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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews.com coverage of the 2013 Tour of Flanders.
It's cold but sunny in Brugges as the riders sign on and get ready to race.
The Markt square in the centre of Brugge is already packed with thousands of fans, enjoying the rider presentations on stage and capturing a glimpse of the riders.
The expected 207 started will roll out of Brugge at 10:00am local time for the start of the 256km race.
Cyclingnews will have live coverage of every moment of the race.
We also have a Editor Daniel Benson, Jane Aubrey, Barry Ryan, Brecht Decaluwé and tech editor James Huang on the ground at the race to bring you all the inside information, breaking news, tech secrets and gossip.
This year's race is expected to be a showdown between between Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan but most people in Belgium will be hoping Tom Boonen can find a day of grace and win yet again.
The crowds is huge in front of the stage as the riders sign and prepare to start. Cancellara looks cool and confident as ever.
Most riders are now lined-up on the far side of the square. The team cars are also in place.
The riders have signed on and it's almost time to start the race. The lead cars are rolling out of Brugge.
The crowds are five deep along the barriers.
One or two riders are checking their bikes for the last time, making sure they have the right tyre pressure for the 17 Hillingen, cobbled section and Flemish country roads.
And they're off!
The riders have left central Markt square in Brugge and the neutralised section of the race has begun. The 100 anniversary edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen is underway!
In Brugge it's time fro another beer, a coffee and a waffle or some early Easter chocolate.
Peter Sagan seemed confident when he signed on, saying: "I'm very happy to be here. I used to watch this race on TV and now I'm here with a chance to win. I'm a little nervous I'm looking forward to a good race."
Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) is an outsider for RVV. He was eighth last year but admitted before the start that he does not have the same form, despite going close to victory at Dwars Door Vlaanderen last week.
"It was difficult to accept losing like that. We'll see what happens today. n theory I can be up there but my form isn't as good as last year. But we'll see what happens."
Tom Boonen looked confident and calm before the start, wrapped up in his Belgian national champion's colours and a hat under his helmet to keep him warm during the first part of the race.
It was a chilly 3C at the start in Brugge. We understand that 206 riders started.
For a full start list, check out our full race coverage.
The race is now official underway and we have the first attack.
The rider who did not start is Italian sprinter Jacopo Guarnieri (Astana). He tweeted that he'd been sick all night.
Italy's Mattia Pozzo (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) was the first to accelerate and kick off the racing.
The racing has started fast and furious, with several other riders on the attack. There has also been a first crash, with Eliot Lietaer (Topsport Vlaanderen) going down hard. His race is already over.
We now have a trio of riders on the attack: Alex Dowsett (Movistar), Andreas Klier (Garmin-Sharp) and Australia's Zak Demptser (NetApp-Endura).
Their gap is just 10 seconds or so.
The gap is now up to 30 seconds. This could be the early break of the race.
The women's Tour of Flanders is also held today, with the riders facing 127km on many of the same roads and climbs as the men.
The women have just began their race and are scheduled to finish at 2:00pm local time. Coverage of the women's race is often sketchy but we''ll bring you as much as info as we can. There will be a full report and interviews from the women's race later on Cyclingnews.
Crash! Tom Boonen is down.
Boonen went down hard and it looks like his race is over.
Boonen had stopped for a toilet break earlier and was perhaps moving back up when he crashed.
He seems to have hit his left knee and is in pain.
Race radio has confirmed that Boonen is out of the race. He is being taken to hospital.
Susan jumping in for a few minutes.
Very sad news that Boonen's streak of bad luck hs continued. We wish him the best.
Christophe Premont of Crelan has tried to join the three leaders, but has not been successful.
Other riders are trying to get away, too, but so far none has been successful.
The gap has dropped to 10 seconds and it looks like this group will soon be absorbed.
What has priority in Flanders? Cycling, of course. A train has been stopped in Menen, so that the riders can cross the tracks and continue on their way without having to stop.
Boeckmans and Houle have made the jump to join the three leaders, and they now all have a 15 second advantage.
That is of course Hugo Houle of AG2R and Kris Boeckmans of Vacansoleil.
We now hear reports of snow flurries at the race! It wouldn't surprise us -- the weather this winter has been a long and cold one.
The escapees have been caught, and all are together.
Tom Boonen's spring is over, according to team manager Patrick Lefevere.
With 56km covered and 200km remaining, we're about to start a new race. This time without Tom Boonen.
The news that Boonen is out of Flanders has left everyone in Belgium stunned.
With Tom Boonen out of the race, the tactics at Omega Pharma-Quick Step will change significantly. Sylvain Chavanel will now be the absolute team leader.
It will be interesting to see who takes charge of the race with Boonen out. Race tactics will change and we could see a far more aggressive race. Chavanel will have distance fast finishers such as Sagan.
The peloton also seems stunned that Boonen is out of the race. The peloton remains all together for now.
The Omega Pharma-Quick Step team has issued a brief statement after Boonen's crash:
"Boonen has a contusion at his left hip, as well as a wound on his left elbow. He also has a contusion and a wound on his right knee that required a few stitches. Boonen is now undergoing X-rays to exclude any fractures. More information will be released as it becomes available during the day."
The peloton is still together. It is cold out on the race route, with reports of some snow on the Berendries climb.
The Berendries is the sixth of the 17 climbs of the day. The first, the Tiegemberg, comes after 91km of racing.
The speed is increasing as the Tiegemberg approaches.
Riders are attacking over the top of the climb.
The Omega Pharma-Quick Step team has confirmed via Twitter that Boonen has not suffered any fractures. However he needed stitches in his injuries and so his spring could still be over.
Seven riders attacked on the Taaienberg, and now have three minutes on the field.
The seven are:
Jetse Bol (Blanco), Jacob Rathe (Garmin-Sharp), Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Belisol), Michael Morkov (Saxo-Tinkoff), Tim De Troyer (Accent Jobs-Wanty), Kevin Claeys (Crelon-Euphony) and
Laurens de Vreese (Topsport Vlaanderen)
Aha, according to the German TV commentators, the team "Blanco Bank" is riding this race....
This group is working well together, and has a nice gap of 3:40.
The peloton just crossed a railroad track -- we didn't see a train stopped and waiting on them, though.
The leaders jostle their way up a cobblestone section.
The riders in the peloton are jumping off to the bike path on both sides of the road. Of course, that is not so good when cars are parked along the way, there is road furniture and so on.
Everything comes to a stop. Not a crash, fortunately, but that is what happens when the large field turns from the wide street to the narrow cobbled path.
Riders are starting to drop off the back of the field on this difficult and bumpy climb. Lotto Belisol is seting a fiery pace at the head of things.
The gap has fallen to under three minutes now.
Top favourite Peter Sagan (Cannondale) told Cyclingnews: “I’m feeling good. We’ll see how things go in the race but I’ve been waiting for this race since the start of the season.”
The lead group tackles the next cobbled climb.
Ian Stannard of Team Sky talked to CN's Daniel Benson this morning before the start, and was pleased with the weather. “It’s dry and it looks like it’s going to be sunny so it’s all positive so far. We have to see what will happen in the race and what the other teams are up to but we don’t want to leave it until the last lap.
“From the first feedzone it starts to get important, the climbs start coming thick and fast and there are narrow roads.
“It’s important to have guys up at the front and that we make the race as hard as possible. It’s all about the team but Thomas is the main guy for today.”
Astana leads the field up the Eikenberg.
So nice to the sun shining today. That has not always happened at races this spring.
The lead group passes a Garmin mechanic, who is waving a spare wheel, just in case anyone needs one.
The gap is holding steady now at 2:45, which is a nice tidy lead. But there is still a long way to go, and many difficiult climbs to come.
Things slow down again as they field takes a sharp turn on to another section of "paves".
Europcar has moved to the front of the field. Does this mean Thomas Voeckler is feeling frisky today?
Garmin-Sharp's Martijn Maaskant had this to say: “I’ve been a bit sick this week and I missed Paris-Nice which wasn’t ideal but I’ll make the best of it and support my team. Johan Vansummeren is our strongest rider for today and we’ll work for him. Morale isn’t bad, we’ve not had a great spring so far but two years ago it was the same but we won in Roubaix, so things can turn around quick.”
Europcar now pulls the field along the Kerkgate cobbled section. Their work is effective, as the gap has dropped to 1:58.
Matti Breschel is back with Saxo-Tinkoff this year. He told Cyclingnews: "There are a few names for today like Cancellara and Sagan but I feel good. Of course I’m realistic and it’s going to be a hard race and there are some strong guys out there but I want to be up there and get a good result. The team will try and stay with me for as long as possible and I’ll get the help that I need.”
Team Europcar is still leading the peloton as they start the Jagerij sectionn of pave.
Thor Hushovd (BMC) was forced off the road but after checking his front wheel, he is back up to speed and chasing the peloton.
The gap to the break continues to fall as the men in Team Europcar green lead the chase.
The Molenberg is up next. Climb number 4 of 17.
The break hits the steep climb. It is short but will hurt. Avg gradient 7%, with sections at 14%. Ouch!
Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) is off the front of the peloton on the climb, while behind, other riders are forced to stop and put a foot down.
Boom (Blanco), Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) have joined Greipel, plus two Team Europcar riders. One is Gene.
We stand corrected. It's Maarten Tjallingii in the move for Blanco.
RadioShack and Team Sky is leading the peloton.
The five chasers are about to join the breakaway, to give us a front group of 12 riders.
The peloton is chasing hard as the tackle the Paddestraat section of pave.
Riders are taking off their overshoes and clothing. The race is warming up.
Bernhard Eisel (Team Sky) throws his shoe covers to the crowd. Up front RadioShack has five riders on the front. They don't want any groups to get in the way.
Is Cancellara going to attack early?
Marcel Sieberg (Lotto Belisol) has jumped from the bunch. The Belgian team are trying to stack up the riders at the head of the race.
The gap is back to 20 seconds as the race becomes a came of chess before the final, decisive, 70km of racing.
Greipel is driving hard on the front of the break. Four riders have a slight gap as he tries to force the pace and make the riders in the break do their bit.
Now it's time for the Berendries climb. The break can see the attackers at the top of the climb.
Danilo Hondo (Radioshack-Leopard) is leading the chase and has brought the peloton within sight of the break.
Cannondale has also placed a rider on the front to chase. Ben King is doing the work and has swept up a part of the breakaway.
Greipel, Sieberg and a few other riders still have a short lead.
100km left to race, as the break opens up the gap a little. Six riders up front.
Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco), Gabriel Rasch (Team Sky) and Jerome Cousin (Team Europcar) go down.
All three seem okay but are not quickly up. There race is probably over.
The gap has grown to over a minute as the peloton plays a waiting game.
The Women's race has ended. Sadly there is no TV coverage of the race.
Four riders were away and not surprisingly, Marianne Vos (Rabobank) won the race yet again.
The pace has slowed in the peloton, allowing Vanmarcke to get back on.
There are three chasers between the break and the bunch, as Peter Sagan returns to the bunch with some help from teammates.
For more about the women's Tour of Flanders, check out our brief report. More info and photos to come.
The speed is going up in the peloton, as the first climb of the Oude Kwaremont approaches.
Here we go. The race is about to explode!
The peloton dives into the start of the Kwaremont. the riders were squeezed and lined out.
The Kwaremont is cobbled and has a steepest section at 11%.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) leads the break, as Offredo (FDJ) goes on the attack behind.
Offredo has 30 metre lead but Radioshack continue to control the peloton.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) and Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack) are both near the front.
There are thousands of fans long the roadside and even in grandstands.
The peloton is back on he main road. It's time to catch a breath and see what shakeout the Kwaremont caused.
Up front Bol has been dropped, as Offredo tries to go across the gap.
It's already time for the next hellingen! Now it's the Paterberg, as Offredo is caught.
Garmin-Sharp rider Johan Van Summeren leads the bunch as the roads twists and turns before the cobbled section.
Now Voeckler is on he front of the bunch. It's time for some funny faces.
This steep section of cobbles could change the race.
Some riders stay in the saddle, other dance on the pedals. Fortunately the cobbles are dry today.
The final riders reach the summit almost a minute after the leaders. That's is how lined-out the peloton is.
It's a sprint to get to the front of the peloton for the start of the Koppenberg.
It seems quiet at the front of the bunch but riders are fighting for position behind, and spilling onto the grass and dirt.
Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) takes a tumble but is quickly back up and in the bunch.
The peloton has eased again, allowing some riders to get back on.
Here we go: the break is now in the narrow lane of the Koppenberg. Do you remember when a race car drove over Jesper Skibby's wheel?
Here comes the peloton. Steve Chainel (Ag2r-La Mondiale) leads but part of the peloton is blocked as a rider puts his foot down. More that 80 riders are walking up the Koppenberg!
Most of the big names are up the front but Terpstra is walking, Stannard and Gatto are chasing.
Steegmans is also behind. It's not a good day for Omega Pharma.
Cancellara is staying hidden in the peloton for now. However he has lost teammate Tony Gallopin, who has retired.
The break has taken on food and now it's time for the peloton to collect musettes and drinks.
The riders dive off the main road. It's time for more cobbles and country lanes.
This section is 2km long and Chainel and Selvaggi (Vacansoleil) have set off in pursuit of the break.
The yellow and black Flanders flags being flown along the route, as the break starts the Steenbeekdries climb. The Kruisberg is just 10km up the road.
Haydon Rolston (Radioshack) is doing a huge effort on the front, protecting Cancellara and leading the chase.
Behind Ilio Keisse is forced to chase hard to get back on to the bunch. There are only 40 or so riders left in the peloton now.
Greipel looks tired in the break but is battling on.
Behind RadioShack are back in charge, with three riders leading the chase.
Rast gives Popovych a pat on the back after he returns to the front to do more work.
Mechanical for Cancellara! Rear wheel puncture.
The mechanic does a quick change and Spartacus is away, chasing.
Cancellara is alongside the Radioshack team car, as the team mechanics plays with his bike and gives him a quick push back up to the bunch.
Cancellara takes time to also take off his hat and long sleeve top.
Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) is at the back of the bunch. He seems to be trying to wake up his legs, perhaps for an attack later on.
Upfront Selvaggi and Minard (not Chainel) are closing in on the break.
With 50km (of 256km) to go, the race is still wide open.
Now it's time for the Kruisberg, where the 1988 world championships were held and Maurizio Fondriest won his world title.
Front wheel puncture for Stijn Devolder (RadioShack). He stops in the middle of the road, forcing team cars to dive around him.
Onto the Kruisberg, with 60 or so riders in the peloton.
In 10km the riders face the Oude Kwaremont for the second time and the Paterberg just after. Surely a big name will go on the attack.
Rear puncture for Oscar Gatto (Vini Farnese). His teammate gives him a wheel but it'sa bad moment to lose contact.
Four kilometres to the Kwaremont and the speed is up. But there only 30 or so riders in the peloton.
Riders are diving on and off the footpath to get a better position in the bunch. Gatto makes it back on but must be tired after that chase.
All the big names are up front now: Chavanel, Sagan, Cancellara.
The tight corners before the Kwaremont make positioning vital.
Boasson Hagen, Thomas, Flecha, Paolini and van Avermaet are also up there.
Baden Cooke (Orica-GreenEdge) is on the front.
Jurgen Roelandts is there for Lotto Belisol.
The break is still clear on the Kwaremont but the peloton is onto them.
So far, after the first half of the Kwaremont, the big favourites are all together. But behind the riders are lined out and suffering.
It seems that one big attack could decide the race.
The Kwaremont is over and still no fireworks but this race is ready to explode.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) goes down as rider fight for position before the Paterberg.
The peloton has the break in sight on the Paterberg.
This steep section hurts, especially after 200km of racing.
Behind some riders are in the cars, including Flecha, who has a mechanical. His chances seem over, he's still waiting for assistance.
Up front Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) and Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM) are the only two left in the breakaway.
We have five chasers, which have sneaked away from the bunch.
They are: Roelandts (Lotto Belisol), Offredo (FDJ), Turgot (Team Europcar) and Hinault (IAM) Maarten Tjallingii (Team Blanco).
Fabian Cancellara is sat near the front of the bunch and looks scarily fresh.
Turgot is trying to drag the break along but they have just 20 seconds or so .
It looks like the third and last climb of the Kwaremont will be the point of any serious attacks. If Cancellara doesn't make a move there, Sagan can wait for a sprint finish.
Devolder is doing a big lick on the front, working to set up Cancellara, as Flecha gets back on. There are 30 or so riders in the peloton.
Despite their problems, Omega Pharma still has four riders in the ploton, including Chavanel.
Pozzato is also there, after staying hidden for most of the race.
Sagan has just one teammate with him: Fabio Sabatini, but he is working on the front.
The bunch takes the sharp right turn into the start of the Kwaremont. Hold onto your seats!
Front puncture for Hulsmans.
up front Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol) goes for it. He's opened the gas, with 18km to go.
The rest of the breaks is left behind.
Cancellara is on the front, lining out the bunch. Sagan is on his wheel.
Cancellara opens the throttle and only Sagan is able to go with him. Race on!
Cancellara flicks his elbow but Sagan does not come through for now.
Here is, showing that he is just as strong as Cancellara. Behind there is a huge gap!
Sagan lost Cancellara's wheel for a moment but is back on.
The two are about to catch Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol).
The chasers are at least 20 second behind. Will they b e able to organise a chase. It's seems unlikely.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) is trying to give a hand to Chavanel and the group of chasers.
It's almost time for the Patenberg. Cancellara will surely try and drop Sagan on the last real climb of the race.
Cancellara leads Sagan and Roelandts. The chasers are at 15 seconds.
This is the steep bit. Roelandts is dropped! Cancellara has a gap! He's gone!
Sagan is 20 metres behind. Can he get back on?
Sagan seems to have eased off. Is he waiting for the bunch?
Race over? Sagan is with Roelandts but is also looking for the chasers. Cancellara is time trailing to the finish.
The chasers can see Sagan and Roelandts but are not organised or strong.
Cancellara is tucked over is bars, spinning a big gear and diving across the road to find shelter from the wind. He's on his way to a second Tour of Flanders victory.
Cancellara is rocking all over the bike but is putting down some huge watts.
There 20 riders in the chase group. No doubt they are all thinking about the points they can pick up with a good placing.
Gatto suffers yet another flat.
The RadioShack team car comes up to Cancellara.
Cancellara is riding his 11th Tour of Flanders. It was also Easter in 2010 when he won for the first time.
Cancellara can smell victory now. I wonder how he will celebrate?
Just 500 metres to go for Spartacus.
He sits up and begins to enjoy victory.
Cancellara wins the Tour of Flanders alone, punching the air in celebration.
He meets his wife at the finish and gives her a hug.
Sagan wins the sprint for second place, ahead of Roelandts, 1:26 behind Cancellara.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) takes the sprint for fourth place.
Cancellara made victory look easy but is in huge pain as he gets changed for the podium.
Well, that was another demonstration of power racing from Cancellara.
The Radioshack team protected the Swiss rider perfectly and then he forced the selection and then dropped Sagan on the Paterberg before going on to win alone.
Speaking after his win, Cancellara said:
"The goal was to win. You can't always predict how but it's amazing to win. A year ago I was on the ground. It's never easy but I'm really happy."
"It was a strange race. It was fast at the beginning. There weren't many riders left at the end but I did the right tactic. Everyone expected me to go and I tried to make the first selection on the Kwaremont. I love the cobbles and so after that I did what I had to do."
As Fabian Cancellara climbs on the podium with Sagan and Roelandts, it's time to wrap up the Cyclingnews coverage of the 100th anniversary edition of the Tour of Flanders.
We'll have a full race report, photo galleries and interviews with Cancellara, Sagan and all the protagonists very soon.