Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews coverage of De Brabantse Pijl - La Fleche Brabanconne
The cobbles are all done and now we begin our preparation for the Ardennes with Brabantse Pijl. After 55km we've got four men out front with a gap of 5:20.
The men out front are Oliver Zaugg (IAM Cycling), Emanuel Buchmann (Bora Argon 18), Sergey Nikolaev (Gazprom-Rusvelo) and Alberto Cecchin (Team Roth).
BMC's Ben Hermans is the defending champion here after a solo break and if you want to refresh your memory of how he claimed that victory then you can watch the highlights here.
Notable for BMC, however, is the absence of Philippe Gilbert. The Belgian broke his finger in an altercation with two men while out training.Information about the incident has been trickling through since Friday, with Gilbert at risk of a jail term after using an illegal spray during the altercation. Read the full story here.
As well as Hermans, we have one other former winner in today's race and that is Thomas Voeckler. He's also got Bryan Coquard in his team, who could be a dark horse for today. This is how the Direct Energie team looks today.
121 Thomas Voeckler (Fra)
122 Thomas Boudat (Fra)
123 Lilian Calmejane (Fra)
124 Bryan Coquard (Fra)
125 Fabien Grellier (Fra)
126 Perrig Quemeneur (Fra)
127 Romain Sicard (Fra)
128 Angelo Tulik (Fra)
136km remaining from 205km
The leaders are now on the Alsemberg, the second of 26 climbs today. It was until 2009 the race's final climb.The new finish is now in Overijse.
The gap to our four escapees had dropped a little to 5 minutes. Still a comfortable gap with a long way to go.
This is what the riders are facing today, as you can see there are plenty of climbs packed into the second half of the race as they often are in this part of the world.
There is no rest for the wicked and recent Paris-Roubaix winner Mat Hayman is back in action today and playing the team role. He is supporting Michael Matthews, who is a potential contender for victory. At 37, Hayman claimed the biggest victory of his career last Sunday. We spoke to his team manager Matt White to take a look back on Hayman's career. You can read what he said here.
You know you've made it big when people start writing about your shoes. Hayman's muddy shoes made it into the Dutch press earlier today. The Australian said that he didn't have time to shine them after his Paris-Roubaix win.
It is Orica-GreenEdge doing the work on the front of the peloton with a little bit of help from Lotto-Soudal's Thomas de Gendt.
Lotto-Soudal have a strong team for this year's Ardennes with the likes of Tony Gallopin, Jelle Vanendert and Tim Wellens. Gallopin was on the podium here in 2014 and just missed out last year in the bunch sprint behind Hermans.
As we mentioned before, Michael Matthews is one of the pre-race favourites. He finished second in last year's race. He spoke to Belgian website Le Ravito Cycling before the race and had this to say.
"It’s a race that I really enjoy doing and to be back as a favourite is pretty special. Hopefully I can try to deliver," said Matthews.
"I feel good. The training has been going really well. I’m getting used to the weather and hopefully it comes together on the day. I’ve had a few nice results with not so many race days so hopefully I can win the races I do start."
115km remaining from 205km
The escapees' advantage continues to drop. They are now 4:40 ahead of the main pack which is still led by GreenEdge and Lotto-Soudal.
Oliver Zaugg is by far the most experienced in this breakaway. This is the Swiss man's 13th season as a professional with his biggest success his surprise victory at the 2011 Giro di Lombardia.
Direct Energie confirm that they are working for Bryan Coquard today. Coquard suffered a broken shoulder during training in February. He has a successful return to racing with second at Dwars door Vlaanderen, although he thought that he had actually won. He did eventually take victory at the Route Adélie de Vitré.
The latest time check for the escapees has them at 3:30 over the peloton with 110km to go.
Away from racing, we had the news this morning that Luca Paolini had been handed a 18-month ban for testing positive for cocaine during last year's Tour de France. You can read the full story here.
98km remaining from 205km
We've under the 100km mark now and the gap continues to drop down. The four out front have just 3:10 now as the peloton continues to reel them in. They won't want to catch them too soon but just keep them at a comfortable distance so they can catch them when they need to.
Orica-GreenEdge now has just one man on the front. Behind him is a large group of Lotto-Soudal riders still led by De Gendt. BMC, Etixx-QuickStep and Drapac all have representatives near the front.
The great Belgian weather is out today. It was raining early and the roads are still a touch wet. It's a bit cold out there too and almost everyone is in arm warmers or in jackets.
Again, we briefly dip away from the racing and French paper L'Equipe has reported that we could see a physiological passport alongside the well established biological passport. Read the full story here.
The breakaway definitely does't look like they are going at full pace. Perhaps they have already resigned themselves to what seems to be the inevitable. As we hit the cobbled Hertstraat the gap is down to 2:24.
86km remaining from 205km
Nikolaev looks to be the first of the escapees to be in a bit of trouble. The Gazprom rider was dropped briefly on that last climb and has to sprint to catch up with the rest of the break.
As the peloton close in on the escapees, there are a few attacks coming off the front of the peloton and it has strung out into one long line.
81km remaining from 205km
It was Rayane Bouhanni, Pim Ligthart and Albert Timmer that tried to go off the front. They didn't succeed but their little dig has brought the gap down once again to 1:40.
Topsport's Sander Helven has gone off the front of the peloton. He's got a small gap and is trying to bridge the gap on his own.
Crash for Chris Anker Sorensen.
Not sure what caused Sorensen's accident but he doesn't look too badly injured. He has to put his chain back on before he can get back to racing.
Helven is still plugging along on his own. He's still got around 1:15 to make it to the front four guys.
The leaders are approaching the 10th helling of the day the IJskelderlaan as Helven is brought back. It was a nice try by the Topsport rider but doomed to fail.
71km remaining from 205km
Only 30 seconds for the escapees as a small group of riders try to come across to them.
The riders who are making their way over are Pieter Serry (Etixx - Quick-Step), Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge), Josef Cerny (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), Martin Mortensen (ONE Pro Cycling), Christian Mager (Stölting Service Group), Marco Minnaard (Wanty - Groupe Gobert).
The chasers have made touch with the leaders now and they've got 42 seconds on the peloton. It appears that Cerny was unable to make the gap however, along with one other rider.
67km remaining from 205km
A problem for De Bie on that climb as Teuns attacks from the peloton.
A mechanical problem for Voeckler.
He gets a new wheel and is shoved on his way.
We have another group of riders now trying to come across and they've picked up Cerny and Minnaard, who also failed to make the juncture earlier.
64km remaining from 205km
Nikolaev getting dropped on the climb again and there is only so long that he will be able to keep chasing back on.
The chasers have caught Nikolaev. They are Tulik, Van Der Sande, Teuns and Vliegen.
Up front, Daryl Impey has decided enough is enough. He has jumped clear along with De Bie and Serry.
Meanwhile, our chasers have caught the rest of the break. 20 seconds separate the two groups.
With riders in the break now, BMC and Orica-GreenEdge will be able to pass on some of the work to the other teams as will Lotto-Soudal.
57km remaining from 205km
The three leaders have 32 seconds on the 10 chasers and just over a minute on the peloton.
57km remaining from 205km
The three leaders have 32 seconds on the 10 chasers and just over a minute on the peloton.
The chasing group is breaking up however. BMC want a rider out there and they've sent Vliegen in chase and he's got Tulik and Van Der Sande in his wheel.
The eagle has landed. Vliegen brings his two companions over.
We have groups all over the road now. Buchmann, Mortensen and Teuns are in the second group while Checchin, Zaugg and Nikolaev are in group three.
51km remaining from 205km
The Teuns group is almost with the leaders now. They're just 11 seconds back and they can see them just up the road.
More action in the peloton as we enter the final 50km of the race and they're out in a long line again. The pace has dropped Paris-Roubaix winner Hayman, who has been working on the front for Michael Matthews.
We've now got nine men in the leading group with just Zaugg and Cecchin chasing behind. The gap is just 51 seconds to the peloton.
47km remaining from 205km
A crash for Kristian Sbaragli back in the peloton. He's quickly on his feet though as he waits for some mechanical assistance.
As the riders pass through the finish line yet again, the gap is just 41 seconds to the peloton.
Gasparotto is the next rider to have a go off the front and he's got a Bardiani rider trying to come over to him.
Gasparotto is a former winner at Amstel Gold and the peloton is not eager to let him go. He's got a few riders who have bridged over but the main group is not that far behind.
Mat Hayman rolls over the line and calls it a day. He's done his job.
43km remaining from 205km
Gasparotto's move doesn't work, much to the disappointment of his teammate who throws his arm in frustration.
We've got another Wanty rider charging off the front with Tom Dumoulin in his wheel.
Dumoulin heads to the front but nobody is willing to help him out. Try as he might, he gets no assistance and that little move fails. The gap to the leaders continues to drop. They've got just 27 seconds now.
Pieter Weening is now having a go. Will he get lucky?
Up front, Buchmann has been dropped from the leading group.
Sorry, it is not Weening but De Vries that is chasing and he's got Enger with him. They quickly catch up with Buchmann.
37km remaining from 205km
21 seconds between the first and second group as someone else takes a flyer off the front of the peloton.
It is Sam Oomen of the Giant-Alpecin team who is trying to get onto the chasing group. He's within spitting distance but the pace is high and the group are slow at coming to him.
Oomen makes contact and it's now 22 seconds to the leaders but the peloton is quick to catch them up. Oomen looks really annoyed after making such a big effort to catch them up.
Cannondale are manning the front of the peloton. They've got Slagter as a potential winner today.
33km remaining from 205km
Here comes the peloton and they're mopping up some of the escapees. Cannondale's pace is so high at the moment that they've actually caused a split. Orica are having to work hard to bring it back together.
Only three riders remain out front but their day is all but done.
Orica-GreenEdge have brought the peloton back together as the rest of the break is brought back.
We've immediately got attacks coming and Cannnodale are at the head of things again.
30km remaining from 205km
Orica are wise to things and they quickly nullify the move with Jack Haig at the front.
We can see Voeckler near the front of the peloton. The team are working for Coquard but we wouldn't put it past him to try a move.
Attack from Wellens
26km remaining from 205km
Wellens has a decent gap and he's got Alaphilippe with him.
Alaphilippe is still on the comeback trail after suffering from mononucleosis over the winter. He and Wellens are both strong contenders for the Ardennes.
24km remaining from 205km
The two have got 18 seconds on the peloton which is being led by Direct Energie.
Voeckler continues to pull the peloton along with the help of Orica-GreenEdge. His leader Coquard is around fourth wheel in the peloton. The gap is steady at 19 seconds.
22km remaining from 205km
Voeckler has gone and left Orica to it with Coquard staying close to the front. The gap is now coming down, much to their relief.
20km remaining from 205km
The peloton is in bits as they chase down Wellens and Alaphilippe. Less than 10 seconds for the leading duo.
Another mechanical issue for Voeckler as Weening and Dumoulin try to get away from the peloton.
Alaphilippe distances Wellens on Hertstraat but the Belgian catches him up when they reach the top.
16km remaining from 205km
There is a lot of movement in the peloton and Matthews decides to try his luck.
13km remaining from 205km
No surprise, Matthews isn't given much space and he is quickly brought back in. The peloton is getting smaller and smaller as Bardiani take up the pace setting.
14 seconds for the pair up front. There are lots of teams pitching into the effort of the chase but it is not as easy as they may have anticipated.
The peloton is finally making inroads and they've caught Wellens and Alaphilippe.
We can expect plenty more attacks before the finish and we've already got the next. Weening is having a go again.
10km remaining from 205km
Roompot have been very active in the last 20km but nothing has stuck for them yet. Weening is a strong breakaway rider and has won Giro d'Italia stages solo.
Gianni Meersman has set off behind Weening as have a number of other riders.
Cofidis rider Stefan Rossetto is one of those riders and he's almost with Meersman.
Rosetto has made touch with Meersman and they've got a BMC rider just behind. Weening is giving it beans out front and almost overcooks it but he remains upright.
7km remaining from 205km
De Marchi is the BMC rider. He is another who has found some majoy success in the break but he'll have to try again as the peloton bring the group back once again.
6km remaining from 205km
Just 8 seconds for Weening.
Weening decides there's little point in forcing the issue and he sits up and waits for the peloton.
4km remaining from 205km
Lots of jostling for position in what remains of the peloton. Around 30-40 riders left in this group, which is now being led by Bora-Argon 18.
The riders are over the penultimate climb of the day and Wellens attacks again.
He doesn't get very far but his teammate Gallopin is sitting in second wheel.
Now Gallopin attacks
3km remaining from 205km
More splits in the group. Gallopin is out front, quickly followed by four riders, with the peloton behind them.
Gallopin has been caught by the four riders, Tanner, Gasparotto, Alaphilippe and Vakoc.
Flamme rouge and the five leaders still have a small gap.
Alaphilippe is dropped as Vakoc attacks.
Gasparotto and Gallopin are struggling to chase him
Vakoc in the finishing straight and has a small lead
The gap continues to draw out and this looks like Vakoc's
Gasparotto takes second and Gallopin in third.
Coquard wins the bunch sprint behind, beating Matthews to the line.
A very well timed attack from Vakoc on that final climb. Too strong for the others.
Vakoc is clearly delighted after taking that win.
"It is unbelievable. It was so hard and so long in that last 500 metres but I'm so happy," he says to Sporza. "It's amazing."
Here is confirmation of the top 10.
1 Petr Vakoc (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step
2 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Wanty - Groupe Gobert
3 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal
4 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie
5 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
6 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF
7 Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Roompot - Oranje Peloton
8 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx - Quick-Step
9 Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Cannondale Pro Cycling
10 Loic Vliegen (Bel) BMC Racing Team
That is it from us today keep tuned into Cyclingnews for the full report and results and we will have more live coverage this weekend with Amstel Gold.
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