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On the start of the 100th Tour of Flanders - gallery

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Fans look for autographs from Filippo Pozzato

Fans look for autographs from Filippo Pozzato
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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He'll have a hard job keeping up with the pack on this bike

He'll have a hard job keeping up with the pack on this bike
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Trek-Segafredo was giving out cowbells to fans by their bus

Trek-Segafredo was giving out cowbells to fans by their bus
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Fabian Cancellara was greeted by huge cheers as he made his way to the start

Fabian Cancellara was greeted by huge cheers as he made his way to the start
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Andre Greipel rides the long road to sign on

Andre Greipel rides the long road to sign on
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Toms Skujins is riding his first Tour of Flanders

Toms Skujins is riding his first Tour of Flanders
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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A relaxed looking Sep Vanmarcke with his team

A relaxed looking Sep Vanmarcke with his team
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Michael Schar makes his way to sign on

Michael Schar makes his way to sign on
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Sylvain Chavanel came close to winning the Tour of Flanders in 2011

Sylvain Chavanel came close to winning the Tour of Flanders in 2011
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Servais Knaven and Andreas Klier share a joke before the start

Servais Knaven and Andreas Klier share a joke before the start
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Defending champion Alexander Kristoff and three-time champion Fabian Cancellara sit next to each other at the start

Defending champion Alexander Kristoff and three-time champion Fabian Cancellara sit next to each other at the start
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Stijn Vandenbergh sits on the photographer's podium to the left of the start line

Stijn Vandenbergh sits on the photographer's podium to the left of the start line
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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The riders wait for the start

The riders wait for the start
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Taylor Phinney starts his second TOur of Flanders

Taylor Phinney starts his second TOur of Flanders
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Fabian Cancellara get's in some final pre-race food on the start line

Fabian Cancellara get's in some final pre-race food on the start line
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Jelle Wallays in the middle of the pack

Jelle Wallays in the middle of the pack
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Riders laugh and joke with each other on the start line

Riders laugh and joke with each other on the start line
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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The riders wait to start the 100th Tour of Flanders

The riders wait to start the 100th Tour of Flanders
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Peter Sagan rolls out of Bruges

Peter Sagan rolls out of Bruges
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Jasper Stuyven could be a future Tour of Flanders winner but he's riding in support of Fabian Cancellara

Jasper Stuyven could be a future Tour of Flanders winner but he's riding in support of Fabian Cancellara
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Tiesj Benoot was a popular man at the start

Tiesj Benoot was a popular man at the start
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Jurgen Roelandts leaves for sign on

Jurgen Roelandts leaves for sign on
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Lieuwe Westra has had a good week after winning in De Panne

Lieuwe Westra has had a good week after winning in De Panne
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Dayer Quintana at the Tour of Flanders

Dayer Quintana at the Tour of Flanders
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Fans line the road from the team busses to the sign on podium

Fans line the road from the team busses to the sign on podium
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Koen de Kort talks to Dutch media NOS

Koen de Kort talks to Dutch media NOS
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Luke Durbridge on his way back to the bus after sign on

Luke Durbridge on his way back to the bus after sign on
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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A photographer in a rainbow hat captures pictures of the riders at the start

A photographer in a rainbow hat captures pictures of the riders at the start
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Francisco Ventoso and Andre Amador go to the start lie

Francisco Ventoso and Andre Amador go to the start lie
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Bjorn Thurau rides to sign on with his teammates, they held a minute's silence for their late teammate Antoine Demoitié

Bjorn Thurau rides to sign on with his teammates, they held a minute's silence for their late teammate Antoine Demoitié
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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All of the Wanty-Groupe Gobert riders wore a t-shirt with the hashtag #RideforAntoine

All of the Wanty-Groupe Gobert riders wore a t-shirt with the hashtag #RideforAntoine
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Luke Rowe, ready for action

Luke Rowe, ready for action
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Michal Kwiatkowski is back for more after winning E3 Harelbeke

Michal Kwiatkowski is back for more after winning E3 Harelbeke
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Markel Irizar takes a selfie with a fan

Markel Irizar takes a selfie with a fan
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Sacha Modolo at the start, he is riding disc brakes today

Sacha Modolo at the start, he is riding disc brakes today
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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All of the day's climbs taped to the stem of Ryan Andersen's (Direct Energie) bike

All of the day's climbs taped to the stem of Ryan Andersen's (Direct Energie) bike
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Alexandre Pichot went for a different option with his list of climbs

Alexandre Pichot went for a different option with his list of climbs
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Bernhard Eisel will be a key rider for Dimension Data

Bernhard Eisel will be a key rider for Dimension Data
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)
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Edvald Boasson Hagen is back at Flanders after a two-year wait

Edvald Boasson Hagen is back at Flanders after a two-year wait
(Image credit: Sadhbh O'Shea)

Finally the day of days has arrived. The first Sunday in April in Bruges is one of the great occasions on the cycling calendar, and the 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders set out from beneath the city’s famous belfry amid all of the usual excitement.

It has been a trying couple of weeks for Belgium and for cycling, though the anticipated increase in security measures did little to diminish the size of the crowd that descended upon the start.

There was a sombre moment when the Wanty-Groupe Gobert team arrived to sign on. The riders were returning to action for the first time since their teammate Antoine Demoitié was tragically killed in a crash at Gent-Wevelgem last week, and they took to the podium wearing t-shirts bearing an image of their late companion.

A minute’s silence in memory of Demoitié was impeccably observed on Bruges’ normally raucous market square, before the crowd broke into warm applause. “It’s been a hard week. We can’t change things but we have to go on,” Marco Marcato said. “We know we have someone extra up above. We’re competing with nine riders today, not eight. We’re riding for Antoine and his family.”

Away from the signing-on podium, UCI inspectors were carrying out controls for motors, with the Belga news agency later reporting that they had used iPads to scan the bikes of every rider in the peloton, as well as their spare bikes, but no anomalies had been detected.

The big favourite for the race is Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo), lining out in the Ronde for the final time in his career. The Swiss rider is seeking to become the first man to win the race four times, and he hailed the multitudes from the signing-on podium.

“It’s pretty emotional to be standing here for the last time,” Cancellara said. “I will give all I have. I have nothing to lose.”

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) is, at least for the bookmakers, the man most likely to deny Cancellara the crown. The world champion was serenaded by the on-stage band, who sang his name to the air of ‘On Blueberry Hill’ (only Cancellara and Tom Boonen received the same honour). Sagan complimented the ditty, but he was coy about his prospects on Sunday.

“Yeah, these guys are good,” Sagan said, who was asked to describe the significance of winning the 100th edition of the Ronde. “We will see how I do. I don’t know what it would mean. It’s a race like all the other years. I don’t feel pressure.”

Geraint Thomas (Sky) is in Flanders for his first race on the cobbles this year, but his absence from last weekend’s Classics has done little to diminish his status as a contender. “I wasn’t doing anything today so I thought I’d start,” Thomas said. “I don’t know how I’ll go, but as long as the team wins, that’s the main thing. I’ll either play a supporting role or have a go myself.

Thomas’ teammate Michal Kwiatkowski, such an impressive winner of E3 Harelbeke, pointed to Cancellara as the man to beat. “He seems the strongest, he’s the biggest favourite,” he said.

Last year’s winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) admitted that he was unsure of his chances this afternoon after he missed Gent-Wevelgem through illness last weekend, though his win on the opening stage of the Three Days of De Panne suggested he would not be unduly affected. “I was sick last week. Sure, I won a stage in De Panne, but a lot of these guys weren’t there,” he said.

As ever at the Tour of Flanders, however, the biggest cheers of all were reserved for Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep). The three-time winner has been short of his best this season and lines out in the unfamiliar guise as outsider, but nothing, it seems, could ever diminish standing of ‘Tommeke’ among his people.

“We'll talk about that in a few weeks’ time,” Boonen said, when asked if this would be his final appearance in the Tour of Flanders. “That’s something for you to guess and for me to know. I like the fact that the sun is out. It means the race will be harder as the speed remains high.”

On his form, meanwhile, Boonen knows that words count for little on the first Sunday of April. “I'm good,” he said. “Now we'll see if I'm good enough.”