Good day and welcome to our live coverage from Classic Brugge-De Panne.
We're in Brugge and the start line is already buzzing with activity. We'll be rolling out from the city in just about eight minutes from now and then heading south before then venturing west towards the finish. The peloton have 203.9km ahead of them and a race that should lean towards a sprint finish. The official start is at 11:15 GMT.
We might see an early break go in the opening 50km of the race but the action will really start when we hit De Panne. We've got three though finishing circuits and a stretch along the coastline and if there are cross-winds then the race could blow apart, as it did last October.
#OxycleanClassicLast moments before the start in the historical centre of Bruges 🌞🌞 pic.twitter.com/KdqQSKBes9March 24, 2021
You can find our complete race preview for today, right here.
And we're up and running, as we leave the market square in the centre of the city. The neutralized zone isn't that long and we should be officially racing in a little under ten minutes from now.
There's an absolutely stacked startlist on the line today. Sam Bennett is here for Patrick Lefevere's team, but there's also Jasper Philipsen, Sonny Colbrelli, Fernando Gaviria, Pascal Ackermann, Andre Greipel, Elia Viviani, Arnaud Demare, Giacomo Nizzolo, and Nacer Bouhanni. Pick a winner.
Breaking news: Paris-Roubaix has been called off. It was meant to take place in just a few weeks from now. Here's the story.
And there's further breaking news with Garmin launching Rally pedal-based power meters. No idea what that really entails but it's HUGE NEWS. Here's the story.
168 riders signed on this morning with three none starters: Hugo Houle (Astana), Harry Sweeny (Lotto-Soudal) en Niklas Larsen (Uno-X)... and we're now up and running and racing.
Last year's winner Yves Lampaert isn't here, so the last winner on the start line is Viviani. Can the Cofidis rider finally get back to winning ways after a rough 18 months on the French team?
Brisk temperatures, as you'd expect for Belgium in Spring, but mainly blue skies this morning to greet the riders. We've covered 10km of the race so far, and no breaks to speak of just yet.
190km to go
The riders have a bit of a headwind at the moment but that will become more of a factor once we hit the circuit. If the wind pick up there we could have some blustery cross-winds.
187km to go and we're rattling along at a decent pace but still no break from the peloton.
In other news Jim Ratcliffe has given his full backing to Dave Brailsford over at Ineos Grenadiers. Here's that story.
"We've all got antenna haven't we?" Ratcliffe told the Daily Telegraph. "Your antenna starts pinging if you're uncomfortable about something. My antenna doesn't start pinging when I'm chatting to Dave. Quite the opposite."
Contacted by Cyclingnews, Ineos eventually replied after several days, saying it had "nothing to add" and pointing towards the Ratcliffe comments. Brailsford, meanwhile, has remained in absolute silence since the Freeman verdict.
182km to go
Meanwhile a few riders have pinged off the front and we finally have break:
Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-Citroën), Gerben Thijssen (Lotto-Soudal), Barnabas Peak (Bike-Exchange), Ruben Apers (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Erik Resell (Uno-X) and Wout van Elzakker (Vini Zabu) make the cut.
A few riders in the bunch have dropped back and started dropping off items of clothing and the riders in the break have quickly established a lead of over a minute.
Bryan Coquard is on the start list. He's a good shout for today but as an aside I've become obsessed with his Instagram solely because of his dog. I mean look at this guy...
A photo posted by on
171km to go
Just a shade over 170km to go and the lead has expanded to 4'08 over the peloton.
Peak is in the break today. Here's a picture of him in happier times.
A photo posted by on
Does Erik Resell like dogs? Course he does.
A photo posted by on
I've gone through the entire break to find images of them with dogs on their Instagram and that's all I've managed to turn up. No, you're weird.
Riders in the break are: Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-Citroën), Gerben Thijssen (Lotto-Soudal), Barnabas Peak (Bike-Exchange), Ruben Apers (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Erik Resell (Uno-X) and Wout van Elzakker (Vini Zabu). With 166km to go they have a lead of 4'08
Away from this race, we caught up with Red Walters. He's a talented British U23 rider who has struggled for race days due to the COVID-19 situation and the lack of chances in Europe. We talked to him about how he's amplified his voice and tried to gain ground in a super competitive environment. Here's the story.
And in Spain, Rigoberto Uran has been spotted on a new time trial bike. Here's the scoop on that one.
160km to go
160km to go and the break are holding their own with an advantage of just over four minutes.
Jumbo Visma are here with David Dekker, some of Erik. David came close to winning a stage on his debut for the team at the UAE Tour - finishing in the top ten several times in the race. He should be in the mix if this race comes down to a sprint. He was third in Le Samyn last year so he can certainly handle races of this calibre in Belgium.
Tim Declercq is on the front. That's it. That's the post.
150km to go
150km to go and the gap is hovering around the 4'35 mark.
Is anyone surprised to see @Tim_Declercq already at the front of the #OxycleanClassic peloton, keeping the gap of the attackers in check with 150 kilometers to go?Photo: @GettySport pic.twitter.com/RpJmJvlRrCMarch 24, 2021
The Declercq effect is starting to pay off for the peloton and the gap is down to 3'35 with 144km to go. The Belgian team went 1-2 last year in the race with Declercq picking up second spot on the podium. They've arguably got the strongest team in this year's race too, despite several absentees.
The riders in the break have just passed the finish for the first time. 132km to go.
We're racing through De Moeren for the first time but no fireworks from the bunch at this point, with the gap holding at 3'20 with 125km to go.
We've updated our news item on the cancellation of April's running of Paris-Roubaix (both men's and women's events).
The 118th edition of Paris-Roubaix and the inaugural edition of the Women’s Paris-Roubaix will not take place this spring, according to a report in Le Parisien.
The races, scheduled for April 11, have been under threat following new COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown restrictions in northern France introduced at the weekend.
Full story is here.
123km to go
Just over 120km to go and the gap between the break and the peloton is holding at just over two minutes. 2'09 to be precise.
A bit of a split as developed in the peloton with about 45 riders making the first group.
It looks as though the peloton is coming back together again but that initial run over De Moeren has indicated that the race could split there on the second or third passages.
Almost all back together now as a few smaller groups return to the main field. We've 110km to go and the break of Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-Citroën), Gerben Thijssen (Lotto-Soudal), Barnabas Peak (Bike-Exchange), Ruben Apers (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Erik Resell (Uno-X) and Wout van Elzakker (Vini Zabu) have just over three minutes.
108km to and it's still QuickStep who sit on the front and set the pace. The break are still holding their lead of just over two minutes but there's still a long way to go.
🇧🇪 #OxyCleanClassicDespite some splits in the field, the peloton is largely back together now. They're around 2:30 in arrears of the break. Still over 100km left.📸: Bettini pic.twitter.com/UfBazFrxdzMarch 24, 2021
Sean De Bie and Heinrich Haussler have both abandoned the race but the pace as rocketed in the last few minutes with Jumbo hitting the front.
98k to go and Tim Declercq is another rider to call it quits and leave the race, his job seemingly done for the day. He'll rest up ahead of the other cobbled races. With 98km to go the six leaders have just over a minute left of an advantage.
The wind is picking up and we're about to hit the second passage through De Moeren. The race is well and truly on now.
Sasha Weemaes has come down just before we hit the most critical part of the route.
Just 40 seconds now for the leaders, the catch could happen in the next few kilometers because there's no let up from the head of the peloton.
The peloton can see the break just ahead of them and they're about to be caught with the gap down to just 10 seconds. 77km to go.
76km to go
76km to go and the break have been caught as we see Bora and AG2R hit the front.
A few splits are taking place towards the back of the peloton as AG2R keep the pace high.
Mikkel Bjerg has a problem and needs a new bike.
Now it's Bora who take over at the front for Ackermann, who is still searching for his first win of the season.
Sebastian Mora Vedri has attacked for Movistar and Jack Bauer is going after him with 70km to go.
Bauer has been brought back but the man from Movistar keeps going, even though the peloton are in full pursuit.
Sebastian Mora Vedri has 20 seconds, which is a decent ride given the pace from the peloton. The bunch take a right-hand corner as a few more teams join the chase as they look to position their leaders.
The road narrows drastically and that's why so many riders are fighting for position.
Bora remain on the front but Deceuninck-QuickStep and Direct Energie are where they need to be.
Sebastian Mora has 23 seconds but the bunch are back on wider roads now and they're lining out as Groupama bring Demare to the front. He's not won this year either as Total control the peloton.
Sebastian Mora, who has a track pedigree, looks good in a TT position too and he's riding well to keep the peloton at 25 seconds. There is a cross-wind though, so the bunch might split.
Crash, and the rider down is Jake Stewart. He's quickly back up and chasing but might need a new bike.
The riders turn to take the road along the coast into De Panne. Just over 50km to go now and Mora is still hanging out there.
Another crash as the road narrows along the familiar train tracks. It's Christophe Noppe (Arkea-Samsic) and he's back in his feet pretty quickly.
The peloton strings out along the train tracks now. This is a preview of the run-in.
47.5km to go
Mora is caught towards the end of the penultimate lap. All together.
Jumbo-Visma take it up as we head towards the finish line.
Mora has been dropped now. Not quite sure about the wisdom of that attack but a good test of the legs, and conveniently he's pretty much back at the team bus now, so let's see if he fancies this final lap.
Jumbo-Visma take us through the final left-hand bend and into the finale. That was a dress-rehearsal of sorts, and it's sure to be a hectic run-in on those narrow roads lined with road furniture.
45km to go
Ding ding ding
The bell rings out and the peloton heads out onto the final lap.
We haven't had the 'Rumble in De Moeren' billed by the organisers but we're heading back out onto the exposed polder land for a final time now. The wind isn't strong but riders will have to be alert. Will anyone try something?
Lotto Soudal take it up as we head through a town ahead of the longer exposed stretch.
Hairy moments as Jumbo try to move up, having to weave around the big flower beds that line the roads.
Lotto Soudal accelerate over the bridge onto De Moeren...
Lotto Soudal are taking this on!
It is wide wide open, but is the wind strong enough?
The back of the bunch is lined out but no splits
Things calm down a little at the front.
Qhubeka Assos take it up again now. Four men on the front trying to force an echelon.
Wisniowski is drilling it for the South African team. Nizzolo is their sprinter and he's third wheel now.
A slight change in direction and Qhubeka continue their effort but they're not doing any real damage here.
Qhubeka knock it off now, but there's a counter attack from a couple of riders.
It's one from Movistar and one from Astana. They've clipped off the front and this is a renewed breakaway attempt. The peloton lets them go.
30km to go
The two escapees are Davide Martinelli (Astana) and Lluis Mas (Movistar)
Qhubeka still have four men on the front but they're setting a controlling pace now rather than looking to split the bunch.
Mas' computer snaps off as his bike judders over a cobbled section. Into his pocket it goes.
24km to go
Martinelli and Mas have 10 seconds over this Qhubeka-led peloton
Mas isn't happy here. He waves his arm in remonstration at Martinelli, who doesn't appear quite so committed to this.
21.5km to go
Mas and Martinelli are caught. That's the second random Movistar attack of the day. Peloton all together as we head into Veurne with just over 20km to go. Bunch sprint finish on the cards.
Attack from a Lotto Soudal rider as we head into town.
It's Brent Van Moer and he has a small gap as Qhubeka continue to lead the bunch.
Van Moer opens a gap of 13 seconds with 18km to go.
Qhubeka slip back now and Ackermann's Bora-Hansgrohe take it up.
And now Deceuninck-QuickStep move up. The run-in is hectic, with narrow furniture-laden roads, and a long stretch along the train tracks. The battle for position will heat up soon.
It's Stijn Steels on the front for QuickStep. Bennett is a few places further back.
15km to go
Into the final 15 and Van Moer leads the peloton by 16 seconds.
Van Moer folds his forearms over his handlebars. Do it while you can. One last week of freedom.
Bahrain punch their way up on the right as we hit a wide road by the river.
A reminder of the sprinters here: Bennett, Ackermann, Demare, Viviani, Colbrelli, Philipsen, Bol, Nizzolo, Gaviria, Dekker, Sarreau, Theuns, Greipel, Hofstetter, Mezgec, Dupont, Halvorsen, McLay.
The riders turn left off the main road and Van Moer is soon to be caught.
11km to go
Van Moer is caught. All together again.
10km to go
Big surge in tempo now as we head into Oostduinkerke.
DSM take it up now. They're working for Cees Bol, who won a stage of the recent Paris-Nice.
Arkea are prominent, too. They've lost Bouhanni due to illness but still have Dan McLay.
Mechanical for Theuns. He's calling for the team car but it's not coming yet.
Theuns has the lead number for Trek but they also have Matteo Moschetti for the sprint here.
8km to go
Theuns gets a new bike as the pace eases a little through a section of sand dunes. We'll soon be on the coastal road for the run-in.
AG2R hit the front now. They're here for Marc Sarreau.
Hello again tram tracks. AG2R have the nose but Arkea, Bora, and Jumbo are all positioned up near the front.
5.5km to go
Total Direct Energie take it up now with three. Boasson Hagen is on the front and their sprinter Lorenzo Manzin is third wheel.
FDJ and QuickStep look to move up now.
Into the final 5 and still it's Total dictating here.
UAE are up there with Richeze and Gaviria.
FDJ move up on the left now. Jake Stewart is on the front for them, jersey ripped from his earlier crash.
Jumbo have set up a four-man train down the middle for David Dekker.
3.5km to go
FDJ take it up now as Total slip back. QuickStep move up finally. We haven't seen them for a while
3km to go
And now Pascal Eenkorn who hits the front for Jumbo.
It's getting messy now as we continue along the tracks. B&B hit the front.
2.5km to go
DSM are right behind B&B.
QuickStep have been separated but Bennett is safely with Morkov.
2km to go
DSM lead through a left-hand bend. 2 to go!
Flyer from Lotto!
It’s Tosh Van Der Sande. Senechal leads the chase.
Van der Sande caught with 1.2km to go!
Final km. Big left-hander coming up into the home straight. QuickStep on the front.
I said QuickStep were separated. Well, no, four on the front through the turn
Leadout from QuickStep, now Morkov...
Problem for Demare, he stops sprinting
And takes it!
Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) wins the 2021 Classic Brugge-De Panne
Philipsen second, Ackermann third.
Brilliant from Bennett and his team. They led through that left-hander with three riders in front of Bennett. It was a textbook peeling lead-out in the end. Philipsen jumped just before Morkov was done, and Bennett got out just ahead of Ackermann on the right. In the end, it was utterly convincing.
01 Sam Bennett Deceuninck-Quick Step 4:27:40 300
02 Jasper Philipsen Alpecin-Fenix
03 Pascal Ackermann BORA-hansgrohe
04 Giacomo Nizzolo Qhubeka ASSOS
05 Timothy Dupont Bingoal-WB
06 Hugo Hofstetter Israel Start-Up Nation
07 Cees Bol Team DSM
08 Michael Mørkøv Deceuninck-Quick Step
09 Elia Viviani Cofidis
10 Stanislaw Aniolkowski Bingoal-WB
Let's hear from the winner
"He [Philipsen] jumped early but I could feel a bit of a headwind so I decided to wait longer and then go. I don’t focus on anyone else, I just do my own sprint.
"For me, it’s super important to get this win - especially being in a Belgian team with Belgian sponsors. We’re on home soil and we wanted to perform. For myself personally, it’s my first one-day WorldTour win. It’s something I’ve been chasing for many years and I’m very happy to get it here today."
Here's our race report
Adam Yates has won the first summit finish and taken the overall lead at the Volta a Catalunya. Here's the link for that one.
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