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The BMC Teammachine of the American GC hopeful
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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage from Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. After the excitement and entertainment Omloop provided yesterday, we're looking forward to the second Belgian race of the weekend.
So far, after an hour of racing the peloton is still together. There have been a number of moves off the front but so far nothing has stuck.
Sylvain Chavanel is one of the riders who has been aggressive on the front of the bunch.
You can check out today's official start list right here.
And here's a gallery of images from the start.
In terms of the course, it's not as testing as Omloop but there's still enough to make this a very difficult race.
There are 8 bergs in total:
Cote du Truie
The final climb comes nearly 60 kilometres from the finish.
It's a race suited to the sprinters in the field, although it's far from an easy race.
Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Tom Boonen, Mark Renshaw, Greg Van Avermaet, Tyler Farrar, Yauheni Hutarovich, and John Degenkolb have all started so there's certainly enough teams who will be working towards a possible sprint at the finish.
Cavendish on race radios not being in the race:
The riders who were in the front yesterday said it adds to the excitement but I don’t think it’s good. With radios it’s much safer. In Qatar and Oman there were two ambulances on the road coming our way and cars which weren’t towed away
Yesterday the group rode away and the only information the ardoisier showed us was the gap they had. After a long time it eventually showed Flecha, Boonen and Vanmarcke but by that time the gap was too big
Cavendish at the start this morning
Jens Debusschere crashed before the start of the race. The Lotto rider running out of road in the neutralized zone and crashing into a flower bed.
We have seven leaders off the front of the bunch now.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Jérôme Baugnies (Netapp), Julien Fouchard (Cofidis), Koen Barbe (Landbouwkrediet), Gilles Devillers (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony), Nico Eeckhout (An Post - Sean Kelly) and Preben Van Hecke (Wallonie Bruxelles - Credit Agricole).
We're just waiting for a reference point but it looks like they've already got over a minute on the bunch. Six Belgians, one Frenchman in the move.
The time gap is 2:30. They in fact cleared the field after 65km of racing.
You could have bet your house on Nico 'Rambo' Eeckhout making it into the break.
Many teams came here for a bunch sprint and we aim for it as well but this is a classic so you can’t predict what is going to happen
The bunch look comfortable with this move and it's going to stick. Sky, Lotto, Rabobank and Garmin will all have to chase.
What's interesting is Van Avermaet A. going on the attack and B that the bunch let him go. He's won a Classic and he's clearly in form - he took 5th yesterday.
Perhaps he's not feeling 100% and the team is using him as a decoy. Either way, we'll find out in due course.
Eeckhout, 41 now, turned pro in 1993 with Collstrop and has ridden for 7 different teams in his long career. He's scored wins in all but two season in his career and still has the hunger for these suicide breaks.
The lead is now 5:10 between the bunch and the seven-man break.
The next climb on the course is La Houppe. It's 1880m in length, with a max gradient of 10%. The average gradient is 4.8%.
From there the climbs come in fairly quick succession, before the long flat run in to the finish.
Traksel, who won this race two years ago has a flat and pulls over on the side of the road.
The weather: So far there's no rain but it's overcast and cold. The gap is down to 4:30 and we've got 94km to race.
Van Avermaet is working well in the group and takes a long pull on the front. He's a danger man so it's no surprise that the bunch aren't giving him too much rope.
The smaller Belgian teams are getting some valuable airtime with this break though and they'll be looking to stretch this out for as long as possible.
My info on the climbs was all wrong. All wrong. The leaders are already on the Kruisberg. Honest.
Van Avermaet is setting the pace and it's causing a few riders to pop off the back. Rambo takes over and sets a more acceptable pace and all seven riders make it over the top together.
We spoke to Van Avermaet's mechanic at the start today. Apparently he had some problems with his stem yesterday and it kept shifting. Everything looks fine today.
Rollin lead the bunch over the top of the climb and briefly had a gap as Flecha couldnt hold his wheel.
The bunch are back together again now with the leaders now on the Oude Kwaremont.
Van Avermaet is on the front again and setting the pace.
The BMC ride has a gap now.
Oh no he doesnt. Rambo is straight on his wheel. Did Rambo, the real Rambo have a catch phrase?
So 81km to the finish. Van Avermaet and Eeckhout have a small gap on the break with the bunch at 2:40.
The peloton are on the climb now and Sky and Rabo, with Topsport are setting the pace.
Two riders from Rabobank are taking firm charge of the bunch and it looks like they've caused a major split with around a dozen riders going free.
Flecha is in second wheel, riding with his jacket in his mouth. He throws it to the floor now and grabs a drink. The Rabobank boys look back to survey the damage but ti looks like things are coming back together.
There are a few riders off the back but none of the main favourites.
Boonen and Van Summeren head to the front now. And there's a big gap now. It looked done but Rabobank have split the bunch.
Ballan, Boonen, Boom, Flecha, Summeren, there are a lot of dangerous riders in the group, with about 20 in total. Hayman is there. Degenkolb, Stannard and either Farrar or Rosseller. Gatto is also there.
The big losers look to be Lotto, who are chasing hard. Greipel has missed the split. In fact all the Lotto riders have.
The gap to the Boonen, Flecha group is about 150 meters
I think that is Farrar in the Boonen group, so he's done well to make it across.
The problem is getting organised. Sky aren't riding so Rabobank are doing most of the work. Ballan has told BMC to work though, effectively chasing down Van Avermaet, and Garmin are working now too.
Back in the main bunch and Lotto are having to do all of the work on the front.
The Van Avermaet group has 1:56 on Boonen and the bunch is 2:30 back.
Van Avermaet and Rambo have been caught by the rest of the early break.
This is a key section of the race. If the Boonen group can put another 45 seconds to a minute into Greipel by the time we reach the final climb they could decide the race.
Still no help for Lotto. At least they've got the whole team there.
It's a bit early to be using your sprint train but Greipel has no choice and the entire Lotto team or what's left of them are on the front of the chasing bunch.
69km to go. Boonen and co at 1:25, the bunch at 2:16
Cavendish peaks his head out from the peloton to see what's going on and then goes back to hiding.
The Boonen group has a minute on the bunch now.
Vacansoleil have come to Lotto's aid and put their men on the front. That's a bit strange as they've got men in the Boonen group.
Riders jumping onto the pavement in order to avoid rough cobbled sections.
The Van Avermaet group has 43 seconds on the Boonen/Flecha/Ballan group. The bunch is 1:28 back so it looks like it's starting to come back together. A lot can change between now and the finish though.
The leaders approach the Tiegemberg, the penultimate climb of the race.
Farrar takes a turn on the front of the Boonen group. They have around 55 seconds on the Lotto led field.
Greipel has used his entire team but he's within 35 seconds of the Boonen group.
Sky aren't working in the Boonen group as you would sort of expect so Boonen takes charge and moves right to the front in a bid to get rid of the men that don't want to work.
The leaders have been caught by the Boonen brigade.
The main field is 54 seconds back. It's all working well for Cavendish at the moment.
44 seconds is the gap now.
And still Vacansoleil are doing all the chasing. Lotto are able to take some time to regroup for when the race comes back together.
This all started with an acceleration from Rabobank.
Fouchard has crashed out of the race.
It's nearly all together again. The gap is just 18 seconds. Garmin and Rabobank are still working hard though, they're not letting this one go.
Nothing is ever a certainty in cycling, is it? The gap is 24 seconds now. Boonen on the front again and BMC are also working hard.
Back in the bunch Greipel is shaking his head, clearly not happy with how things are playing out.
Eisel leads Cavendish right to the front of the bunch on the final climb and that's because Greipel has attacked.
Eisel drags it all back together.
Greipel's move has forced a split and Eisel is happy to take over as Cav is in the group.
The lead group is also starting to splinter.
The Cavendish/Greipel group is back together.
So we still have the Boonen/Ballan/Flecha group with a 22 second lead.
The lead group aren't working in harmony and they're attacking each other. And finally, after all that excitement, the race is coming back together. Slowly.
Bol (Rabobank) and Mol have a very slight lead now, both men had been in the Boonen group.
And is that? Yes, I think that's Eeckhout trying to come across. That's incredible.
Mol (Vacansoleil, Bol (Rabobank) and Eeckout (AN Post) have a slight lead with 44km to go.
Chavanel is in a small chase group but it's going to be difficult because Sky are moving to the front
Here are the names from the main Boonen group.
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda), Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), Matt Hayman (Sky), Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ-BigMat), Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia), Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team), John Degenkolb (Project 1t4i), Nico Eeckhout (An Post-Sean Kelly), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Jérôme Baugnies (Team NetApp), Koen Barbe (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony), Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda), Maarten Wynants (Rabobank), Jetse Bol (Rabobank), Denis Van Winden (Rabobank).
Dowsett is on the front for Sky and Eisel is barking orders but the Chavanel group are in fact pulling away. Hunt takes over from Dowsett.
Aliaksandr Kuchynski, Sylvain Chavanel, Nico Eeckhout, Jimmy Engoulvent, Wouter Mol, Sébastien Delfosse make up the break and they have 44 seconds. Sky still leading the chase.
Dowsett is doing the job of keeping the break in check while Hayman goes back to the cars and collects bottles for the Sky team.
Cracks me up:Gilbert,the guy the UCI used as their go-to guy for supporting the radio ban is upset there was a lack of info due to no radios
@Vaughters Sun, 26th Feb 2012 14:47:43
Flecha, Eisel, Hunt all have vents. #oldschool
@richardmoore73 Sun, 26th Feb 2012 14:47:31
The gap is going out slightly. It's at 50 seconds.
The leaders come through the finish for the first time. Chavanel leads them over the line.
No panic yet from the bunch and GreenEdge has moved their men close to the front as well. We've not talked about them much this weekend. Can they pull something out of the bag and collect their first win (for the men) in Europe.
Lotto lend Sky a hand on the front of the bunch, the gap at a 54 seconds.
Flecha goes back to the cars but Sky continue to set the pace on the front. The gap is still going up. It's at 58 seconds.
Crash. A couple of riders hit the deck after a right hand turn but everyone is back up. Barbe and Baugnies, both of whom were in the early break were the ones that went down.
The leaders head through Kortrijk and their gap is at 58 seconds still.
Jan Ghyselinck (Cofidis) is also in the break. We missed him because that's the first time he's gone to the front.
For the first time in a while the gap begins to drop, but only by a few seconds. It's at 53 seconds.
20km to go and Eeckout still has the strength to come to the front and take a turn. The gap is slowly coming down though, it's at 35 seconds and counting.
The leaders have lost roughly 30 seconds in the space of 5km and the impetus seems to have vanished. A lot of that is probably due to the headwind they're facing at the moment.
The peloton have the leaders in sight as they cross the line for the second and final time before the end of the race.
23 seconds the gap as the evergreen Eeckhout comes to the front. There's a grim inevitability about the escapees' fate but they're continuing to collaborate smoothly.
Back in the peloton, the black jerseys of Team Sky are massed on the front. After facing some criticism for their showing in Qatar and Oman, this is a big chance for the Sky lead-out train to affirm itself. The world champion Cavendish is tucked in safely near the front.
The gap is down to 13 seconds now thanks largely to the work of Eisel and Hunt.
Engoulvent and Chavanel have been the driving forces of the break over the past couple of kilometres through the outskirts of Kortrijk, but try as they might, their lead is continuing to steadily melt away.
Engoulvent tries to go it alone just as the peloton comes within touching distance of the coattails of the break. Eeckhout is quickly across to his wheel.
Eeckhout attacks and this time it's Engoulvent who follows. The remainder of the break are swallowed up, and it's unlikely this rally will last too much longer.
Back in the bunch, Sky have safely negotiated a technical section without losing any carriages from their train and Cavendish remains in position.
That's more than can be said for Jimmy Casper (Ag2r-La Mondiale). He punctures at just the wrong moment. He won't make it back in time for the sprint.
The Sky-led bunch engulfs Eeckhout and Engoulvent and the stage seems set for a bunch finish.
The orange jerseys of Rabobank are trying to outflank Sky with a rival train for their man Mark Renshaw.
Cavendish still has three riders for company with four kilometres to go.
The FDJ-BigMat squad are up here mixing it with Sky. They have two fast men in the form of Yauheni Hutarovich and Arnaud Demare.
Andre Greipel has also made his way up towards the front, shepherded by Greg Henderson.
Greipel and Alexander Kristoff are battling for Cavendish's wheel under the red kite.
Cavendish launches the sprint with 300 metres to go...
Cavendish takes the win, with a very comfortable sprint. That result was never in doubt the moment he hit the front.
Sutton led that out perfectly for Cavendish and the Manxman will be delighted with the win and with the performance of the Sky train over the final 20km.
Hutarovich was the best of the rest in second, while his young teammate Demare looked to be up there as well. Kenny Van Hummel was third for Vacansoleil-DCM, but Andre Greipel appeared to get boxed in and made no impact in the sprint.
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling
2 Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) FDJ-Big Mat
3 Kenny Robert Van Hummel (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
4 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling
2 Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) FDJ-Big Mat
3 Kenny Robert Van Hummel (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
4 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
5 Alexander Serebryakov (Rus) Team Type 1-Sanofi
6 Tom Veelers (Ned) Project 1t4i
7 Sébastien Chavanel (Fra) Team Europcar
8 Stefan Van Dijck (Ned) Accent Jobs - Willems Veranda's
9 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
10 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Belisol
Thanks for joining us for our live coverage of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne today. A fine win for Mark Cavendish, and an indication of his form just three weeks ahead of Milan-San Remo. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full results, report, pictures and reaction for Belgium.