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Tour of Flanders: start line photo gallery

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Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) needs a big result today.

Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) needs a big result today.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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A carnival atmospher in Brugge's Markt as the riders sign on.

A carnival atmospher in Brugge's Markt as the riders sign on.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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The Astana team ride to the start.

The Astana team ride to the start.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) rides to the start of the Tour of Flanders.

Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) rides to the start of the Tour of Flanders.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Geoffroy Lequatre (RadioShack) is hoping to shine in this year's classics.

Geoffroy Lequatre (RadioShack) is hoping to shine in this year's classics.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) will be a key support to Tom Boonen.

Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) will be a key support to Tom Boonen.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Bernhard Eisel (HTC-Highroad) has a lot of experience.

Bernhard Eisel (HTC-Highroad) has a lot of experience.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM) has won De Ronde twice before.

Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM) has won De Ronde twice before.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Stuart O'Grady (Leopard Trek) will be Fabian Canellara's most important helper.

Stuart O'Grady (Leopard Trek) will be Fabian Canellara's most important helper.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) rides to the start.

Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) rides to the start.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) is French champion.

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) is French champion.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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High expectations. Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) is the overwhelming favourite.

High expectations. Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) is the overwhelming favourite.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Yuriy Krivtsov (Ag2r-La Mondiale) before the 2011 Tour of Flanders.

Yuriy Krivtsov (Ag2r-La Mondiale) before the 2011 Tour of Flanders.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Sebastien Chavanel is one of Europcar's more experienced riders.

Sebastien Chavanel is one of Europcar's more experienced riders.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Words of wisdom before setting off for Meerbeke.

Words of wisdom before setting off for Meerbeke.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Frederic Guesdon (FDJ) comes to life on the cobbles.

Frederic Guesdon (FDJ) comes to life on the cobbles.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Garmin-Cervelo manager Jonathan Vaughters knows his team needs a big win in this classics campaign.

Garmin-Cervelo manager Jonathan Vaughters knows his team needs a big win in this classics campaign.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Davide Cassani checks in at the Katusha bus before the start.

Davide Cassani checks in at the Katusha bus before the start.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Bert De Backer (Skil-Shimano) fresh from the team bus.

Bert De Backer (Skil-Shimano) fresh from the team bus.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Martin Reimer (Skil-Shimano) checks his tires before setting off.

Martin Reimer (Skil-Shimano) checks his tires before setting off.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Katusha manager Andrei Tchmil before the start.

Katusha manager Andrei Tchmil before the start.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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The crowds gathered from early morning in Brugge.

The crowds gathered from early morning in Brugge.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Fans and riders mingled in Brugge.

Fans and riders mingled in Brugge.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Danilo Hondo (Lampre-ISD) rides to the start.

Danilo Hondo (Lampre-ISD) rides to the start.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Balint Szeghalmi (Lampre-ISD) ahead of the Tour of Flanders.

Balint Szeghalmi (Lampre-ISD) ahead of the Tour of Flanders.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) has pedigree in the race.

Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) has pedigree in the race.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Bernhard Eisel (HTC-Highroad) negotiates the crowds.

Bernhard Eisel (HTC-Highroad) negotiates the crowds.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)

Charcoal skies and chilly temperatures greeted the riders as they assembled in Brugge for the start of the Tour of Flanders, but mercifully the threatened rainfall had yet to materialise. As ever, enormous crowds were waiting from early morning to catch a glimpse of the stars of De Ronde, as Belgium grinds to a halt to enjoy the day of .

The home-based favourites received the loudest cheers of all as they rode to Brugge’s Markt to sign on. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) is the man charged with stopping Fabian Cancellara taking a second Flanders triumph, but Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) may well be the man to shine on the road to Meerbeke. Belgian champion Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank SunGard) will also be looking to make an impression on this day of days for Flemish cycling.

Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) was given generous applause as he rode to the start, in spite of criticism of his tactics in the Belgian media, and the Italian is desperate for a big performance today. Former winner Alessandro Ballan (BMC), dark horse Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and the Garmin-Cervélo trio of Thor Hushovd, Tyler Farrar and Heinrich Haussler are other foreign riders hoping to take home the spoils from Flanders.

However, the man to beat is last year’s champion Fabian Cancellara. As usual, the big Swiss rider was one of the last men to leave the team bus to sign on. Even though he may break Belgian hearts by the time the day is out, Cancellara was warmly cheered all the way to the rostrum, and those cheers will be ringing in his ears all day long, as over 800,000 people line the roads for one of cycling’s most precious occasions.