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Welcome to Cyclingnews’ live coverage of the 2010 Tour of Flanders.
Welcome to Cyclingnews’ live coverage of the Tour of Flanders.
It’s one of the most epic races in the cycling calendar and today we’re going to see some real firework. Cyclingnews will be bringing you all of the action today.
We'll give you more background on the race in just a few minutes but right now let's go the action. This morning five riders attacked the bunch soon after the start. In no particular order, Michele Merlo (Footon-Servetto), Nicolas Rousseau (AG2R), Joost van Leijen (Vacansoleil), Floris Goesinnen (Skil-Shimano) and Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne) moved clear. They have a lead of five minutes right now.
To the Flemish cycling fans, the Tour of Flanders is known simply as the 'Ronde'. It's full title is the Ronde van Vlaanderen because it covers virtually every part of Flemish speaking Belgium as it switches through the fields and villages looking for the climbs.
198 riders rolled out of Bruges for the start of the Tour of Flanders on a wet Easter Sunday morning. Most teams had a full line-up of eight-riders but Lampre-Farnese Vini and Ag2r-La Mondiale started with just seven riders after late withdrawals on the eve of the race.
The race was first held in 1913, and was sponsored by the Belgian newspaper Sportwereld. Before World War II, it was held on the same day as Milan-San Remo, which certainly explains why there was only one non-Belgian winner up until that time.
By the way you can send me an email @ firstname.lastname@example.org, or throw me a tweet @ www.twitter.com/cyclingnewsfeed and we’ll publish as many responses as we can. So who are you picking for today's win and why?
While we wait for your hundreds of emails and tweets to come in let's look over today's route. It's changed a bit since last year, as James Huang and Richard Tyler found out yesterday when they rode over part of it. Muggins here was at a press conference so missed out on all the fun.
The 15 climbs have been reshuffled, with the Den Ast after 131km now the first, and the Bosberg after 250km as usual, the last. In between the other climbs will gradually hurt the riders' legs one after another, with the fight for position at the front for the climbs causing high speeds and more pain than the actual climbs.
The Oude-Kwaremont, the fourth climb after 179km often sees the big name favourites go on the attack for the first time, while the Paterberg, Koppenberg, Taaienberg, Molenberg, Berendries and Tenbosse have all been the scene for spectacular attacks and memorable moments over the years.
The Muur-Kapelmuur, climber number 14 after 246km, usually sparks the final selection with the strongest riders able to get a gap as the road climbs up around the chapel and onto the false flat summit. Only the dead straight Bosberg climb and the final 12km of the race remain before the finish in Meerbeke.
Some teams will carefully plan their strategy of when to attack but anything can happen, and the Tour of Flanders is all about positioning on the climbs and like any bike race, having the strength and speed to beat your rivals.
The lead is around ten minutes now.
We were at the start this morning. If you've never been you really should pop over. Of course if you're Down Under, popping over to Europe isn't easy but if you can do it, you should. The atmosphere was electric. You had riders coming onto a huge stage to sign on, with hundreds of fans watching on. When Gilbert, Devolder and Boonen came on stage the supporters went mad. They love cycling here.
Don’t forget you can win a great prize. He may be ill, he may have the runs but there’s no doubting that Pippo Pozzato has one of the best kits in the business (when it's clean at least) and you can win a signed jersey from the man himself. All you have to do is click here to enter the forum and post your prediction for the race top three. All the rules are explained in the thread. Good luck!
To be honest, I hope none of you win. I want the kit all to myself. Although, saying that, and I’m not meaning to give a free plug here, Santini also make it in black and that looks swish too. Swish, the word for the day is swish...
Here are some tweets we've received in just the last few mins:
@Cyclingnewsfeed Hoping 4 Cancellara but concerned they will be doubly concerned to cover him after his win in E3. Boonen looking 4 revenge
@Cyclingnewsfeed Exciting stuff: hard to see past Boonen, although Gilbert and team must be feeling the pressure to produce right now.......
@Cyclingnewsfeed PS, what are the implications of not being close to front as you come up on the climbs?
Good question there PiesG. If you're not near the front you can get blocked. If there's a crash ahead of you there's very little place to get passed fallen riders, so you could end up walking up the climbs. A lot of this race has to do with good positioning as you hit the climbs. In fact it's crucial you get your leader in a good position for the hills.
Back to the race and we now have eight leaders on the road. Ignatiev, Bonnaire and Goesinnen have made it over. Garcia Acosta, has done this before. I think he made the early group a few years ago. Perhaps 2007?
Just to prove we were at the start this morning here are some pictures from Richard Tyler. Worth looking at so you can see the conditions the riders faced as they left.
Shall we have a look at the favourites for today's race?
We’ll let’s start with Tom Boonen. Lot of pressure on this guys shoulders, but then again there always is. If he can win today he’ll tie with Achiel Buysse, Fiorenzo Magni, Eric Leman and Museeuw for the most number of wins in the Ronde. Chances out of ten? I'll give him a solid eight.
Then there’s Fabian Cancellara. I met him back in January at the Saxo team camp in Fuerteventura. “What’s your big goal for the year?” I asked. “Flanders,” he replied. Well here we are: his legs are good, his team is good, conditions are right for him. Can he deliver and win the race he’s been dreaming of? If he can it’ll cap a wonderful spring for him after he won E3 last weekend. Who knows, it could even win his team a new sponsor. Eight out of ten.
Devolder? We'll he's done little this year but we know he gets himself into top condition for this race - he's won it twice in a row but is three a stretch too far? Will Boonen make him work? Will Lefevere? Does he even think he can win? Too many question marks. Six.
Danish Dynamo Matti Breschel: He's got good legs and tactically it could come off for him like it did for Devolder in 2008. He's got a good sprint too. Seven.
Gilbert: Lotto haven't won a race since 536 BC so today could be their day. Gilbert is a great bike racer and he wants this one. He showed some form in De Panne and Gent-Weg but that was when Boonen, Cancellara and Flecha all sat up.
And of course you can't count out Flecha. He was really close a few years ago and was just a few seconds behind Devolder. He has good legs, he has a good team and he can climb well too. His teammate Mat Hayman believes this race suits him better than Roubaix. We'll see I guess. Seven.
Weather update: Dry but some dark clouds are closing in. We can expect some strong winds later in the day too.
We also have a women's Tour of Flanders today. Click on the link to check out the great field and our preview. They'll finish in a few hours and we'll have results, images and a report first!
Gabriel Rasch (Cervelo) is the first rider to pack today. He won't be the last...
Fans of Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Transitions) should know he had a collision with his own team car today but he's still racing. The US team have a few cards to play in today's race. Obviously, Maaskant is one, he came fourth last year, but they also have Johan Vansummeren and David Millar, fresh from his overall win, and stage in De Panne.
Quick Step and Sky have both moved to the front.
Want to know more about our eight escapees? Of course you do...
Nicolas Rousseau is a 27-year-old Frenchman riding for AG2R. He turned pro with the team in 2007, and can already look back to a victory this season. He won the third stage of La Tropicale Amissa Bongo, which was held in January in Gabon, Africa.
Vicente Garcia Acosta is 37 years old and has spent his entire career with Caisse d'Epargne – ever since turning pro in 1995! The San Sebastian native can claim one Tour de France stage win and two Vuelta a Espana stages over his long career.
Michele Merlo (Footon-Servetto) rode for Team Barloworld in 2009 and won the last stage of the Tour of Britain in London. It was his first professional win after several good places earlier in his first season as a professional.
Merlo claimed he had an offer from Team Sky but turned it down to ride for the Footon-Servetto. He comes from Casaleone near Verona.
In Italian, Merlo means blackbird (a relative of the robin). Google has thrown up another Michele 'Mike' Merlo, who was part of the Chicago mob after leaving Sicily at the age of 20. We do not know if they are related.
Oliver Bonnaire, 26, turned pro with Bouygues Telecom in 2005, and stayed with that team for five years before joining Francaise des Jeux this season. Most recently he missed the time cut in Gent-Wevelgem. He has ridden the Giro d'Italia three times, and the Vuelta a Espana twice, and is still looking for that elusive first pro victory.
Michael Ignatiev (Katusha) is well known for going in long breakaways and his blonde hair and low flat back riding style are often seen up the road in attacks.
He came through the Russian track school and won a gold medal in the points race at the 2004 Olympic Games. He turned professional in 2006 with the Tinkoff team and then stayed with the Russian squad when it became Katusha and Andrei Tchmil took control.
Ignatiev won a stage of the Tour Méditerranéen and the Trofeo Laigueglia in 2007 with attacks. He is on form this spring and won stage 6 at Tirreno-Adriatico after, of course, being in the long breakaway of the day.
He is likely to be the last rider caught from this early break today at the Tour of Flanders.
30 year-old David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet) is an excellent cyclo-cross rider as well as road rider and should be looking forward to riding on the rough roads and cobbles.
Boucher has ridden for smaller Belgian teams since turning professional in 2003. He has few professional results but was a solid 15th in the recent Nokere Koerse race. He will know the right line to take on all the extra cobbled sections added this year.
Last one! 25 year-old Joost van Leijen secured a place with Vacansoleil for the 2010 season after riding with the Dutch team as a stagiaire in 2009 and taking third in the Dutch national championships. Like fellow Dutchman Robert Gesink, despite being very tall, van Lijen is a climber.
The riders are now race going through Desselgem, village of the Ronde 2010 (home town of legendary Briek Schotte).
Another important tweet: stefrees @Cyclingnewsfeed it's sunny and dry here at the moment in geraardsburgen atmosphere building nicely bar in square packed!
Meanwhile, the bunch go through the first feed but they're going so fast that many of them miss their musettes. There's a sky rider carrying a bundle of musettes at the back of the peloton.
We're getting word that the organizers may cancel the climb of the Koppenberg due to very slippery conditions!
In the women's race there's 50K to go.
Not too far from the first climb and the lead is slipping. it's at 9:17 now. Sky are still on the front of the bunch.
We've got a crash. A couple of Garmins are down.
It was Tyler Farrar but he's on his feet now and getting assistance.
Our leading eight are stretched out along a cobbled section. it's dry and it's even sunny.
George Hincapie: US-champion George Hincapie is one of the most experienced riders in the Spring Classics and at the start in rainy Brugge he expressed his love for these races. "Definitely. This is one of the hardest races of the year with most history; it's a wonderful event," Hincapie said. His new BMC-team didn't capture any wins so far this season, resulting in more pressure although it's probably nothing compared to the pressure mounting on the Belgian Omega Pharma-Lotto team. "We started off strong. We're always there in the overall in the big races, placing top-5. In the World Cup races that we've done we're missing the win but it'll come eventually."
Former Belgian champion Jurgen Roelandts is expected to be the super domestique of Philippe Gilbert today. By anticipating the attacks from the big guns the 24 year-old Belgian rider should be able to stand by Gilbert deep into the finale. "That's the goal indeed, just like during the past couple of races. I'll try to get ahead just before the real finale. The real strong guys are coming later," Roelandts said. Team leader Gilbert isn't giving his team-mates too many compliments, blaming them for being unfocused by sitting at the back too many times. "That's his way to get us on the top of our toes. I don't think I did a bad job with Philippe this year. I was still with him in [the Omloop] Het Nieuwsblad and Gent-Wevelgem. Hopefully I can repeat that today," Roelandts added before lining up on the Grote Markt in Brugge.
Tweet weather update: stefrees @Cyclingnewsfeed it's now started to rain in geraardsburgen nothing major but if it's anything like the sportive yday there'll be more!
The peloton aren't messing around now. Liquigas are gathering near the front, along with Saxo and QuickStep. We can see Breschel, he's about three back. Cancellara is close by. The big guys are positioning themselves for the first climb. Den Ast.
If you're dropped here it's going to be a long, long afternoon but there is some time to get back on and recover before the next set of climbs.
Another tweet: whitejerseyblog @cyclingnewsfeed I reckon Cancellara will win because he is so strong but that depends on wether his chain doesn't snap this time. Go Fabian
Saxo Bank has taken control for now. A few teams will be happy with that as it means they can save their powder for later in the race. The lead is down to 8:02. Care to guess when the break will be caught?
We made a little visit to the HTC hotel a few days ago, and here's a review of Mark Cavendish's bike for today's race. Interesting drive to the hotel. Can't say why though.
This guy has the right idea: josh_greenberg Kids just finished egg hunt, wife hiking dogs, I'm making pancake bfast and sneaking race updates on Tour of Flanders via @Cyclingnewsfeed
A few tight corners for our bunch but Saxo continue to set the pace, just like they did in last week's E3. Cancellara won that day. The break are still working hard together but Frank Hoj is riding on the front of the bunch behind.
Thanks for all your weather updates. Here's another. Team liaison Alex Wassmann (@SRAMontheroad) is reporting rain at the top of the Patterberg.
Hoj is one of the most experienced riders in the bunch. Nice guy too and a former diarist for Procycling magazine.
The Dane is setting a fast pace, fast enough to start splitting the field, with echelons forming all over the place as around thirty riders lose contact. The bunch has split into four.
We asked for your predictions and here's one:Svein Tuft to go for the surprise win! 1. He will be an unmarked rider and his team will allow him to go with an early break. He is also a strong solo rider with the ability to ride away from anyone.
Eh, he won't be marked. You're right on that bit. Okay, he's strong too.
Michael Barry is now on the front for Team Sky and the lead drops to 7:16
The bunch is getting restless now and riders are jumping off the front. The guys doing that will be trying to get away, build a lead and then help their leaders later in the race.
Another email prediction: "Im thinking Cancellara is looking brilliant at the moment. His performance at E3 was superb. I cant really see a podium much different from the E3 podium and maybe Gilbert could do something which would defiently animate the race a bit and would be good for Lotto." - James
Bunch are on a long flat straight and riders are using the opportunity to move to the front on the outside. We have roughly 15K until the next climb now, the Kluisberg. After that the climbs come thick and they come fast.
Just caught a quick shot of Thor Hushovd. He's near the front of the bunch and has a few teammates around him. He's a dark horse today but hasn't shown any form of late.
You've given us some of your predictions. Here are some from the press room
Luigi Perna (Gazzetta dello Sport)
Top Three: Boonen, Cancellara, Gilbert
Why: "Cancellara is at the very peak of his form but I think Boonen is as strong, if not stronger than him on the climbs and than will always beat him in the sprint. After what happened at Harelbeke, Boonen won’t let Cancellara get away like that again and he won't let Devolder get in the way either this year. I reckon it will be a really hard race with the first real selection happening perhaps as early as the Koppenberg. Watch for Boonen blasting up the climb on the front.
Philippe Van Holle (La Derniere Heure)
Top three: Breschel, Gilbert, Cancellara
Why: "Everybody is talking about Cancellara but I think he could be marked out of the race because he is so strong and so perhaps Matti Breschel could get a chance. From what I saw last week, Breschel is at least as strong as Cancellara and they will ride different tactics. Breschel could get in an attack before the Kappelmuur and then stay away. Whoever wins, I've got a feeling a going to be a great Flanders this year."
Saxo have taken a break from the work on the front and now Astana and Cervelo are moving men forward. There's a crash.
Lars Bak, Daniel Lloyd and Markel Irizar Aranburu are all involved but they seem to be ok.
A dozen or so riders lost contact after that crash but they're chasing hard to get back on. It doesn't look like any of the favourites were effected. The roads are pretty narrow though so you can expect a few more moments like that later in the race. Barry, is still on the front, driving hard for his man Flecha.
A huge crash in the field.
An Astana rider went down first but Gorka Izagirre Insausti looks worst effected and is still down on the ground. I think it was Andriy Grivko who hit the deck first though. The crash held up most of the bunch though.
Cavendish is back there chasing with a couple of Shack guys now. Most of the bunch has been able to get back on though.
Saxo move back to the front, they dont' want to take any chances with crashes or bad luck. Sky seem to be protecting Flecha right now. We can see Boonen starting to move up too.
Hincapie is also near the front. BMC are without a win so far this season. Can he change that today?
Lars Boom was one rider effected by the crash and his team are pulling hard to get him back on. They've made it. Just.
Armstrong and Rast are near the front but Ivanov is off the back. He was involved in the crash and is chasing on his own? Isnt he meant to be a protected rider for today?
The peleton are onto a cobbled section now and they're putting the hammer down. Barry is still on the front! He's been there for 20K at least. Millar has a puncture.
Another important tweet: @SRAMontheroad Descended 2 the base of Paterberg. A strong tailwind has dried the cobbled climb. It will lift the riders. The lead is down to 4:17 now.
The bunch are lined out after that short cobbled section and still it's Saxo, Sky and a little bit of Quick Step now on the front. Lotto have been very quiet but they dont' have to do too much work just yet.
Millar is chasing back on. He's moving up between the cars now and he's... back in the peloton.
It's Rosseler's turn to have a flat now. He was strong in E3 last week, helping Pozzato at one point.
We've now got six Saxo riders on the front and long line of riders behind them. The roads are long, flat and wide right now but that will very quickly change. The leaders are now on the Kluisberg. Like most of the climbs today it's short but tough. Michael Ignatiev is the one setting the pace and he's already making his partners suffer.
At least there are no cobbles on this climb so it gives the riders some time to find their feet.
In order to move up through the bunch some riders are jumping up onto the pavement.. There was a tangle of wheels near the back of the peloton and Hulsmans needs a new back wheel.
The pelelton are now on the climb and Rosseler is back and moving up the field. Saxo continue to do the work but already some riders are popping off the back. Some riders will have done their work for the day though. Some will just be too tired.
Hulsmans is still having problems and is calling for a team car. He's trying to fix his back wheel at 50K an hour. Better him than me.
Aliaksandr Kuschynski is at the side of the road and looks in real pain. I think he was in a crash but can't confirm it yet. His team car has stopped though and that could be it for his race. Did his chain snap? Looks that way.
Gap is down to just 2.20. and the bunch has split into at least two groups now. The first group has around 100 meters and Saxo are still driving on the front. They have roughly 30 riders with them.
Looks like things are coming back together now but the peloton has about 100 riders. The gap is coming down rapidly now and it's less than two minutes. Knaven takes a tumble into a ditch but gets back on and is chasing as the peloton take on the Knokteberg.
Carnage at the back of the peloton now as things slow to almost a standstill but Saxo are spread all over the road at the front now. They're controlling this race perfectly, only question is whether they're doing too much too soon. Rosseler isnt; having a great day. At the back of the bunch he's struggling and needs a push.
The bunch is totally strung out now but they'll become one just before the next climb and then things will explode. We could see attacks as soon as they hit the Oude-Kwaremont.
Weather update: Still no rain but a mixture of sun and clouds.
Cervelo have moved to the front now and that's Rollin setting the pace. Sharp right and Breschel and Cancellara are moving up. There's a real fight at the front for position.
Flecha is sitting on Breschel's wheel now. That's a smart, smart move. Boonen is about six back and the leaders are now on the climb. The bunch will hit it in less than a minute. Who will move first?
The crowds on the Kwaremont are unreal, there's so much noise and colour.
This is what the Classics are all about. This is what cycling is all about. Incredible.
O'grady sucks in a huge amount of oxygen as he sets a fast pace. At the back riders are all over the place as they try to keep in contact. Julien Dean is struggling but he'll have done his work already today. He's such an underrated rider.
The lead group is down to just four survivors.
The Paterberg is next, so there's not much time to recover and O'Grady is now out of the saddle and setting the pace. Saxo has totally ripped this race apart.
There are maybe thirty riders in this Sky/Saxo group. Boonen, Cancellara, Flecha and Breschel all there.
Another right hand and onto the climb and Breschel hits the front. Boonen is on his wheel. The big guns are out.
Boonen has to get out of the saddle to keep up, behind Cancellara marks Flecha. Big moment this. Gilbert is chasing hard but behind it's chaos..
Devolder is way down right now.
The Paterberg has blown the race apart.
We have a select group off the front now. Boonen, Flecha, Hushovd, Boom, Bresechel, Hoste, Hincapie, and they have around 150 on the chasers. There are few more riders there. We'll get the names asap.
Boonen is asking the others to work but he's not getting much help. he's on the front himself now but he's not happy. Garmin, Columbia and Liquigas look like the big losers right now.
The leaders are: Tom Boonen (Quick Step) Lief Hoste (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam), Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank), Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky), George Hincapie (BMC), William Bonnet (BBox Bouygues Telecom),
Apologies it's Chainel from BBox.
The Ignatiev group is still out there by the way but they're struggling big time now. Boonen and co have all been caught now and we're onto the next climb of the race. The Koppenberg and Breschel is again on the move, followed by Boonen. Cancellara goes through and we've got riders running up the climb now but Boonen and Breschel have a gap!!! This could work. They might work together here.
No team cars allowed on here so if you have a problem with your bike your race is over.
Behind Boonen and Breschel, we have a lot of little groups but riders are really hurting here. I think it was Boom and Gilbert that tried to react behind but they had no answer.
Lots of riders are walking up the climb now.
Boonen and Breschel are back in the bunch as they approach the next feed. Still three leaders.
It might have been a bit too early but the Dane was constantly looking back for Cancellara.
Now Sky are on the front. Wow the crowds are huge here in Belgium. Hayman and Thomas on the front as the peloton, or what's left of it, hit the Steenbeekdries.
A couple of sweeping bends here as the riders recover but we've already seen who is strong in this race. Flecha must be confident though as he's sent his men to the front of the group.
The three leaders and now the Boonen group - anyone mind if I call it that for now? hit the Taaienberg.
Breschel is again on the front but his pace is steady this time as he climbs next to Flecha. Boonen and Cancellara just behind. Gilbert is there too. Devolder who has been missing all day is moving through the field but he was dropped much earlier today. He's fighting hard so deserves a lot of credit. I think that's Eisel in third wheel.
Johnny Hoogerland attacks. Gets five meters and then sits up. Good job.
The three leaders have 19 seconds now.
The risks some of these riders make to get back on to the bunch are truly amazing. Respect.
Sky and Columbia are now on the front, with a couple of BMC riders moving up on the outside.
Applause for the break that went away at the start. They're about to get caught on the next climb. Hayman, a rider who told CN yesterday that he really suffers in this race is on the front giving everything for Flecha.
Good pace here from the Sky boys. No one able or willing to attack.
Jurgen Roelandts has a flat.
And the group has been caught.
Cancellara has a flat. He has his hands in the air, he needs help and he needs it fast. Where is his car?
Not a flat but he is off the back and he's calling for a car. A mechanic is hanging out of the window as Sky continue to set the pace.
Fabian stops, throws his bike to the ground and gets another. O'Grady waits for him. This isn't what Cancellara needed.
Sky continue to lead the bunch but Cancellara is back with the leaders now. Sweeping right hand bend and the lead group has around 30 in it. Not seen Devolder for a while but I assume he's made it over.
Breschel has to stop now. It's a total mess for Saxo has he has to wait an age for a new bike. He's got a teammate with him to help. At last Bjarne is getting riders on tv right?
Kurt-Asle Arvesen is on the front now. Behind the Sky train are a gaggle of Columbia riders, working for Eisel me thinks.
Injection of pace from Haymen, Lotto are finally moving to the front and Devolder is there! Boonen too. Lotto now on the front. Hincapie there too.
Hushovd is off the back with his teammate Rollin and we have just over 50K to go. This is where the big guys show up. We've raced over 200K and legs are going to be really hurting. Boom is with Hushovd but the duo should get back on.
Hayman has a gap now and Armstrong is leading the chase.
Ballan is gritting his teeth as he tries to move clear but all he's doing is stringing out the bunch. Perhaps he's decided to work for Hincapie today?
Breschel is still having problems and he's back there with Hushovd. Meanwhile Hayman has been joined by Eisel and two others. That's an interesting move.
Oss is there and Wynants. They're about to be caught though.
Boonen Flecha, Cancellara and Cancellara has attacked!
Cancellara and Boonen on his wheel, with about six riders including Hincapie behind.
Cancellara pounds on the pedals, Boonen grits his teeth but wont come through yet. They have a gap of 150 meters.
Sky are chasing with Hayman but he must be tried from his move before. Flecha is on his wheel, he looks back and sees Hincapie having a snack. The duo have 17 seconds already. Cancellara attacked on the Molenberg, the same race that decided the women's race.
Boonen comes through and does a turn but it's short compared to what Cancellara has been doing. The gap is 18 seconds Gilbert jumps and is trying to get over to the leaders now. Sky reel him in though and the chase group has grown to around 30 riders. Gilbert goes again! This time with two others. It's Millar who is trying to catch them now..
Cancellara and Boonen are now on a cobbled section and it's the Saxo rider on the front now. He looks so, so strong right now. Good showing from Millar though as he leads the chase. Not sure where his Garmin-Transition teammates are.
Boonen takes a turn, gets out of the saddle as he comes through. This race means so much to these two riders. They both want to win, Boonen for the third time, Cancellara for the first.
Slight descent for the two leaders now and they have five climbs to go. Lotto have Hoste with Gilbert but they need to make their numbers count and get more teams to chase. Gilbert needs to use Hoste!
Millar is going solo and tries to get away from the chasers, they're obviously not working to his liking.
The Scot is in great for at the moment. He won a TT in Critierium International, ahead of Contador, and a TT and overall in the De Panne. Back in the third group, Armstrong is racing hard and leading the pack.
Boonen on the front but Millar is starting to close on his own. The two leaders are on the Berendries and the crowds are huge.
Gilbert is leading the chase. He's out of the saddle, looking down as he pushes the gears but he's slipping to 52 seconds behind Boonen and Cancellara.
Gilbert has caught Millar and they have another rider with them. At the front and Boonen cuts a corner but manages to keep it together. They're working well together but Cancellara will need to try something before the finish. The rider with Millar and Gibert is Leukemans (Vacansoleil).
Hincapie has sneaked away but only has a small gap. Things are looking good for the two leaders now.
The Tenbosse is next for the riders. Tough climb but a short rest before the final two climbs. Tenbosse isn't cobbled. Boonen gives Cancellera a little push as he comes through. Helping one of course. These two are the strongest guys in the race, there's not much doubt about that now and they've got 53 seconds on the trio behind. They're on the Tenbosse now.
The two leaders have a quick drink as they crest the top of the climb. There's a flat section now and then two more climbs to come.
Cancellara need to attack Boonen on either of the two last climbs. He has to get away if he's going to win as Boonen is the stronger in a sprint. The Saxo man is leading right now and he still looks strong.
The leaders are now on the Parikeberg,a non-official 'helling' and they're going vollgas.
Twenty to go now. Cancellara and Boonen both working well together with the tailwind they have.
The third group of Flecha and Hincapie are losing more time to Millar's group.
And that's it from me. It's over to Susan.
Hi all,and thanks Dan for all those hours of live report!
400 metres of cobbles now for Cancellara and Boonen.
And up they go.....
There's no mercy here, and nowhere to hide.
Behind them, Millar has troubles and falls back.
Boonen had a moment of difficulty and the Swissman took advantages of it.
THat was it! Cancellara has really taken off now, as only he can.
Millar is definitely dropped now.
Cancellara powers along smoothly. Hard to imagine how he could yet not win.
Cancellara now has 24 seconds on Boonen!
The Saxo Bank rider continues to pull away.
Boonen looks all in, both physically and mentally. He certainly didn't think things would work out like this. Now he has to be careful that he hangs on for second place.
The gap is now over 40 seconds, as Cancellara powers his way up another cobbled climb.
The World time trial champion now just has to onsider this another time trial -- ought to be an easy rest of the race for him!
Hmm, apparently Boonen is about 30 seconds back, and Leukemans and Gilbert are at 59 seconds.
Boonen is gritting his teeth and giving his all -- but it won't be enough.
WE have had good luck with the weather today. It is still dry and the sun is even shining.
Cancellara is riding along smoothly and comfortably, while Boonen is obviously working hard.
The gap back to Boonen has now climbed to over a minute.
Boonen up out of the saddle.
Only 4km left for Cancellara, who still looks as smooth and relaxed as ever.
Cancellara tosses a gel pack out of his jersey pocket. He can spare himself that bit of weight.
Did we say we saw sunshine? Now we see some really, really dark clouds.
So who are we picking for third place, Leukemans or Gilbert?
No problems for Cancellara.
ANd he passes under the Flamme Rouge!
He even has time to take a guardian angel out of his jersey pocket and show it to the camera.
The team car pulls up to him and DS Thorsten Schmidt shakes his hand.
ANd even tme to grab a Swiss flag!
Fabian Cancellara rolls over the finish line with a satisfied smile on his face.
Boonen now makes his way into the finale. he looks back nervously a number of times, but finally crosses the finish line 1:12 after the winner.
Will we have a sprint for third?
Yes! Gilbert opens the sprint an esaily takes it at 2:10.
A large group sprints in some 20 seconds later.
What an incredible perfomance by Fabian Cancellara! But it is the kind of win we are used to from him. He knows when and how to put it to the test.
Another group comes in at 5:04 down. We will probably have groups coming across the finish line for a while now.
Congratualtions once more to Cancellara and Team Saxo Bank. Also to Tom Boonen, who put up a good fight, and to all the riders who took on this difficult and very special race.