Welcome to our live coverage of De Brabantse Pijl, the mid-week race that acts as a bridge between the cobbled classics and the Ardennes classics.
Hello there and welcome to the Cyclingnews live race centre. The cobbled classics are over, right? And the Ardennes are next week... Well, here to provide a seamless mid-week transition is De Brabantse Pijl-La Flèche Brabançonne.
The race straddles the divide between the Belgian regions of Flanders and Wallonia, and even has a name in each language - Flemish and French. It's 205 kilometres long, with plenty of hills thrown in, and a punchy finish.
As we pick up the action, with just over 90km remaining, there's a group of seven riders out front in the breakaway but they're lead is being eaten into by the advancing peloton.
The breakaway riders are:
Dries De Bondt (Veranda's Willems Crelan)
Calvin Watson (Aqua Blue Sport)
Tyler Williams (Israel Cycling Academy)
Michael Grosu (Nippo-Vini Fantini)
Elmar Reinders (Roompot)
Antoine Warnier (WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic)
Andrea Peron (Novo Nordisk)
The leaders once had a lead of eight minutes but now they're only ahead by 2:50.
It's good to see Dries De Bondt in the break. He's part of the Veranda's Willems Crelan team, who were struck by tragedy on Sunday as Michael Goolaerts died after suffering cardiac arrest during Paris-Roubaix.
The team took the decision to race today, and all their riders are wearing black armbands bearing Goolaerts' name, dates of birth and death, and the hashtag #ALL4GOOLIE. There was also a minute's silence at the start in Leuven earlier this afternoon.
@corbellameister Wed, 11th Apr 2018 13:28:34
Here is the statement from the Veranda's Willems team stating their intentions to race today
"On Wednesday, April 11, 2018 the 58th Brabantse Pijl will take place with Veranda’s Willems-Crelan at the start. After careful consultation and at the request of Michael Goolaerts’ family and our riders, we decided to be at the start of the race. Above all, the Brabantse Pijl will be our first race after the tragic loss of our team mate and friend. The first race we’ll ride with Michael in our minds.
"The entire team will meet on Tuesday, including the riders who are not in the line-up. This is a moment to come together as a team and to back and console each other. The riders who are not riding on Wednesday will be there as support for the riders who are. Everyone contributes to the team. Everyone is part of the race. Everyone ‘Sniper’. This as a tribute to Michael. #All4Goolie!"
75km remaining from 205km
The breakaway riders come over the top of the Ijskelderlaan, the most emblematic climb of the race. This is the first of four ascents of the 450m climb, which averages 7%.
The pace is being increased in the peloton as they approach the climb, with the gap standing at 2:40.
Some serious accelerations in the peloton on the climb. No splits as yet but the peloton is strung out in single file as they come over the top.
Next up is the Schavei climb, and this will bring us onto the finishing circuit. This climb is also scaled four times and comes as the final climb of the race, topping out just shy of the finish line. It's 700m long with an average gradient of 6.2%.
69km remaining from 205km
The breakaway riders are over the top and they now head into the finishing straight to cross the finish line for the first time. Up now we have three laps of a 23km circuit containing five climbs: Hagaard, Hertstraat, Holstheide, Ijskelderlaan, and Schavei.
The peloton come across the line 1:52 in arrears, and it's Lotto Soudal who are leading the way.
Lotto Soudal pile on the pressure on the Hagaard, short at 300m but steep at 10%. Jelle Vanendert and Maxime Monfort attack together and open a gap. Enrico Gasparotti and Edvald Boasson Hagen try to shut it down.
The race is really on, now, as the peloton splits into several groups.
The television broadcast has gone down, at a really bad moment.
@quickstepteam Wed, 11th Apr 2018 14:11:14
While we try and get our hands on a little more race info, why not slip in a read of Alasdair Fotheringham's guide to the Ardennes. Features words on the history and route of Brabantse Pijl, as well as a run-down of the chief contenders.
60km remaining from 205km
We're back with live images, and the peloton is starting to regroup now, though two riders are off the front. They are Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) and Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott).
Meanwhile Grosu has attacked his breakaway companions and is pressing on alone. Van der Sande and Haig, however, are now just 30 seconds behind.
And now Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie) attacks from the peloton and sets off in pursuit of Van der Sande and Haig.
Haig and Van der Sande make the junction to the breakaway, while Boudat's move comes to nothing.
Attack from Dries De Bondt! The Veranda's Willems rider is the next to make a move from the break. He has a small gap.
57km remaining from 205km
So we now have a breakaway of nine riders (albeit with De Bondt off the front of it), and the peloton is chasing at 50 seconds. BMC are taking responsibility back there - they have a strong card in Dylan Teuns.
De Bondt is brought to heel and now the nine breakaway riders start to collaborate together. They have a lead of 45 seconds and we're still a long way from the finish at 55km out.
A shot of De Bondt's bike, with a tribute to Michael Goolaerts.
Bahrain-Merida are tucked in behind BMC. They have the 2017 champion - and surely the favourite for today - in Sonny Colbrelli. The Italian had a rough cobbled classics campaign with illness but has had time to recover and the parcours here suits him perfectly.
You can remind yourself how last year's race played out with our full report.
A crash coming into a tight right-hander sees Florian Vachon and Dennis van Winden come down. Both are up and on their feet but seemingly in a lot of pain.
51km remaining from 205km
Quick-Step make an appearance now at the head of the peloton through Pieter Serry. The gap to the break is down to 27 seconds.
There's a women's Brabanste Pijl for the first time this year, and Marta Bastianelli has just won it. The Italian has had a fine spring - this victory comes on the back of her Gent-Wevelgem triumph a couple of weeks ago. Here's our report page.
The riders hit the Schavei climb once again as they come towards the end of the first of these three laps.
Haig and Van der Sande push on on the climb and drop the original members of the break - all but Grosu, who's hanging in there.
46km remaining from 205km
So, we now have a leading trio as we head onto the second lap. They have barely 20 seconds, though. The former breakaway riders are ploughing on but it won't be long before they're swallowed up by the peloton.
Grosu is dropped on the Hagaard. The Nippo rider is cooked after his efforts in the break and the two fresher riders from the WorldTour teams press on without him.
44km remaining from 205km
Topsport's Preben Van Hecke attacks from the peloton but only really succeeds in stringing it out. 30 seconds is the gap now.
Mechanical problem for Dries De Bondt now. It looks like the batteries in his derailleur have died, and he's trying to change them himself. Meanwhile the peloton is slipping into the distance.
The peloton was strung out with a few splits but it's bunching back up now as Benjamin Declercq (Topsport) attacks solo.
Van der Sande leads the way on Herstraat, riding in the smooth tarmarcked 'gutter' on the side of the cobbled road. Haig looks less at home on this terrain but he's keeping contact.
Declercq's move comes to nothing and now Marco Canola (Nippo) is on the move.
40km remaining from 205km
The peloton is in one long line but there are still plenty of riders in there.
Injections of pace are being followed by swing-offs and lulls. The race situation is very unsettled at the moment. Meanwhile Van der Sande and Haig have 30 seconds once more.
Krists Neilands is the next rider to make a move, famous of course for the Poggio attack that propelled Vincenzo Nibali to a memorable victory.
Neilands doesn't succeed in creating a gap and now Brent Bookwalter hits the front.
The attacks are coming thick and fast here on roads between the climbs.
37km remaining from 205km
Wanty's Frederik Backaert is the next to go. It's getting a little repetitive now... Haig and Van der Sande still have 30 seconds with 37 to go.
Our top story today is a special one. Our Spanish correspondent Alasdair Fotheringham went to visit Alberto Contador at his home in Pinto, and was shown round Contador's basement. Not sounding too special? Well, how about when we tell you Contador has turned that basement into a 'museum' housing a collection of more than 40 bikes that tell the story of his career. It's a cracking read and photo gallery.
More attacks and now we have a few splits in the bunch. Bob Jungels is up near the front for Quick-Step.
Colbrelli and Teuns are both in that Jungels group, which contains around 20 riders. They have a small gap over the chasing pack.
And now those groups come back together.
30km remaining from 205km
Still Van der Sande and Haig are away at the head of the race. They now have just 15 seconds, with 30km to go.
The peloton, still a sizeable one, is back together and now we have teams taking control rather than random shots being fired. Bahrain-Merida are taking it up on the approach to the Ijskelderlaan, treating it like it's a bunch sprint lead-out.
Haig and Van der Sande stick together on the climb but they're still riding strongly, as their lead grows again to 25 seconds.
Time for the penultimate time up Schavei.
Kristian Sbaragli attacks from the peloton and steals a march. You'd have thought'd he'd be waiting for a sprint.
Haig and Van der Sande hit the climb now and spring out of the saddle in unison. They're back up to 30 seconds. It's still a huge ask, but they're riding impressively here.
Sbaragli is caught as Bahrain set a steady pace on the climb.
23km remaining from 205km
Van der Sande and Haig come across the line and take the bell. The pace in the bunch on that climb is reflected by the fact that the gap has gone out to 42 seconds. Serry ups the pace in response.
Bahrain are doing their best to control things here, clearly up for a sprint for Colbrelli. Vital Concept are also up there with Coquard. Lotto Soudal and Mitchelton-Scott don't have a sprinter so having a rider each up the road is a useful tool to put pressure on the other teams.
With 18km to go, our two leaders still have 26 seconds over the bunch, where Bahrain and BMC are riding hard.
Coquard is on his wheel...
What was that about controlling and waiting for a sprint?
No gap for Colbrelli but the bunch is strung out now as they come over the top of Hertstraat.
There's a small split in the bunch, with around 20 riders up front. Van der Sande and Haig are in sight.
Some more accelerations in that group. The rest of the peloton is still close at hand, though. We'll soon be onto another climb, where things will be shaken up once more.
Grega Bole drives the pace for Bahrain in that group but the rest of the peloton - in one long line - is coming back now.
Vanendert is up there disrupting for Lotto Soudal. His teammate Van der Sande is still out front with Haig, 15 seconds ahead.
14km remaining from 205km
The peloton bunches back up now as the pace eases. It has thinned out but it's still a proper peloton. 15 seconds the gap with 13km to go.
Haig and Van der Sande are slipping back now
12km remaining from 205km
Van der Sande and Haig are caught at the bottom of Holstheide.
Vanendert attacks now
Mitchelton-Scott again on the case and now more riders are scrambling across. We have about eight riders with a slim gap.
Gasparotto is in there for Bahrain.
Quick-Step, DiData, Mitchelton, LottoNL, Wanty all have a rider in there. Soudal have two. No one from BMC, though.
8km remaining from 205km
Just over 8km to go and the gap is still very small. The race is finely poised.
Tim Wellens is the second Soudal rider in that group and, after some hefty groundwork from Vanendert, the Belgian strikes out.
Serge Pauwels (DiData) goes after Wellens, and now Gasparotto takes it up.
Wellens has a decent gap and no one seems capable of closing him down.
The peloton is slipping further back here. Wellens is known for his attacking style and this could just be a great one.
Wellens has his arms folded over his handlebars. He's getting away. Serry senses the danger and ups the pace, Gasparotto on the wheel. Bert Jan Lindeman is the LottNL rider in there.
5km remaining from 205km
5km to go for Wellens. No time gaps at the moment.
Wellens hits the Ijskelderlaan and drives out of the saddle. Serry hits the climb next, around 15 seconds down, but the peloton is now on the heels of that small group.
It's Carlos Verona for Mitchelton-Scott and he takes it up now as Bob Jungels is dropped.
4km remaining from 205km
Wellens has 20 seconds!
Just one climb to go for Wellens - the final ascent of the Schavei.
Gasparotto leads the chase, with the rest of the peloton strung out in his wake.
Wellens cuts some audacious lines as he swoops through some of these gently downhill bends that lead to the foot of the Schavei.
2km remaining from 205km
25 seconds is the gap now. This is in Wellens' hands.
1km remaining from 205km
Wellens takes the right hand bend onto the Schavei and immediately ditches a bidon.
1km remaining from 205km
Wellens takes the flamme rouge and he looks strong here.
Gasparotto still on the front of the peloton. No one striking out here.
Wellens looks around and can't see anyone. He gets his head down and gives it everything.
Verona takes it up and here comes Teuns.
But Wellens is too far out in front, surely.
Onto the flat final few hundred metres and Wellens is going to take it.
Wellens sits up, zips up the jersey, and raises one arm in the air.
Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) wins De Brabantse Pijl
Colbrelli takes the sprint for second place ahead of another Lotto Soudal rider.
It was Benoot who was third there. What a day for Lotto Soudal - they worked that race perfectly.
Wellens' celebration was a subdued one - a simple raised arm pointing towards the sky, no expression on his face. He surely had his compatriot Michael Goolaerts in mind.
"There are four chances [in the Ardennes] and today was the first of the four, so I'm happy to win here. It's not the same level as the others, but it's a race in Belgium, it's very important for our team, and it's never easy to win, so I'm very happy."
More from Wellens, who explains his victory salute
"It was for Michael. I didn't want to celebrate, because everyone is thinking about him. I didn't know him personally, but it's very bad what happened."
1 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal
2 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
3 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal
4 Pieter Serry (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
5 Jan Tratnik (Slo) CCC Sprandi Polkowice
6 Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
7 Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team
8 Huub Duijn (Ned) Veranda's Willems Crelan
9 Thomas Sprengers (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise
10 Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott
@Lotto_Soudal Wed, 11th Apr 2018 15:51:30
Here's a first finish line shot
More photos, along with a write-up and results, in our report page
Lotto Soudal ripped the race up on the Hagaard on the first of the three finishing laps, and consequently placed Tosh Van der Sande up the road, putting the pressure on the other teams. When things came back together ahead of the third-from-last climb, with 12km to go, they put two men in a crucial split. Vanendert drove it clear before Wellens launched his attack and soloed away for victory. To top it off, Benoot bagged a spot on the podium.
Quick-Step have dominated the headlines, but that's a fine day's work from Belgium's 'other' WorldTour team.
Plenty of photos of the emotional scenes at the start in our report page gallery.
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