200 kilometers from Leuven to Overijse with 26 “hellingen” along the way – sounds like the Brabantsje Pijl!
The Ardennes Classics have begun! And we start out with a break group of six with a gap of 6:45 after only 50km.
The group is: Perrig Quémeneur (Europcar), Mattia Pozzo and Giorgio Cecchinel (Neri Sottoli), Matthias Brändle (IAM), Christopher Williams (Novo Nordisk) and Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare). They got away almost at the start.
The podium last year was Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert and Björn Leukemans. Sagan is not here today to defend his title.
The podium last year was Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert and Björn Leukemans. Sagan is not here today to defend his title.
The race ends with three laps of a circuit course which contains five climbs: Hagaard, Hertstraat, Holstheide, Ijsklerdaam and the closing Schavei,720 meters with a maximum gradient of 11 percent. Who will have the legs to sprint for the win on that climb?
140km remaining from 203km
The six leaders are approaching the first climb of the day, the Rue de Hal. It is 1.2 km long with an averge gradient of 4.9%.
A bunch sprint is actually the exception here. Last year a group of 11 came to the Schavei together, and the year before that, Thomas Voeckler soloed in after a 35 km long break.
Phillipe Gilbert is the only previous winner riding here today. He would surely love to take the win here again. He is leading a strong BMC team including Michael Schär and Stephen Cummings.
138km remaining from 203km
Is the break already starting to give in? After a maximum gap of 6:50, it is now down to 6:40!
Lotto Belisol's early part of the Classics season didn't go to plan, and the Belgian team really wants to remedy that. Tony Gallopin and Jurgen Van den Broeck are leading the team here.
127km remaining from 203km
Things are going on as usual at the race. Everyone is doing a lot of upping and downing, and the gap is holding steady at 6:40.
125km remaining from 203km
The gap is definitely falling, now that everyone is on the climbs. With 125 km to go, it is down to6:18.
Which nation has won this race the most often? Belgium, of course, no surprise there. The host country has won here 35 times, followed by the Netherlands with a mere six wins.
Australian Chris Williams of Novo Nordisk is not only a pro cyclist but also a diabetic. The 32 -year-old was diagnosed only five years ago, but it hasn't stopped him from pursuing his pro career. “I don't think that just because I have diabetes, it's something that has to hold me back,” he says.
114km remaining from 203km
114 km to go and no change in the situation. We in the blimp are enjoying the beautiful sunshine and bright blue skies, but it could be a bit warmer.....
The oldest rider here today is Davide Rebellin (CCC Polsat), who is 42. The youngest -- who from age could really Rebellin's son -- is Edward Diaz of the Colombia team, at a mere 19 years.
109km remaining from 203km
And the gap is back up to 6:30.
Team Novo Nordisk is here today, and proclaims it to be their first race in Belgium ever!
100km remaining from 203km
Interesting, the field is putting the break group on a long line here, a very long line. The gap is now up to 6:48, which we believe is the highest so far today.
This is one of those races with many names. The Flemish version is Brabantse Pijl, the French is Flèche Brabançonne and Wiki tells us that in English is is called the Brabant Arrow – which we admit we have never heard.
The peloton approaches the feed zone. We wish them all a good appetite!
94km remaining from 203km
And now we hear that the gap has dropped to 5:16.
Looks like Garmin has now moved to lead the chase, which may explain why the gap is down to 4:58.
The six leaders head up the Heertstraat, one of today's many climbs.
Now the field finally hit the feed zone, with a gap of 4:19 and 86.8km to go.
Looks like the field decided it was really time to get serious, as the gap is now under 4 minutes.
Lotto now leading the chase.
We have a slight gap within the peloton, with the second half scurrying to catch up again.
The race was first held in 1963, which makes this the 53rd running.
Matthias Brändle came into today's race looking to make up for IAM's lack of a Classics win to date. He is certainly doing a good job in the break group, but no way they will make it to the end at this rate.
77km remaining from 203km
3.24 is the gap now, with 77.7 km to go.
And up another climb for the leaders, with 75 km to go.
The peloton has come back together, by the way. Lotto and Garmin at the front.
We have some attacks out of the field.
The field winds it way through a town and aroun the church. Those who just took off from the field have been caught, but the pace is incredibly high at the moment with, once again, Garmin and Lotto doing the work.
The break group crosses the finish line and heads off for another lap of the circuit course.
This high pace is in fact splintering the field. One rider each from Lotto and Quick Step have a tiny lead over the field, which crosses the finish line 2:05 after the lead group.
68km remaining from 203km
The two riders who have now built up a 10 second lead on the field are Van den Broeck and Vermote.
The two chasers are now at 1:43 down, with the field at 2:09. Several other riders are trying to catch VDB and Vermote.
Many small groups now underway, with the peloton at 1:34 down.
The group of two is being chased by a group of four: Serry, Ghyselinck, Vanoverberghe and Alaphilippe.
The chase group is now a foursome, with lots of good news for Quick Step,as three of the rider are theirs: Vermote, Alaphilippe and Serry.
Just under 60 km to go.
Two of the chasing QuickSteppers have a little chat, probably trying to figure how they can drop that pesky guy in the red jersey.
UnitedHealthcare's Marc de Maar takes off out of the field.
56km remaining from 203km
With 56 km to go, the gaps are 1:17 and 1:55.
Once again we have multiple groups trying to break from the peloton.
De Maar is back in the field.
Lotto is aware of their one man alone amongst the OPQS group, and is leading the chase to get up there and support him.
49km remaining from 203km
With just under 50km to go the gaps are 38 seconds and 1:12
42km remaining from 203km
The situation is very fluid at the moment, with Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) now trying to get across with an OPQS rider.
The leaders have just 10 seconds.
Kevin Reza (Team Europcar) is leading the attackers but Gerrans is going for it again behind the attackers.
40km remaining from 203km
We now have three groups spread across 200 metres.
The two front groups have merged but the peloton is chasing them and other riders are trying to jump across.
Jonathan Fumeaux (IAM Cycling) is trying to go across but the attackers are working well together now.
There are five riders in a chase group but they face a tough task to get across to the attackers.
31km remaining from 203km
This is a key moment in the race. The break is gaining ground and the break seem to have given up hope with so many team well represented in the move.
30km remaining from 203km
The five chasers have been caught, leaving just the nine attackers up front, with a 50-second lead.
On yet another cote, Björn Leukemans (Wanty - Groupe Gobert) ups the pace.
Behind Giant-Shimano and BMC are leading the chase.
Tony Gallopin (Lotto Belisol) has a mechanical problem in the peloton.
The twisting descents are as decisive as the climbs. And as dangerous. Several riders in the peloton go down on one corner.
25km remaining from 203km
BMC is chasing hard to put Gilbert back into contention. The gap is down to 20 seconds.
The Schavel climb could be decisive. Indeed, the break blows apart.
Leukemans has forced the split. Haas is with him, as is Gerrans.
As they cross the finish area, five riders lead, with the BMC-lead peloton at 30 seconds.
We now have six riders up front.
Leukemans leads on the narrow climb in the lanes. He seems the strongest in the break of six but the peloton can almost see them.
And Gilbert tries to go it alone and jump across. He's got a gap.
He's going to have to go full gas to get across and hope his teammates can control the peloton behind him.
The six can see Gilbert coming on a long straight road.
This is a do or die effort from Gilbert, on the final lap of the hilly race. Is he the Brabant Arrow this year?
Haas is setting the pace on the climb. He looks strong but so does Gerrans and Gilbert, who is closing in.
What a finale! Gilbert is 14 seconds behind but doesn't seem able to get across the gap alone.
He can see them but they are out of reach.
There is now another chase group behind Gilbert. Matthews is there to protect Gerrans, so is Wout Poels (OPQS).
Gilbert is trying to stay aero on his bars but is about to be caught, with the peloton just behind.
13km remaining from 203km
Gilbert refuses to give up hope and he's closer than ever.
He's on! Gilbert is in the break. But they could soon be caught by the peloton.
11km remaining from 203km
Here comes the peloton. The race is going to be all together for the final climbs.
CCC Polsat is riding for Rebellin and he has two teammates on the front.
Now Nuyens (Garmin-Sharp) tries to line-out the peloton.
The race is all together.
We have more attacks in this super aggressive finale.
But everything comes back together. The next climb will be vital. if not decisive.
Gerrans goes after an attack but the peloton hunts them down.
Another trio is also caught.
Gustav Erik Larsson (IAM Cycling) has go but Gerrans is now riding on the front, perhaps to set up Matthews for the sprint finish.
5km remaining from 203km
Orica-GreenEdge has three riders on the front but Giant-Shimano is there in numbers too.
About 40 riders are in the front group as they begin a climb.
Simon Geschke (Team Giant-Shimano) leads but Poels accelerates and ups the pace.
There are several splits in the peloton.
3km remaining from 203km
Poels goes again. He's keen to avoid a sprint finish.
Gilbert is also near the front, as are several Garmin-Sharp riders.
The riders are on the fast twisting descent and then its the climb up to the finish.
Garmin-Sharp is leading it out, perhaps for Haas.
Poles goes again on the climb.
Arashiro takes a flyer but Matthews is on his wheel, as are others.
Here we go.
It's a desperate sprint but Gilbert gets it with a long sprint to the line.
Gilbert managed to edge out Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge). The young Australian tried to come off Gilbert's wheel but he moved him across the road just enough to hold on and win.
Tony Gallopin (Lotto Belisol) was third but a few bike lengths behind an impressive Gilbert and Matthews.
Nathan Haas took sixth for Garmin-Sharp after a high-speed race.
Gilbert was rightly happy after his win and thanked his teammates. Without them chasing down the important Gerrans attack, he would have not had a chance of victory.
Wow. What a race. Gilbert showed he has the form to win the Ardennes Classics on home roads in the next ten days.
We'll have a full report and a photo gallery of all the action on Cyclingnews.com very soon.
Thanks for following this live coverage. We'll have more blow by blow coverage of Sunday's Amstel Gold Race.
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