Hello and welcome to live coverage from Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde.
Good morning, I didn't see you come in there. Welcome to our live coverage from Belgium, and we're on the start line for Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde. The race format has dramatically changed - with the three-day/four-stage event replaced by a one-day 200km test. The riders are currently on the line and in a few minutes we'll head out through the neutralized zone.
The familiarity this morning comes in the fact that we're starting in Grote Markt, where Flanders used to start. De Panne of course used to start out by the coast. Harsh winds along the seafront - Blackpool-esque scenery - have been replaced with this city-centre start. At least that's one improvement, for some.
In terms of today's route, Barry Ryan wrote in his excellent race preview:
"The Monteberg, Kemmelberg – the heart of Gent-Wevelgem – Rodeberg, Viaigneberg and Sulferberg follow in quick succession between kilometres 80 and 100, and this staccato burst of climbs should break up the peloton ahead of the flat and potentially wind-blasted run towards the finish. The finale feature two laps of a 25.7km finishing circuit around De Panne, Koksijde and Veurne, before the finish on De Panne’s Zeelan."
You can read the full race preview, right here.
Despite the dropping in stature, De Panne remains a prestigious race to win. It used to take - when it was a three-day race - really impressive skill-set. You needed to be good on the cobbles, tough enough to handle the conditions, and a decent enough time trialist to seal the win through the final short stage. Gilbert won in 2017, and Westra, Kristoff, Chavanel, and Millar all won this race in the last 10 years.
As it happens, we're currently running our very own Belgian Week on Cyclingnews. So far we've talked to Gilbert about his racing career, looked at betting on the Classics, interviewed Logan Owen, and this morning you can view this excellent gallery from Josh Evans at the cycling museum in Roeselare.
So, 202.4km on the menu this morning. The riders are currently heading out through Bruges and they'll head south-west before turning north and towards the finish, which is still on the coast. All five bergs are in the first half of the race - so we're probably looking at a bunch sprint today. Still, following the race is going to be better than working. Here's a map of the route. If you're in the office and on our live coverage, when your boss walks by put on your best serious face, nod and say 'some really interesting data here, boss'. If he, or she, asks any follow-up questions, make your excuses and leave. Immediately.
@Cyclingnewsfeed Wed, 21st Mar 2018 10:49:01
Looking at the start list makes or grim reading in the sense that not too many 'stars' of the Classics are here. No Gilbert, Van Avermaet - BMC haven't turned up at all, Sagan, or Kristoff but still the line-up has a few interesting riders to follow.
Viviani is here with his Quick-Step team. The self-proclaimed Wolfpack. Sabatini, Martinelli and Jakobsen also make the team. Lets hope the conditions aren't too ruff for them.
Jens Keukeleire is here as part of a strong-looking Lotto Soudal, while Bora have turned up with a couple of decent options in Ackermann, and Pelucchi. Mitchelton have Hayman, Mezgec and Durbridge.
A real contender for today could well be Bryan Coquard. He's settled with his new team and has already won this season, taking the first stage at the Tour of Oman, and a number of second places. This race should really suit him.
190km remaining from 202km
No break so far, but we have at least seen a few attacks. 190km to go.
At the start this morning Lotto Soudal told the media that they would work for their fast-man, Debusschere. The Belgian team have been heavily linked to Greg van Avermaet in recent weeks but Cyclingnews understands that Bahrain Merida have already put together a proposal for the BMC Racing rider should his current team fold - or he decides he wants to leave - as he's out of contract this year.
185km remaining from 202km
We've covered almost 20km of the course, but still no break. Something will happen soon. Promise.
And we have a break. A handful of riders have gone up the road and they've opened up a gap of just under two minutes in rather quick fashion. We'll bring you their names as soon as we have them.
@Cyclingnewsfeed Wed, 21st Mar 2018 11:30:42
173km remaining from 202km
Only two names have come over race radio so far, Conor Dunne and David Boucher. The leaders have 2'03 over the peloton.
Ahead of the climbs, you can listen to our latest podcast. We review the action from Milan-San Remo and hear from Nibali, Sagan, Kristoff, and Ewan. You can download the episode (for free) right here.
165km remaining from 202km
A level crossing has opened just in time for the leaders, who have extended their advantage to three minutes. Dunne, Boucher, Sefa, Bennett, and Coenen are the names we currently have.
The lead has moved out to 4'55 and we're about to hit the first cobbled section of the race.
The peloton really aren't in a mood to chase this one down, with the gap now up to 8'50.
Quick-Step Floors blink first and post a man to the front of the main field. The main task for now will be to ensure that the gap is held down at around eight minutes before a real chase starts with roughly 100km to go. Still plenty of time to bring this move back, for sure.
The six leaders are: Conor Dunne (Aqua Blue Sport), David Boucher (Tarteletto-Isorex-SH), Sean Bennett (Hagens Berman Axeon), Ylber Safer (Tarteletto-Isorex-SH), Tanner Putt (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling) and Brian van Goethem (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij).
145km remaining from 202km
Bora have sent a man up to the front to join Cavagna from Quick-Step, and it's Kolar who has drawn the short straw. The gap is down to 7'15 with 144km to go.
A crash in the bunch and Jakobsen is one of the riders with a mechanical as a result. The bunch are now 6'09 down on the break with 138km to go. We're about to hit the second set of cobbles for the day.
Quick-Step Floors and Bora-hansgrohe are the only two teams plugging away on the front of the peloton. They have the leaders at just under six minutes now, with the gap down from nine earlier in the day. 127km to go in the race.
An early blow for Katusha-Alpecin. Reto Hollenstein was involved the crash earlier on and has been forced abandon the race. We'll bring you news on his injuries as soon as we have them.
As the riders take on the Kemmelberg, the gap to the riders out front is six minutes.
A little dig off the front from Luke Durbridge and Nikolas Maes on the Kemmelberg, but nobody decides to go with them so they sit up. The little injection in pace has cut the gap to 5:50.
Elsewhere, Quick-Step Floors has posted a video of Petr Vakoc riding his bike for the first time since breaking his spine in January. It's not quite what you might expect. Find out more here.
News from Cofidis is that Dimitri Claeys has abandoned the race.
Some jackets and gilets are coming off. It's still pretty parky out there but this hilly section is keeping the riders warm.
The gap has taken a battering over that series of climbs and has dropped to under five minutes with more than 90km remaining.
With the Classics in full swing, we've been hosting a Belgian week. You'll have to supply your own beers, but we've got plenty of reading material to go with it including a look around Roeselare's cycling museum, an interview with Philippe Gilbert and a day with some of the bookies at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. You can find all of our Belgian week articles, here.
At the start this morning we spoke to Elia Viviani, the favourite for today's race:
"I come here as the favourite but it’s never easy to win when you’re the favourite. It looks like everything should be easy, you have a strong team, a strong lead-out, you arrive there, and you win, but it’s never like that. So we try to stay focused. The condition is good, the start of the season has been good, but I need to win my first one in Europe."
@Cyclingnewsfeed Wed, 21st Mar 2018 13:30:12
92km remaining from 202km
The peloton has raced through the feedzone with just over 90km of action remaining. The gap to the break is at a stable 4'40.
If Viviani wins today, and he probably should, he'll need to buy a few Belgian beers for Cavagna. The 22-year-old Frenchman, out of contract at the end of the year, has been on the front of the bunch almost since the break first escaped.
@Cyclingnewsfeed Wed, 21st Mar 2018 13:40:30
76km remaining from 202km
So 76km to go and the break are holding strong at 4;05. Dunne, 26, takes a long pull on the front. This terrain suits the Irishman, who has raced plenty of the cobbles through his time with the An Post team. He was there for two years before joining JTL for a season in 2016. He's been at Aqua Blue for two years now and is out of contract at the end of the campaign.
And with 71km to go the pace has lifted dramatically. We're looking at a second of crosswinds and Direct Energie set the pace as we hit the cobbles once more.
The French team sit up but Lotto Soudal take over and the increase in pace has seen the gap come down to 3'21. 66km to go.
Gaudin had his team on the front but he's now losing ground on the main field. Here come Quick-Step. Viviani is second wheel in fact and he just wants to sit near the front and keep out of trouble.
The six leaders are trying to react but the gap continues to tumble. It's at 2'43 with 62km to go but every acceleration from the bunch takes off another 25-30 seconds.
There's a major split in the main field and Viviani is present but there's not enough collaboration, so it should come back together. Blythe is also there.
We're onto the finish circuit and Lotto Soudal again try and take the race up. Durbridge is up there for Mitchelton and that gap between the first and second peloton looks to be increasing. The second bunch are chasing but I'd put that gap at around 10-20 seconds.
Viviani has two men at least in the front group, Mitchelton have numbers too, and Lotto. 60km to go.
The gap between the two main groups is at 30 seconds, with 51km to go, as Lotto Soudal continue to do the majority of the work.
And as we hit the coastline the bunch are back together but the break remains at 1'33 with 48km to go. With that previous danger sniffed out, Quick-Step Floors move to the front again and begin to set the pace to control affairs.
Wanty have joined the party on the front of the main field as we move into the final 40km or action. The pace has eased somewhat, with the gap to the leaders holding at 1'23.
@Lotto_Soudal Wed, 21st Mar 2018 14:37:05
And the bunch line out due to pressure from Bora and Lotto-Soudal. We have just under two laps of the finishing circuit remaining with the gap to the leaders at 1'30.
There's another split in the main field with Quick-Step and Bora having done all the damage. This one, though, looks terminal for the riders left behind. 32km to go with the gap to the break at 1'30.
@Cyclingnewsfeed Wed, 21st Mar 2018 14:56:14
28km remaining from 202km
The leaders have less than a minute now as Lotto, Quick-Step and Bora continue to share the pace with 28km to go.
Tanner Putt is sunk and slips back to the peloton, his job doe for the day. That leaves us with just five leaders but the gap down to 36 seconds with 21km to go. The entire peloton line out, with Kolar on the front setting the pace for the main field.
The peloton is down to maybe 50-60 riders after a large contingent pulled out at the end of the last lap. There's still enough to see off the break, with the gap now down to 21 seconds. We're about to hit a section of the course that did have cross-winds on the last lap, so we'll see what happens this time around.
13km remaining from 202km
Inside the final 15km of the race and the bunch are about to catch the break. Dunne puts in one last turn but it's almost all over.
Still Lotto Soudal and Bora on the front but Quick-Step have slipped back a little as they look to reorganise before the final. 10km to go.
Th gap has actually gone out, and the break have still 25 seconds with 10.4km to go.
Lotto pile on the pressure and it looks to have split the field once more. Groups are all over the road but Vivianni, Bora ,and Blythe all seem to be there. No sign of Coquard at the moment. The break still have 15 seconds.
Ackermann is there for Bora and the break still have three riders clear of the bunch, or what's left of it.
6km remaining from 202km
Goethen is still pulling clear of the bunch with Bennett on his wheel. There are three groups on the road now but it looks as though the two main groups are about to merge. 5.3km to go.
Just 5km to go and we have two leaders, and then the bunch at 5 seconds.
Bora are bringing it all back together, and they still have their full contingent of riders. 4km to go and the break have been caught.
Quick-Step continue to take a backseat with 3.2km to go. They're letting Bora do all the work at this point.
Coquard begins to move up now with 2.8km to go.
Bora have lost two men and Ackermann has just two left. Here come Quick-Step. Blythe is fighting for position too.
The road thins with 1.5km to go as Quick-Step take control.
Viviani second wheel.
And Viviani takes it.
The Italian was boxed in and lost his leadout man. It looked like he'd blown his chance but in the final 150m to go he found a gap and came through, just before the line. Impressive lead out from Van Aert but Viviani made it onto Ackermann's wheel with less than 100m to go and then came around the Bora rider. After a disappointing Milan-San Remo the Italian has provided the perfect response.
Here are your top-ten.
1 Elia Viviani (Ita) Quick-Step Floors
2 Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
3 Jasper Philipsen (Bel) Hagens Berman Axeon
4 Baptiste Planckaert (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin
5 Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal
6 Amaury Capiot (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise
7 Roy Jans (Bel) Cibel-Cebon
8 Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
9 Adam Blythe (GBr) Aqua Blue Sport
10 Eduard Michael Grosu (Rou) Nippo Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini
Meanwhile, over in Catalunya, riders have praised the race organisers for changes made to stage 3 due to weather concerns. Read the full story here.
Thanks for joining us today for our live coverage. We'll be back later in the week with E3 Harelbeke.
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