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On the start line at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

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Omega Pharma Lotto were the first team to arrive

Omega Pharma Lotto were the first team to arrive
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Race director Peter Van Petegem won the race three times

Race director Peter Van Petegem won the race three times
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Adam Blythe will be a key member of the Lotto team today and will look after Gilbert for as long as possible

Adam Blythe will be a key member of the Lotto team today and will look after Gilbert for as long as possible
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Tom Boonen was given a warm applause from the Belgian public

Tom Boonen was given a warm applause from the Belgian public
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Hayden Roulston (HTC-Highroad) at the start

Hayden Roulston (HTC-Highroad) at the start
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) is one of the favourites for today's race

Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) is one of the favourites for today's race
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team)

Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team)
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Ian Stannard and Jeremy Hunt

Ian Stannard and Jeremy Hunt
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Tom Boonen has never won this race

Tom Boonen has never won this race
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Kevin Van Impe with the press

Kevin Van Impe with the press
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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It's Dominic Klemme!

It's Dominic Klemme!
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Edvald Boasson Hagen will be key to Sky's chances today

Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Edvald Boasson Hagen will be key to Sky's chances today
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Flecha and Hayman have raced together for several seasons, first at Rabobank and now at Sky

Flecha and Hayman have raced together for several seasons, first at Rabobank and now at Sky
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Johan Van Summeren and Andreas Klier talk tactics

Johan Van Summeren and Andreas Klier talk tactics
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Riders huddle together at the start in Gent

Riders huddle together at the start in Gent
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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The start line

The start line
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Gilbert has won the race twice

Gilbert has won the race twice
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Marcel Sieberg finished in the top ten last year when at HTC

Marcel Sieberg finished in the top ten last year when at HTC
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Young fans hold the pro bikes during the sign in

Young fans hold the pro bikes during the sign in
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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The Omega Pharma Lotto bikes

The Omega Pharma Lotto bikes
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Gilbert (Omega Pharma Lotto) will aim to win his third title

Gilbert (Omega Pharma Lotto) will aim to win his third title
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Weltz will direct Garmin-Cervelo today

Weltz will direct Garmin-Cervelo today
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Sergeant and Redant catch up

Sergeant and Redant catch up
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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The Marcus Burghardt fan club brave the wet conditions

The Marcus Burghardt fan club brave the wet conditions
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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The BMC bikes at the start

The BMC bikes at the start
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Joost Posthuma (Leopard Trek) has the climbs marked on his stem

Joost Posthuma (Leopard Trek) has the climbs marked on his stem
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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There's no way you miss the Europcar team bus

There's no way you miss the Europcar team bus
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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The Netapp bikes at the start

The Netapp bikes at the start
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Dominique Rollin (FDJ) is looking forward to a tough race and even tougher conditions

Dominique Rollin (FDJ) is looking forward to a tough race and even tougher conditions
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Cyclingnews catch up with Eisel (HTC-Highroad)

Cyclingnews catch up with Eisel (HTC-Highroad)
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Last year's winner Juan Antonio Flecha

Last year's winner Juan Antonio Flecha
(Image credit: Daniel Simms)

The Belgian cycling season is officially underway. 171 riders have left the centre of Ghent for to tackle the nine climbs and nine sections of pave that make up the 204.4km Omloop Het Nieuwsblad race.

It was raining in Ghent at the start but that will only add to the excitement and drama of the first race of the year on the twisting country roads of Flanders.

The 66th edition of the 'Omloop' began at 11:30, with the women’s race starting a few minutes before. Both races will finish back in Ghent’s St Peter’s Square later today.

The men’s start list includes almost all the best classics riders in the sport with only Fabian Cancellara and Heinrich Haussler and Tyler Farrar missing from the start list. The first two are saving themselves for later in the spring, while Farrar will focus on Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne race on Sunday, as world champion Thor Hushovd leads the Garmin-Cervelo team in Omloop.

Cyclingnews was at the start to capture the special atmosphere of Flemish cycling with a unique photo gallery.

There is also live coverage of the race throughout the day, and  a full race report, racing photograph gallery and rider interviews after the finish.