Dwars door Vlaanderen -- the next step in the Belgian spring races!
Welcome to All Across Flanders! The wintry weather continues to plague us, but, hey, this is Belgium in the early spring -- we expect cold and wet!
The race is just hitting teh first climb of the day, the Quaremont. We have a 14-rider group with about 50 seconds on the field.
The group is: Steegmans (OPQS), Bassajev (Astana), Mol and Veuchelen (Vacansoleil), Juul Jensen (Saxo), Hayman (Sky), Stamsnijder (Argos), Van der Sande (Lotto-Belisol), Saramotins (IAM), Sijmens en Zingle (Cofidis), Gène (Europcar), Napolitano (Accent Jobs) and Brammeier (Champions System).
Movistar's Alex Dowsett has had to abandon after injuring his knee in a crash.
The weather continues to present a challenge to one and all. Today we have rain, sleet and fortunately above-freezing temperatures.
107km remaining from 199km
The gap is now at 40 seconds.
Koen de Kort was on the podium here last year. Before the start he told Cyclingnews: I’m not feeling great, I have to be honest. [My preparation] It’s just been too short. You just need all your training in the build up to the Classics and I’ve taken three weeks out. It’s pretty far from ideal. I’m starting to feel ok again on the bike. I’m starting to feel like a bike rider again instead of trying to work and always just feel a little bit off on the bike.
This race is always pretty open and basically anyone’s race. Even more so this year with the weather. It’s going to be very cold and I’ve heard that it’s snowing on certain areas of the race. It’s going to make it an epic one again – there’s been so many in the last few weeks.
The peloton has been through the feed zone and crossed the first of 13 climbs, if we have counted right. The gap is 30 seconds.
Things will be going up and down fairly steadily from here on out. You can read about it all in our race preview here.
Defending champion Niki Terpstra is here today, but last year's runner-up Sylvain Chavanel is not. He was supposed to ride, but is still recovering from that horrifying weather at Milan-San Remo only a few days ago.
What was it like at the start this morning? Cyclingnews has some pictures of the riders pondering the wet and cold conditions. Check out this gallery.
Three riders from Champion System have abandoned the race after a crash: Ryan Roth, Chan Jae Jang and Ganq Jiao.
That must have been some crash, as Bille, Goddeart, and Wetterhall have also had to leave the race.
The climbs are coming fast and furious now, and the pace is that way as well. The gap is down to 22 seconds, and the lead group is falling apart.
Only 12 seconds now....
It looks like the gap has jumped back up to 30 seconds again.
80km remaining from 199km
We have one rider at the head of things now, Roman Zingle of Cofidis, and he looks to have 45 seconds on the field.
78km remaining from 199km
Europcar's Damien Gaudin jumps from the field.
Five riders from the former break group have caught ZIngle, and together they have 19n seconds on their closest followers, with the peloton at about 40 seconds.
The group is made up of: Steegmans, Bazayev, Veuchelen, Saramotins, Hayman and Zingle.
We have a mixed group at the head of the chasing field, with Sky and Astana,amongst others.
There is also a group of six between the leaders and the field.
68km remaining from 199km
With 68 km to go, the gap has gone up to 1:37. More riders are trying to pull away from the peloton.
65km remaining from 199km
There are now two groups in between, and the peloton is at 1:37. The third group is riders who are trying to bridge out of the peloton and move up -- before it is too late.
The second group is at 53 seconds, so our leaders have a nice little gap, while the two chase groups and the field are not all that far apart.
Hmm, it now looks as if the second group has caught the lead group, giving us a larger group.
And now there is a crash at the end of the peloton, with at least one bike ending up in a rainfilled ditch.
The leaders now start up the Eikenberg, with 60 km to go and a gap of 40 seconds on the nearest chasers.
We do indeed have 12 rides in the lead, but not all of their names, sorry.
And another crahs in ghe field. A Garmin rider is down flat and does not look good, and anotehr rider is laying on the grass alongside the road.
The Garmin rider is Jack Bauer, and helpers are with him now.
The other rider is Smukullus of Katusha. We will let you know when we hear how he and Bauer are doing.
ZIngle has had to drop our of the lead group due to mechanical problems, and is now back in the peloton.
We now have Steegmans, Hayman and Saramotins alone in the lead.
Martijn Maaskant of GarminSharp was at the start today, and he told us, "My knee injury has been better for the last few days. I went to Giro for some training because of the snow here and things are moving in the right direction for me. I’ve not raced for three weeks, since Omloop, so I need to be careful and see how things go today."
51km remaining from 199km
Just to recap: we have our three leaders, followed by a small group at 39 seconds, and the peloton at 53 seconds.
BAzayev and Thurau are the only two chasers now, at 28 seconds.
We are happy to report that Bauer has regained consciousness and is on his way to hospital.
44km remaining from 199km
It looks to be dry on the roads, which is good.
Remember we still have some climbs coming up, and you may recognize some of these names: Knokteber, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.
Julien Fouchard of Cofidis is trying to bridge up from the peloton. Actually he has been trying for a while but isn't getting very far.
They start up the next climb, and Hayman pulls away from his colleagues. Behind them, Bazayev loses contact with Thurau.
40km remaining from 199km
Hayman now alone in the lead, with 40km to go.
But the peloton is at 38 seconds.
That was the Knokteberg. Only five more climbs to go!
Steegmans and Saramotins are at 25 seconds, the field at 46.
The gaps are getting smaller and smaller.
A group of roughly 10-15 riders has pulled away from the peloton.
ON their way to the Oude Kwaremont, it looks as if a group of fourteen has formed as the third group: Vandenbergh, Maes, Iglinski, Bozic, Leukemans, Lindeman, Selvaggi, Keukeleire, Devolder, Stannard, Gatto, Voeckler, Thurau and Vantomme.
35km remaining from 199km
They take on a stretch of cobblestones, which look wet. Not fun.
35km remaining from 199km
Hayman keeps on his solitary way, with a gap of 33 seconds. It looks as if groups two and three have come together.
Hayman looks back to see where everyone is. Riders are scattered all over giving chase now. And the roads are very definitely wet now.
Stijn Vandenbergh has moved up to join Hayman, with others not far behind.
And up they go another cobble climb!
Oscar Gatto has now moved up to join Hayman and Vandenbergh.
Vandenbergh makes a move with 30km to go to try and drop his two fellow leaders.
They aren't having any of that though, thank you very much, and the trio is together again.
We now have 10 riders in the lead group, let's see if we can't grab all those names.
We think the lead group is now Maes, Vandenbergh, Gatto, Hayman, Stannard, Keukeleire, Leukemans, Bazayev, Iglinskiy and Voeckler.
25km remaining from 199km
Only 25 km to go, and the gap to the next group is only 32 seconds. Anything can happen here!
Iglinksy jumps off the road and on to the neighbouring bike path. Some of the others find that a good idea and follow suit.
The only one to remain on the cobbles was, who else, Voeckler.
22km remaining from 199km
22km to go, and 40 seconds behind the leading group we have Terpstra, Leukemans, Lindemans, Gallopin, Larson, Saramotns, Thurau, Vantomme, Devolder, and Thomas.
Gallopin jumps from the chase group in a move to get to the front.
Voeckler is doing much of the lead work, and has decided it is time for someone else to take over.
19km remaining from 199km
19 km to go and only 25 seconds between the first two groups.
The peloton is only at 55 seconds, so we can't count them out yet.
Holstraat: the next climb. Only one more after that.
The others react quickly and don't let the Frenchman get away.
15km remaining from 199km
With 15 km to go, this lead group has really turned up the speed. They are determine to stay away. The gap is now up to 41 seconds.
Oh, a very large truck parked on the not so wide road. At least there are policemen there to wave the riders around it.
The chasers certainly aren't giving up, though. The gap has fallen to 30 seconds with 13 km to go.
We have come to the last climb of the day, the Nokereberg. 500 meters, an average gradient of 5.7%.
Several "men in black" in this lead group: the OPQS and Sky riders have all black winterwear.
They fly down a typical tree-line allee.
8km remaining from 199km
Stannard tries an attack out of the lead group, with three others following him.
6km remaining from 199km
Voeckler is the next to jump, and has a slight lead.
Voeckler slowly pulls away. He is capable of pulling this off!
5km remaining from 199km
Voeckler has 11 seconds on the group, with the next chasers at 47 seconds.
Voeckler is pulling away, slowly but surely!
Is the Europcar rider going to be able to stay away With only 2 km to go, he has 15 seconds.
The chasers are riding furiously, but they are not getting any closer.
Voeckler looks back over his shoulder nervously.
The gap is down to 10 seconds.
Voeckler takes nine seconds under the flamme rouge.
The chasers have him in their sights, but have they left it too late?
He is caught within meters of the finish line! Gatto takes the win!
The furious chase paid off, with the group catching the brave French rider literally at the last second. What a heartbreaker for Voeckler!
Second was Bozic, with Hayman third.
Voeckler can only claim fifth place after being caught with only about ten feet (or three meters to go.
And here is the top ten:
1 Oscar Gatto (Ita) Vini Fantini-Selle Italia 4:43:22
2 Borut Bozic (Slo) Astana Pro Team
3 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Sky Procycling
4 Mirko Selvaggi (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
5 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar
6 Nikolas Maes (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
7 Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge
8 Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana Pro Team
9 Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
10 Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky Procycling
What a very dramatic opening to a weekend of Belgian racing! It really doesn't get any closer than that.
Be sure to join us for our coverage of the E3 Harelbeke on Friday, and of course start-to-finish for Gent Wevelgem on Sunday!
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