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The Belgian Classics start today with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The 199km race includes cobbles and the terrible Flemish climbs. With cold weather and possible snow, it's going to be a great day of racing.
Hello and good morning from Cyclingnews' live race coverage.
We'll be covering all the action from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad from start to finish.
It's cold at the start in Ghent but there is a hint of some sun.
However snow is affecting other races in Europe. We've just heard that the first edition of the Drôme Classic in the south of France has been cancelled due to snow.
And they're off!
The 68th edition of the opening race of the Belgian season is underway.
It is -1C at the start, with riders wrapped up in plenty of team clothes to keep them warm.
As ever , there were huge crowds in the centre of Ghent for the start.
To prepare for all the action later in the race, read the excellent race preview by Barry Ryan. He's on the ground in Ghent and will have all the inside information for us very soon.
The stage list is packed with big-name classics contenders, including Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), Greg van Avermaert and Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing Team), Geraint Thomas, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Bernie Eisel (Team Sky) and Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cyclnig).
Watch out for 2012 winner Sep Vanmarcke (Team Blanco). The Dutch team is on a roll and the big fella could strike again.
Check out the full start list at: www.cyclingnews.com/races/omloop-het-nieuwsblad-elite-2013/start-list
Who is your favourite to win?
Let us know on the Cyclingnews Facebook page.
The riders are still all together after the opening kilometres. Nobody seems to want to go on the attack in the cold conditions.
We spoke too soon!
Andreas Schillinger (Team NetApp-Endura) is the first to attack.
Other riders are jumping across to Schillinger but the moves are pulled back by the peloton.
Luke Rowe: "I know where shit’s gonna go down. It’s gonna be the 50k to go mark, Taaienberg and Eikenberg."
@Andymcgra Sat, 23rd Feb 2013 11:00:38
The 199km race route includes 12 climbs and 8 sections of cobbles. The first climb kicks in after 60km, with the first cobbles, just before that.
A new four-rider attack goes clear.
The riders are: an Albert Timmer (Argos-Shimano), Benjamin Verraes (Accent Jobs), Jan Ghyselinck (CVofidis) and Blaz Jarc (NEtApp-Endura).
Reto Hollenstein (IAM Cycling) is trying to get across to the move, as the gap reaches 20 seconds.
The women's Omloop is also being held today. We'll bring you as much info as possible during the day.
The chase is on with the peloton not letting the four go clear just yet.
As they say in Italy: Gruppo compatto. All together.
But who will attack next?
More attacks! More riders trying to get into the early break of the day.
Will Clarke (Argos-Shimano), Florian Vachon ( Bretagne-Seche Environnement), Julien Fouchard and Nico Sijmens (Cofidis), Cyril Lemoine (Sojasun), Jérôme Cousin (Team Europcar) and Zak Dempster (NEtApp-Endura) are the seven in the move. They currently have 25 seconds.
Other riders are trying to jump across to the breakaway. It's been a fast start to the race so far. And we haven't hit the climbs yet!
Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) and Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) have got across to the seven, forming a nine-rider breakaway.
The first hour of the race was covered in a leg-hurting 46.1km/h. Ouch!
The break now has more than a minute but risked being stopped by a level crossing. Fortunately the barriers rose just before the riders arrived.
The peloton has eased off and the gap now has five minutes.
The break has covered the first cobbles of the day and is about to tackle the Leberg climb.
Greg van Avermaert (BMC Racing Team) has a puncture but is quickly back up to speed.
Checkout Barry Ryan's photo gallery from the start in Ghent: www.cyclingnews.com/news/photos/start-gallery-omloop-het-nieuwsblad
The break now has a lead of 4:45 on the peloton after the first climb.
Crash! We have a big stack up in the peloton.
Gert Dockx (Lotto Belisol) seems the most seriously injured. He's being treated by the race doctor.
Dockx has been forced to retire and is on his way to hospital for treatment.
Who is your tip to win today?
Saturday morning’s edition of newspaper Het Nieuwsblad ranked its five favourites for victory in the race that bears its name as follows: 1. Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-ISD), 2. Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol), 3. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), 4. Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), 5. Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco Pro Cycling).
With some 80km covered, the race has now covered the first four climbs of the day. The Oude Steenweg is next.
The race speed was an average of 36.9km/h for the second hour, as the hills kicked in. The average race speed is now 42.5km/h. Pretty brisk for a cold day in Belgium!
Collar bone injury for Gert Dockx. Now to the hospital. Hopefully not broken. #ohn
@Lotto_Belisol Sat, 23rd Feb 2013 12:48:54
The race has just crossed the river in Geraardsbergen, with the gap down to 4:18, thanks to Team Blanco picking up the chase.
We are getting close to the half way point in the race and it is almost time for the feed zone.
Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) is one of the big favourites today. Barry Ryan spoke to him at the start.
“Well, I hope that being picked as favourite doesn’t bring me bad luck,” Pozzato said. “My condition is good but it’s always hard to win because there are a lot of strong contenders. The cold? I’m not worried about it. It’s normal here, we’re in Belgium.”
The riders have now past through the town of Brakel as they towards the sixth climb: the Valkenberg.
Speaking on the signing on podium in Ghent this morning, Taylor Phinney described himself as a “wildcard” for BMC in today’s race. The American was in fine form at the Tour of Qatar, and his team today includes Thor Hushovd and Greg Van Avermaet.
“Thor is at a much higher level this year than last and Greg is going very well too,” Phinney said. “On a good day, we can have five or six guys up there in the final. Our tactic is the numbers we have and the strength that we have.”
The temperature may still be cold but the racing is warming up.
The lead of the break has dropped to below four minutes.
The gap is melting slowly like snow on Belgian cobbles. Team Blanco is still leading the chase.
Tom Boonen isn’t the top favourite he often used to be at the Omloop due to his recent problems. The Belgian star has somehow never won the Belgian opening classic. Last year Boonen came very close but he was beaten in the sprint by Sep Vanmarcke. At the start in Ghent Boonen talked about the cold and his different role in the team. “I’m wearing the warmest kit I have. I’m not afraid of the cold but I respect it. I know what it can do if combined with these distances. I expect 85 percent of the riders to become a spectator,” Boonen said. “We start like we always do, offensive. We’ll see who’s good in the team. I don’t have the big move in my legs but maybe in my hand, by staying behind with some others,” Boonen said. Boonen’s teammate Nikki Terpstra added that he likes the team tactic. “I always have to ride in the offensive if I want to achieve anything,” Terpstra said.
The gap is down to below three minutes now. The race is about to get serious.
The peloton can smell the breakaway now and the big teams are gathering at the front.
Frédéric Amorison (Crelan - Euphony) takes a tumble but seems ok.
The break is on the Kruisberg now and is splitting under the effort of Cousin up front. Will Clarke is the first victim.
Garmin-Sharp is now on the front behind. Position before the Kruisberg is very important
The peloton is over the Kruisberg ut now there more climbs and more section of pave.
Hold on to your seats. The race is about to explode!
Women's update #OHN 15 girls in the breakaway. Behind the breakaway a group of 25 riders with #1t4i riders Charlotte Becker and Willeke Knol
@1t4i Sat, 23rd Feb 2013 13:52:52
Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) is caught up in a crash and is holding his wrist. His race is over.
Up front, the peloton is spread across the road as riders are picked up from the break.
Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) tests his legs on the section of cobbles but then sits up and waits for the peloton.
The roads are little wider than a track now. The peloton will be squeezed here very soon.
The break splits on the Taaienberg. There are just five riders left up front now.
We have winner in the women's race: Tiffany Cromwell from the Orica-AIS team survived the terrible cold conditions to give the Australian team another important win.
The peloton is splitting into several lines of riders.
It's time for the Taaienberg!
After the splits, the peloton is hesitating slightly.
Omega Pharma is looking to boss the racing.
The peloton sweeps ruond a tight right turn and tackles the Varent climb. More and more gaps are opening in the pack.
Haussler was looking good is reported to have crashed now.
Haussler crashed hard and was clearly in pain.
Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) is now leading a small group but the peloton is just 22km behind.
Fouchard and Sijmens (COF), Chavanel (OPQ), Cousin (EUC), Bandiera (IAM) and Van Hecke (TSV) lead the race at the moment but Thomas (SKY) Boom (Blanco) and Van Avermaert (BMC) are coming up fast.
The Leberg is causing further splits and pain.
According to Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol) the BMC team would be one of the strongest blocks out there in the cold to be reckoned with.
"The strongest teams are BMC, Blanco and Omega Pharma-Quickstep,” Roelandts said. The former Belgian champion is the team leader for the Belgian Lotto-Belisol team and bridged up solo to the first chase group just a minute ago. “We already had some wins with five different riders. Everybody is in a good shape. I’m the team leader but that will not change my style of racing which is always based on my sensations.”
The former Belgian champion is wearing a special helmet of which he said at the start that it was more aerodynamic and warmer.
The front group is coming together and could go clear if they work together.
Chavanel is still pushing hard slightly off the front as he starts the Leberg.
Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) is leading the chase of Chavanel.
Behind Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp) stops next to a team vehicle and calls it a day.
Just 30 or so riders remain in the main peloton.
Boonen, Boasson Hagen, Hushovd are there.
But the gap is 1:40 now. Their race seems over.
Chavanel is pushing on alone up front, with the chasers at 20 seconds.
The chasers are letting Chavanel hang out front. This has become a very tactical race as the Molenberg begins.
Greg Van Avermaert (BMC) is leading the chase and putting down a lot of power on the climb. He's gapped the others.
The Molenberg is the final climb of the race, but three cobbled sections remain, with a final section close to the finish in Ghent.
Vanmarcke and Boonen lead the peloton but their race is virtually over. They are 1:50 behind the leaders.
Up front Chavanel is now in the group with Eynants, Thomas, Bandiera, Paolini and Van Avermaert. There are 10 riders in total.
Offredo is trying to inspire a chase behind but nobody else wants to help him.
The selection has been made and these 10 riders will surely fight it out for victory.
Who is your tip?
Paolini is crafty and a fast finisher, Bandiera was on form in Oman last week, as was van Avermaert. Thomas showed his early season form in Australia and Chavanel is always classy.
Roelandts cannot be ruled out, while Vandenbergh is a threat too.
Egoitz Garcia Echeguibel (Cofidis) is easy to spot in his yellow overshoes and helmet. Can he be the big surprise of the race?
The better sprinters are happy to sit back and wait for the finish for now but riders like Thomas will have to split the group very soon.
We spoke too soon. Paolini and Vandenbergh have opened a slight gap.
The two are carving out a growing gap and behind they don't seem to have the strength or desire to chase them down.
Matteo Trentin is said to have broken his carpal bone when he crashed earlier. Ouch!
Bit of a raw deal for Vandenbergh this, shelter-wise.
@friebos Sat, 23rd Feb 2013 15:01:51
Paolini is pretty small and can sit nicely behind the much bigger Vandenbergh.
Thomas is doing a turn on the front behind but the gap is now 32 seconds as the riders hit the final section of pave.
There is one short section just before the finish but the pain is largely over now.
The gap is up to 38 seconds now. It will surely come down to a two-rider sprint.
Stijn Vandenbergh is not a sprinter, while Paolini is fast and experienced. The Big Belgian will have to try a late attack if he hopes to win.
Wynants, van Avermaert, Thomas and Garcia are trying to whip up a chase. The gap is down to 30 seconds but the two are still out of sight.
Bandiera is also chasing now.
I don't think Vandenbergh has won a race since a stage of the Tour of Ireland in 2007
@inrng Sat, 23rd Feb 2013 15:11:19
Luca Paolini finished 4th in 2010, 5th in 2011 and 12th last year in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Is it his time to win?
We're inside the last 10km.
The chasers are doing turns on the front but are clearly riding for third place now.
The only chance for the chasers is if Paolini and Vandenbergh play games in the final kilometres.
Vandenbergh is trying to make Paolini do more of the work. He will have to try an attack in the final kilometres.
The team cars have now given final instructions to their riders.
The riders are now close to Ghent now are still sharing the work.
Vandenbergh makes an attack taking the inside line on a corner but Paolini is on him straight away.
The chasers are still 50 seconds behind.
Here we go. Final km!
The mind games begin, with the riders switching across the road.
Paolini has selected a smaller gear ready to jump after any attack.
Here we go!
Paolini leads it out all the way and wins!
Vandenbergh had little chance against his much faster rival.
Here's the sprint for third.
Sven Vandousselaere (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise) takes it well.
Paolini won by several bike lengths after accelerating all the way to the line.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) was fourth and Gren van Avermaert (BMC) was fifth.
It looks like Davide Appollonio (AG2R La Mondiale) on the bunch sprint. But today was Paolini's day.
Thanks for joining us for our live coverage of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. We'll have a full report, a huge photo gallery of all the action and other interviews and news story very soon.
We'll also be covering Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne live on Sunday. Don't miss it!