Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' coverage from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Today is the start of the season for many riders, teams and fans and we’re here in Gent, Belgium to bring you blow by blow coverage from today’s race.
The riders started roughly 45 minutes ago. The conditions, as expected were wet and windy. There's talk that the weather could clear up later this afternoon though.
We had 173 starters this morning, two no-shows but all the big guns: Boonen, Gilbert, Boon, Hushovd and Flecha were all present. The biggest news is that the teams and riders will not be racing with radios. That will mean better planning in the pre-race meetings, a lot of cars having to come right up to bunch during the race and potentially a more exciting race. Potentially.
180km remaining from 203km
We've already got a group up the road by the way. Davy Commeyne, Steven Caethoven, Mathieu Ladagnous, Alex Saramotins, Sebastien Chavanel, Steven Van Vooren, Bram Schmitz and Ronan of Zandbeek. They have a one minute lead over the peloton.
Officially nine climbs and nine sections of pavé feature in the 203km long course in the province of East-Flanders. The first three climbs are scheduled after the 70km mark.
"Those hills aren't a real problem. It's in between the climbs that the pace never drops back: false flat, small farm roads, short climbs that don't feature on the road guide. The riders will quickly feel their legs; it will be a war of attrition," Katusha director sportif Jef Braeckevelt told organizing newspaper Het Nieuwsblad.
Before I forget, we've got an amazing prize to give away. A signed 2010 Worlds jersey from Thor Hushovd. Only 60 were ever made before the Cervelo TestTeam folded but we've been lucky enough to get a jersey and Thor signed it for us yesterday.
The big guns are expected to ride near the front once past the city of Ronse and the climb up the Kruisberg hs begun. Traditionally Boonen will test his legs on the following climb, the Taaienberg, but 20 tough kilometres later the finale starts for real. After the third passage of the Haaghoek cobbles the riders turn left towards the Leberg and right after that climb the Molenberg follows.
"That one's crucial because it's very narrow. You have to battle for a few kilometres to stay near the front and after the climb it's wide-open terrain so the wind can play its role," Braeckevelt said.
From there it's still more than 30km on often cobbled roads back towards Ghent. Looking at the palmarès of the Omloop we're seeing names of strong men like Flecha, Gilbert, current world champion Thor Hushovd and Filippo Pozzato. Taking the new course in mind one can't expect a nobody to add his name to the impressive list of winners on Saturday afternoon.
172km remaining from 203km
The leaders have a two minute buffer over the bunch now.
At the start this morning Cyclingnews spoke to as many riders and team bosses as possible. Here's what Johnny Weltz (Garmin) said.
“We have strong men and I think they can deal well with these circumstances,” Weltz said. The Danish sports director wasn't happy with the way the UCI is taking decisions without consulting the teams or the riders. “They are our leaders and they have been elected but if the majority of people is against their decision then they're not acting really democratic,” Weltz said while references to the Gaddafi-tyranny in Lybia were made.
So what's your opinion on race radios and what's your top three for today? Not much action on the road right now so ping us a tweet at http://twitter.com/dnlbenson and we'll post what we can...
In case you've been living in a cave forever, there's also a women's race on today, covering a good chunk of the men's race. We'll do our best to bring you updates, photos and a report later on today. Watch out for Kirsten Wild. She crashed out last year but is in great form right now. She's juggling track and road at the moment but when we caught up with her last week at the track World Cup in Manchester, she was in great spirits and ready for the Classics.
167km remaining from 203km
The lead is now over four minutes.
Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) punctured before the race got underway this morning. The in-form Belgian quickly rode back from the start line to the team bus and eventually made it back in time to leave Ghent with the peloton. Cyclingnews did spot that he didn't seem happy with the tyre pressure in the new wheel.
Edvald Boassson Hagen (Sky) is a top favourite for the win in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The timid Norwegian told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé that he wasn't worried about the role of favorite. “I'm doing the best I can, whether I'm a favourite or not,” Boasson Hagen said.
When asked about the course changes Boasson Hagen turned out not to mind about that at all. “Yesterday I rode part of the new course but to be honest, I don't remember anything from last year's course so I will not be confused,” Boasson Hagen said.
Belgian champion Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil) has been riding off the radar lately but in the Ruta Del Sol he got a fourth place in a bunch sprint. Devolder hasn't been regarded as a sprinter but at the start line in Ghent he said he would try it more often. “People think I'm not fast at the finish line but that's not true. I don't know why I did it in Spain but I'll do it more often. I think I can surprise some people in the near future,” Devolder said. Will he be sprinting to the win in the Omloop?
I just want to be able to write '"What's that coming over the hill? Is it Devolder, Is it Devolder?' later on today.
@ACycling_fan goes with @dnlbenson 1. Boonen 2. Boom 3. Burghardt
162km remaining from 203km
The gap is now 4.15 and the group are working well together. The bunch are willing to give them a good buffer, knowing that the climbs and the cobbles are all in the second part of the race.
Flicking through the Belgian press today and Boonen, Boasson Hagen and Gilbert are listed as the main favourites. In fact the Norwegian gets five stars. Boonen, Boom and Gilbert four.
Last year's winner, Flecha gets three and so do, Hushovd, and Van Avermaet.
Today's fact: Three men have won this race three times. Ernest Sterckx (52, 53, 56), Joesph Bruyere (74, 75, 80) and Peter Van Petegem (97,98, 2002). If Gilbert wins today he'll join that elite club.
philgrant80 @dnlbenson I think Boom wins Hushovd is second and Flecha third
And on the subject of race radios:
nickobec @dnlbenson re race radio: like the idea one channel for all teams, DS can speak to cyclist briefly, but other teams + commentators hear all
Back to the action and group still have a four minute lead.
153km remaining from 203km
The lead has shot up now. It's over seven minutes.
140km remaining from 203km
The gaps at 6.50 now and we're about 15k from our first climb of the day the Tenbosse.
134km remaining from 203km
The lead is hovering at just under 6 minutes now. Steegmans, who is back with Quick Step and in his first big race of the year has just punctured. QuickStep are dropping back to help him.
No Netapp riders made the break today. They would have wanted to be up there early in the race, but there's still lots to play for.
One team that said they wouldn't try and get in a break is BMC. Mike Sayers told us at the start that they'd save all their powder for the crucial second part of the race. They've got a few cards to play today.
In BMC related news, Taylor Phinney, had an accident and suffered concussion. You can read the story here. We hope he has a speedy recovery.
_Tapio_ @dnlbenson Boasson Hagen, Hushovd, Rollin in no particular order. They'll sort it out themselves
Good shout with Rollin. He's a dark horse today but he's in form and he's one of FDJ's protected riders. He'll enjoy today's poor conditions too.
The leaders have made it over the first climb now. All together for them with the bunch around six minutes back.
The lead is coming down. It's 5.22. Interesting that the bunch let it go out to 8 minutes earlier today. That's a big gap considering we're not racing with radios.
Van Vooren is a graduate of the Bruyneel cycling school. Bruyneel not here today though.
Flecha is the last man to win this race but Van Petegem is the last man to win two in a row - 97 and 98.
115km remaining from 203km
115km to go and the gap is 5.22
The group are still working well together but it's all going to come alive as soon as they're caught. No radios could mean utter confusion at the head of the race and once you get to 70k to go you have to be in the first 10-15 riders if you want to win today. There's climb after climb and so little recovery that you can't afford to switch off, even for a second.
115km remaining from 203km
The gap comes down further now. It's 4.20.
104km remaining from 203km
The leaders make it over the Eikenmolen but their gap is at four minutes.
Weltz made another good point today and that was that some of the riders who were at Qatar and Oman could really suffer as they attempt to adjust to the cold and rain. Oman and Qatar, the conditions were great, sun every day, so some of the riders could be affected by the cold and rain.
Cornu has been dropped by the main field.
The gap may increase as we head through the feed zone, then it's a cobbled section and the fourth climb, the Kruisberg.
93km remaining from 203km
Conditions aren't much better out there I'm afraid. The rain has relented but it's still cold.
The gap is just over 3 minutes, the bunch starting to string out. Quick Step on the front at the moment controlling affairs. BMC, Lotto, and Garmin, taking a back seat.
Kevin Van Impe is dong most of the damage at the moment. The entire bunch is strung out, while Hushovd is at the back of the bunch. He'll want to move forward soon.
Devolder and his crew are near the front now too. He's looking rather nervous though. Meanwhile the leaders hit a 2000m long stretch of cobbles.
They're on the Haaghoek, it's cobbled but certainly not flat. The field will do that three times today.
That nervous energy seems to have gone from the bunch now and they're all together, riding across the road. Sky starting to have a bit more of a presence at the front.
The main field on the Haaghoek and it immediately strings out again as Stannard puts the hammer down. Quick Step move up, and tell him to sit back.
Louder pulls over to the side of the road. Not sure if he's stopping to take a leak or pulling out of the race.
Back at the head of the race and the break is now just 2.24 ahead. Voeckler, Lang have both been dropped from the peloton.
Coen Vermeltfoort hasn't pulled out yet but it's just a matter of time. He's been dropped and he's blown big time. He's done his work for the day though.
Hunt is calling for a car, I think he has a puncture. Voeckler has made it back to the bunch though.
The Sky car finds Hunt and he can finally get a new back wheel.
78km remaining from 203km
Roulston now back with the team car as the bunch let the group get another 20 seconds. The gap is now at 2.43.
Kevin Van Impe still bashing out a decent pace a the front as Roulston makes his way back to the bunch with his national jersey flapping in the wind. A few riders being put in the gutter now as the fight for position starts to intensify.
It looks like Voeckler is attacking, the speed he's going at, but instead he's just coming back, having been dropped again. Now Lotto come to the front for the first time in the race. Reynes moves up, takes a look back to see where Gilbert is and then starts a big turn on the front.
The impetus is starting to go out of this lead group though. They're starting to flag a bit. They've lasted until the TV cameras starting filming so every K they spend at the front is great for their sponsors.
74km remaining from 203km
Hushovd is again at the back of the bunch. No teammates with him. Maybe the world champ is having an off day?
He might not have a race radio but he's obviously following our live coverage because no sooner do I question him and he's moving back towards the front of the bunch. it's not a great sign that he's drifting back on each climb though. Perhaps just saving energy?
Pippo is back with the team car, getting something fixed by the looks of it.
Hunt and Barry both near the front of the bunch and looking after Flecha, who is just sheltering out of the wind, taking a drink.
Devolder's crew becoming more of a threat at the front now. He's obviously confident about his chances today.
69km remaining from 203km
Less than 70km to go and the leaders still have 2.13 over the bunch. We're heading into the crucial stages of the race and about to start the Kruisberg. We could, potentially see some fireworks here as riders try and bride over to the leaders.
The main bunch is around 80-strong at the moment. The Kruisberg has a maximum of 9% gradient.
Boonen looks very comfortable at the moment but at the back riders are starting to falter. They're dropping off, one by one.
Coenen has a little dig but he's closed down by Voeckler. Who else? And the bunch are all back together again.
66km remaining from 203km
The lead between the group and the peloton is down to 1.40.
We've got another short section of cobbles and then we'll hit the Taaienberg
Velits meanwhile has a puncture and Blythe has been dropped.
Now here's a move of intent and it's coming from Sky who now have 3, 4, 5 men all on the front.
Leopard see it and react swiftly, moving their men to the front. The back of the bunch is now a mess with small groups being spat out of the back. Onto the cobbles again for our leading 8 riders.
64km remaining from 203km
Just 1.13 now for the leaders. That single acceleration from Sky and Leopard slashed a chunk of seconds off the time gap.
61km remaining from 203km
It's not a huge acceleration, just a test but he's got a gap. He's sitting up now as Sky sweep him up.
Hunt is bringing him back but it's hard work for the Brit. That's meant the leaders are just 44 seconds ahead now.
They're all over the place now, the leaders, and the peloton have them in their sights.
Hushovd now on the front in the rainbow jersey. and Garmin are showing their strength.
To be in with a chance of winning this all you have to do is subscribe to our YouTube channel. We'll pick a winner next week. Good luck!
Boonen has another dig and Hushovd is forced to respond. He can but the bunch are lined out in the gutter, the tail enders from the break now caught.
If Boonen looks back he'll see he's split most of the field but he's staring ahead.
He's gone again.
The peloton has split into several groups now. it could all come back together but as soon as we hit another climb it'll blow up again. Boonen has been caught by the way. You were probably wondering where he was.
56km remaining from 203km
Just maybe a couple of riders ahead of the garmin lead field. The gap down to just 19 seconds.
We're onto the next section of cobbles and Boonen is in second wheel. He's looking strong today.
54km remaining from 203km
Two Rabobank riders are having a team meeting on the front of the main bunch - or what's left of it. Now they put the hammer down. Not very subtle but after 150km of hard racing subtle doesn't count for much and their strength is very effective.
And the group are now cauught.
Devolder isnt' in the lead group. It looks like he's been dropped. Hagen also missing. They're both at 15 seconds. That's not part of the plan.
53km remaining from 203km
Devolder is leading the charge back to the leaders with Hagen on his wheel. Rabobank and Boom are in the driving seat as Langeveld is still away.
Steegmans moves to the front and is trying to bring the Rabo rider back. Do they know Devolder and EBH are missing?
Langeveld has 15 seconds on the Boonen and Gilbert group. Gilbert comes to the front for the first time in the race and takes up the pace. He doesn't seem to have much help from his teammates.
Hayman with a dig as Langeveld reaches another stretch of cobbles. Hayman is brought back and Quick Step take over.
The big guns are obviously concerned now and Flecha, Gilbert and Boonen all take turns at the front. Hushovd moves to the front as well.
Devolder and EBH still haven't made contact.
EBH has made it back to the Boonen group but how much energy will he have wasted in that chase? I guess we'll see at the finish.
A group with Hayman and Maaskant has moved clear, in between the Boonen group and Langeveld.
Langeveld has 35 seconds on the Maaskant group.
Maaskant and co aren't having much luck with catching the lone leader, she's still got 37 seconds. the Quick step lead group is a further 24 seconds back. Steegmans on the front.
Lang and Degenklob are also in the chase group with Hayman and Maaskant.
Langeveld is onto the Leberg now. Still in the saddle and riding well. In contrast Hayman leads the chase and is out of the saddle and looking less comfortable. Boom is just sitting on Boone's wheel at the moment
Flecha has upped the pace and Boom is chasing, along with a few other riders. They're merging with the Hayman group.
There are now 11 riders chasing Langeveld. Again Rabobank are the winners. They've got Langeveld in the lead and Boom in the group behind. Boonen, Rollin and all of Leopard look like they're out of it. No chase coming.
Big responsibility on Degenklob here as the only HTC rider to make it into the lead group. Gilbert isn't here either.
35km remaining from 203km
It's not all over yet though. Flecha isn't happy with the amount of work coming from the first chase group and Gilbert looks like he's trying to organise a chanse. Langeveld still has a minute.
Boom moves the front of the first chase group and does his best to slow things down.
Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank)
Leopard launch Weylandt off the front but it looks futile at the moment.
Flecha doing most of the work in the chase group, really only 4 riders are coming through to work with Boom sitting in fifth wheel.
Boonen looks at Hushovd is as if to say 'how big?' when he finds out what the time gap is.
30km remaining from 203km
The Rabobank pulls up the Langeveld., no need for a radio now, is there. The chasers are now on the Paddestraat - a 2000m stretch of cobbles. Hayman doing the work for Flecha. If Langeveld is caught, and it's a big if right now then we have a few good sprinters here.
28km remaining from 203km
Maaskant hits the deck and in the confusion Flecha presses on and is going alone. The gap to Langeveld at 1.17.
Flecha will need to do something special to catch the lone leader. Langeveld has over a minute
The gap is coming down. It's less than a minute now. The Rabobank car moves up, gives him a few words and dare I say it, a little push. The gap is 55 seconds.
25km remaining from 203km
Fifty seconds now. Hayman is just monitoring what's left of the main chase group as Flecha presses on ahead.
24km remaining from 203km
40 seconds is the gap now.
Flecha smells blood and Langeveld, after looking so, so comfortable is starting to suffer.
22km remaining from 203km
Flecha continues to eat into the lead but it's coming down slowly. 40 seconds, 39, actually but the Spaniard will have to lift the pace.
20km remaining from 203km
That's better from Flecha, he's carved off ten seconds in 4km. The gap is 32.
More cobbles for Langeveld, they'll be hurting every part of his body now. Flecha onto the cobbles too. He looks smoother and faster but the gap is still at 30 seconds.
The Sky car comes along Flecha and gives him a few words of encouragement. The gap is just 26 seconds now. He'll want to do the damage on the cobbles. On the flat smooth roads Langeveld is able to hold him at arms length.
18km remaining from 203km
The wheels are coming off now, the gap at just 14 seconds. 13 seconds.
Langeveld lost roughly 17 seconds on that last section of cobbles. The gap is just 11 seconds and there are still 17 km to go.
With 17 km to go, it's over to Susan to take us to the finish.
Susan here, sliding into the finish with you all in the rain.
Langeveld knows he won't make it alone to the finish loine. Only 12 seconds between him and Flecha now.
The Rabo rider looks back, and sees the black-clad Flecha rapidly approaching.
And now they are together...
15km remaining from 203km
How long will this duo stay together though, that is the question.
The chasers don't look real happy, and why should they? A long day in the cold and wet, and no better prospects than the bottom step of the podiuml
Flecha moves in to do some lead work.
13km remaining from 203km
Flecha and Langeveld are trading off the lead work quite nicely.
Maaskant, Degenkol and Amorison are now catching up with the Terpstra chase group.
The Quick STep auto pays a visit to the little group, and Paolini gives notice he would like the Katusha car to come up, too.
11km remaining from 203km
Looks like a bit of conversation between Flecha and Langeveld.
Boom takes off out of the chase group. Will Rabobank take two podium positions today?
10km remaining from 203km
10km to go, and the leading duo is still hanging together.
Have we mentioned the weather lately? It is wet. Not pouring down wet, but one of the steady cold drizzles, which is so unpleasant.
Boom is back in the chase group They way they all keep eying one another, we can reasonably expect another attack soon. And it is Offredo who goes at 7km.
6km remaining from 203km
6km to go for the two leaders, and the gap is exactly two minutes.
Offredo has now been joined by Hayman. They have, oh maybe five seconds on the others.
Flecha jumps with 5 km to go! Langeveld answers directly.
Flecha won't give up. He keeps looking back at Langeveld on his rear wheel.
And the two have another little chat....
4km to go -- who will jump next?
3km and Flecha picks up his speed, but Langeveld is stil right there.
2km to go, and that looks like cobblestones to us.....
Lots of looking back and forth. Which of the two is the better sprinter?
They hit the last km!
Flecha leaads and jumps up on the sidewalk, Did he mean to do that?
Langeveld hangs on the rear wheel
hey are both very patient and willing to let it come to the sprint.
Langeveld jumps first, but Flecha comes with him! Neck and neck!
It looks like Langeveld takes it, by an eyelash!
It may come down to an examinatin of the finish photo. But we do know who won third and fourth: Hayman and Offredo, in that order.
Two minutes have passed. The chase group has come across the finish line, but we may be waiting a while before we see anyone else.
Sebastian Langeveld's long breakaway paid off in the end, even if it did look a bit doubtful there for a few seconds. Wow, you can't get much closer than that!
A Cervelo rider leads the next group in to the finish, about five minutes down.
This gives Rabobank nine wins on the young season, tying them with Garmin-Cervelo and HTC-Highroad.
Nearly 11 minutes now, and another large group cross the finish line, no doubt ready for some dry clothes and a warm drink.
That was it -- the opening race of the Belgian season! Thanks for joining us and be sure to come back tomorrow, when we take on Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
1 Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
2 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Procycling
3 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Sky Procycling
4 Yoann Offredo (Fra) FDJ
5 Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha Team
6 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quickstep Cycling Team
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