sprint of Zoetermeer, Stamsnijder took the points in front of Pineau and Kaisen.
Their advantage has been slightly reduced to 7'35", as BMC's Jeff Louder and Brent Bookwalter have been making the pace at the front of the peloton.
The breakaway loses more ground, slowly but steadily. At km 80, their lead is only 6'45".
Even if BMC is taking its responsibilities now as the leading team, it is highly unlikely that the squad will keep the maglia rosa tonight. Even if they wanted it - it is still very early in the race to defend it all though to the finish - the other teams' sprinters certainly have more finishing speed than Cadel Evans. He said so himself!
"We will not look at keeping the jersey at any cost," Evans said yesterday. "Farrar is only one second behind me. I'm not going to look for bonus seconds on the road tomorrow against him. But I'll drop him off on the Zoncolan if he’s still there!"
The race has passed the feed zone at km 105. Even though the break still has the wind in their backs, its lead is shrinking continually, now at 4'05". Won't be long until the sprinters' teams take over.
Today's finish in Middelburg might again be very hectic and nervous. There is a final bend of the road with 300 metres to go, which will certainly mess up anyone's lead-out train. Hopefully there won't be too many traffic islands and the riders will get to the finish in one bit.
Speaking of the devil: A minor crash just occurred in the bunch, with Rene Mandri (AG2R La Mondiale) going down amongst others. But everyone got back up again quickly and continued on.
It's getting tighter and tighter for the breakaway, as it's currently only 3'05" up the road. If the bunch catches it long before the race finale, we might see some counter-attacks. In any case, the riders are in a hurry again today...
One of the ecapists, Dutchman Tom Stamsnijder, is now equal with Richie Porte (Team Saxo Bank), the leader of the young rider classification. Stamsnijder took the intermediate sprint earlier in the stage, scoring six bonus seconds. The 25-year-old could therefore take over the jersey from Porte if his prologue time was just a hundredth of a second better than the one of the Australian...
Only 1'40" left for the escape with 100 kilometres to go. Astana is now pulling the bunch to keep Alexander Vinokourov out of trouble. The Kazakh is only three seconds adrift behind race leader Evans.
With 27 kms to go, in Westkappelle, the bunch will turn South towards Vlissingen, where another bend up North will occur until they reach Middelburg. The current rear wind will thus become a cross wind from two different directions which may see the peloton split up again, just like yesterday. They'll have to watch out!
News has reached us that the riders will "probably" still be able to board their flights to Italy this evening, even if airports there are still closed. The ash cloud is causing much controversy in Europe as some airlines have stopped their flights, others haven't... the same goes for airports.
We are awaiting confirmation but it seems that the riders won't have to take any buses fortunately.
The peloton is racing alongside the beach, and a first group has lost contact with the main bunch, trying to catch up as it is about 15 seconds behind. Doesn't seem to include any big names, though.
The breakaway, meanwhile, was caught at km 134.
There are three Cofidis riders chasing at the front of the second group, helped by an AG2R.
Evans looks well-protected in his pink jersey in the middle of the peloton. Now they are single file as they speed through a small town.
Three riders of Colnago-CSF Inox are also chasing hard - it is Domenico Pozzovivo. They've also lost contact to the main bunch, they are in the second group.
The race situation is a bit messy but with what we've been able to gather there are three groups: the main bunch around race leader Cadel Evans, another one about 45 seconds behind, including several Lampre riders and their leader Damiano Cunego, and a third one with Pozzovivo.
They are crossing the Oosterschelde Bridge. The Pozzovivo group has joined the bunch around Cunego. They are 1'05" adrift - a massive loss for Cunego.
Team Sky and Columbia are sharing the pacemaking.
Sorry, readers: Pozzovivo is still further back from the Cunego group. He is with four teammates and some other riders.
They are racing around huge roundabouts with wind turbines everywhere. No surprise in this windy coastal region.
There is still some wind, enough for echelons, but it is not blowing overly hard. One of our reporters on the ground, Stephen Farrand, reports that "the final circuit is terrible with speed bumps, corners, paved roads, and a final turn that is slighlty down hill." Adrenaline will be pumping.
In the thrid group, Colnago-CSF desperately chases to limit the loss of time for their leader Pozzovivo. It's hard for 15 riders agains a whole bunch.
The Cunego group, meanwhile, is only 20 seconds adrift now, coming back.
Petacchi gets a rear wheel change from one of his teammates, who in turn waves his bike to signal he's in need of a new wheel! They're off to chase back now... will be hard.
Petacchi has one teammate with him to bridge back up to the bunch, which is just splitting up again... The Cunego group is back within the bunch but it's terribly fast now, single file through a small town.
Columbia is still in charge of the peloton, which has eased up a bit. Petacchi is close by in a small group with Masciarelli.
They are four Lampre riders leading that group now.
Two Caisse d'Epargne, one Garmin and one Liguigas rider went down!
It's Sabatini for Liquigas. He's up and back on the bike. So are the two Caisse d'Epargnes.
It was Christian Vande Velde. He was clutching his collar bone when he got up from the road. No other news at the moment...
Things are splitting up again badly now. Strung out. During the crash, even the Pozzovivo group came back somewhat, with Petacchi still chasing, too. But there are groups all over the place now.
Liquigas is putting on the pace at the front of the peloton, with Astana's Vinokourov also there. But another group including several Astana riders is further back.
Petacchi is still in the third group, with a second chase group still behind the front peloton. Petacchi is doing some work himself to try and get back.
The race is in Zoutelande, there is a head wind now. All the favourites are in the first group, it seems. Evans and Vinokourov definitely are.
The Petacchi group has sat up somewhat. The Italian had a puncture earlier on, and the other sprinter teams took advantage of it.
We have received confirmation that Vande Velde has quit the race. We hope his collarbone is not broken but it unfortunately looked like it.
Wiggins is racing just in front of Vinokourov in the peloton. He doesn't seem to have any Sky teammates with him, though.
Let's try and figure out which sprinters are in the first group.
Basso is also still there.
Greipel is at the front, so is Farrar and Henderson.
Another crash! Four Sky riders are down, Pablo Lastras seems hurt.
Wiggins is also involved, scraped but upright.
Evans is chasing by himself! This is dramatic.
Evans is chasing all by himself - he's made it back to the front group now.
The roads are impossible. They twist and turn all the time, speed ramps, traffic islands, roundabouts...
We havea bunch of about 30 riders in front now, with Evans in a third group about 30 seconds back.
It is confusing as to who is in which group here. Is Greipel in the first or second group?
Evans takes off from his chase group. His rivals Vinokourov and Basso are in the lead group, so he has to.
Vinokourov, on the other hand, is doing his best to drive things away so he can pick up time on Evans and take over the lead.
Evans leads the chsse group. Now M. Fothen of Milram moves to help.
HTC-Columbia is leading the front group, so Greipel must be in there.
Thirty seconds now for Evans. Looks like he will lose the pink jersey.
HTC-Columbia keeping the tempo up. Evans still fighting hard.
THe final run-in could be a tricky one, with a sharp turn in the last km.
HTC-Columbia forms its train, within the last km now. Sieberg leads things.
Hondo close to Greipel.
The last curve.
Greipel nowhere to be seen. Graeme Brown tries to go for it, but Wouter Weylandts takes the win.
Greipel faded suddenly, very odd. A Milram rider is third, Robert Förster.
Greipel ended up sixth. Evans was relatively far back.
Evans crossed the line some 45 seconds down, with Wiggins and the Sky group only now coming in at four minutes.
Alexandre Vinkoourov is the new leader, with Richie Porte second in the same time. David Millar is third.
Another crash-filled day, unfortunately.
It looks like the riders will be flying to Italy tonight, instead of hopping a bus tomorrow. However they get there, it means a day off from racing. Thanks for reading along and be sure to join us again on Wednesday for the team time trial.
And a large group is now crossing the finish line, at eight minutes.