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Tour of Flanders: Quotes from the start line

After starting Bruges for the past 19 years, the Tour of Flanders packed its bags for Antwerp on Sunday morning. Sun beat down on the city's Grote Markt, which was packed with a reported 60,000 people.

The atmosphere was palpable around the place, particularly when home hero Tom Boonen rode from the Quick-Step Floors team bus by the river and into the main square. Boonen was greeted with a spine tingling roar from the crowds who had turned out to see him start his final Tour of Flanders.

His teammates were brought up on stage for the sign-on presentation, but Boonen was held back.  A silence fell over the crowd before they began the slow clap made famous by Iceland football fans at the European Championships last year.

Greg Van Avermaet also received a rapturous welcome, as did world champion Peter Sagan, the last of the big favourites to be introduced to the crowd.

Cyclingnews caught up with all of the main contenders and a few more at the start. Read below for a selection of quotes and flick through the gallery above for photos from the start of the Tour of Flanders.

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)

"Will I be on the podium? It's hard to predict the future. Many people want me to finish on the podium, so I will try."

Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors)

"I'm still ok actually. I'm trying to stay as calm as possible. This morning I woke up and I dreamt that it was Monday and that it was already over, and then I realised that I still had to do the race. I was calm all night but when you arrive here with all the people the emotions start to boil inside. I will be happy if we're in the final and hopefully we can fight mano a mano."

How do you play your cards?

"The most important thing for us will be to always have one guy in front so we never have to defend ourselves and sacrifice two or three guys to close the gap. Sometimes these numbers can be a disadvantage like we've seen in the past. We have to play our cards smart and then we have to see if we're strong enough to follow the other guys at the start."

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing)

"I hope that it will be a hard race. I'm ready for it and I hope to win, that's the only goal. I really want to enjoy the day too. It's a beautiful day and there are a lot of people coming out onto the road. I will go through home roads and then I hope to make it a hard final. I hope to win the race, that's the dream."

There is talk of the race going early, will you try to stop that?

"They can try but for me it is good if they make the race early and make it hard. The other races were really early opening up but today there are a lot more kilometres so we will have to be careful not to spend too much energy in the early moments."

Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott)

"I hope I can be in the front and race for a good position. I just want to race well today and make the right moves. A lot can go wrong in 250k. We'll see how I feel and then I hope I can be up there.

"It’s a new course for a lot of it but I think once you go up the Kwaremont for the first time there's just a relentless amount of climbing and then it should calm down a bit after the Muur but I really think after the first time up the Kwaremont there isn’t really much time to recover. I think, as you've seen before, with 80 or 90 kilometres to go the race could be over so we have to be ready for this.

"I have to make the right move and try to go early. I think that if I wait for the last time or even second last time up the Kwaremont then when the big guys like Sagan and Van Avermaet move then it might be too late. If I go out front they can come to me and then we can race."

Will you miss having Jens Keukeleire?

"It's definitely a sad loss for us. Jens made the decision so that he can recover for Roubaix. We'll miss his experience, he was also in great form with his Gent-Wevelgem second place. It's a bit of a shame but we have to do what we have to do."

John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo)

"I'm very excited to start Flanders. It's one of the nicest races every year and it's something special. I think we have a good position. Everyone has got good shape and hopefully with a little bit of luck we can also place the good riders in front and maybe have a little bit of luck."

Has the luck been missing this spring?

"Personally, I have been pretty consistent but some of the guys were maybe not there and that's something that we have to change and hopefully we can do that today."

Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac)

"It was not at all what I was wishing for. Since November I have been preparing for these races and last month it all went wrong, especially in the last 10 days I have had stomach problems and I was throwing up. Until yesterday, my stomach was really tight still. We kept working on it but we'll have to see today."

Do you still have the legs after the illness?

"The legs yes, the stomach I don't know."

Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal)

"I hope that it will be a really hard race - which I think it will be - that we have a little bit of luck, and then make a nice result at the end. I think that I will have to anticipate for sure but there are 20 other riders that will also try to do it and try to win the race. It won't be easy to pick the right moment but I will try to do it today."

Will the race start early?

"I think so. There are a lot of riders that will want to attack early because they know that once Sagan, Van Avermaet or Gilbert go then it will be too hard for them. I hope and I think that we will get a long and a hard final."

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