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E3 Saxo Bank Classic - Live coverage

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Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of the 2021 E3 Saxo Bank Classic.

As the Cyclingnews blimp takes height, the riders are gathering for the start at the E3 Arena in Harelbeke.  

They face a 9km neutral ride out of town and then a 203.9km race distance.

As you may have seen, the Bora-Hansgrohe team have been stopped from riding today's E3 Saxo Bank Classic in Belgium after Britain's Matt Walls tested positive for COVID-19 in final pre-race testing. 

The German WorldTour team said that all their other team members tested negative in follow-up PCR tests but, under the Belgian Cycling Federation's COVID-19 protocol, they were not allowed to take part in the race.

The Bora-Hansgrohe team for E3 Saxo Bank Classic included Daniel Oss and Nils Politt but not Peter Sagan, who opted to ride the Volta a Catalunya in Spain before heading to Belgium for the Tour of Flanders next weekend.

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The race heads east from Harelbeke, deep in Flanders, to ride 17 classic Flemish climbs. 

No wonder the race is known as the mini Tour of Flanders. Just over a week before the Monument Classics. E3 always gives an indication of which riders are on form.  

Trek-Segafredo should be in the action today.  Milan-San Remo winner Jasper Stuyven is back racing today, alongside Mads Pedersen.

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The flags at the side of the road suggest the wind will play a major factor in the race today. 

This is the official map and profile of the race, showing the 17 climbs and the twisting route.

The profile and map of the 2021 E3 Saxo Bank Classic

(Image credit: E3 Saxo Bank Classic)

To learn more about the route and favourites, read our full race preview by clicking below.

E3 Saxo Bank Classic - Preview

They're off! 

After the neutralised sector, the flag has dropped and the race has started.

The first of 17 climbs comes in 28km with the Katteberg the first of the 17 bergs on the menu.

There are riders trying early attacks but none are sticking for now.

Oliver Naesen spoke briefly to Sporza before the start about the wind and taking on Van Aert and van der Poel. 

"The wind is blowing in the right direction for an open race. It will be beautiful,"  he predicted. 

"Jasper's victory in Sanremo is inspiring to all mere mortals. There is hope!"

189km to go

189km to go and we're still waiting for the first major moves.

The big news this morning, if you missed it, is that Bora are out of the race after a positive test for COVID-19 in their ranks. Here's the story.

Tour de la Provence 2021 - 6th Edition - 2nd stage Cassis - Manosque 174,7 km - 12/02/2021 - Matthew Walls (GER - Bora - Hansgrohe) - photo William Cannarella CV/BettiniPhoto©2021

(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Here are the climbs that the riders will face today

Km 28,2 Katteberg
Km 85,9 La Houppe
Km 92,1 Kanarieberg
Km 100 Oude Kruisberg
Km 107,8 Knokteberg
Km 111,7 Hotondberg
Km 118,8 Kortekeer
Km 123,5 Taaienberg
Km 131,5 Berg Ten Stene
Km 136,7 Boigneberg
Km 141,1 Eikenberg
Km 146,5 Stationberg
Km 157,4 Kapelberg
Km 161,5 Paterberg
Km 164,3 Oude Kwaremont
Km 172,2 Karnemelkbeekstraat
Km 183,9 Tiegemberg

176km to go

Seven riders clear and they include Haller, Milan, Brunel, Jacobs, Mas, Tiller and one rider from Intermarche. 176km to go.

We've gone over the Katteberg and there are two small groups free from the peloton but the time gaps between all the riders is only about 11 seconds at the moment. 

Riders keep attacking but then dropping back but right now we have 10 riders currently on the move with the peloton on their heels. 166km to go.

Taco van der Hoorn, Greipel and Terpstra are on the attack too and they're chasing down what's left of the early movers. So much is in flux right now with 163km to go.

10 riders are now in the lead group after a breathtaking few minutes of racing. 161km to go and the current leaders are Greipel, Van der Hoorn, Milan, Haller, Brunel, Wallays, De Vylder, Jacobs, Mas and Tiller.

Terpstra and Van den Berg are about to make contact, so we should have 12 leaders shortly. 

157km to go

No climbs for the next 45 minutes of racing but La Houppe is the next major obstacle for the riders. Right now though, the break need to focus on establishing a proper lead because it's only 20 seconds at the moment. 

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Looks like the break has been let go with the gap continuing to expand, and we now have twelve riders up front. Full names to come...

146km to go

Riders in the break:

Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie), Andre Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation), Taco Van Der Hoorn (Intermarche), Marco Haller (Bahrain Victorious), Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious), Jelle Wallays (Cofidis),  Julius van den Berg (EF-Education Nippo), Alexys Brunel (Groupama-FDJ), Johan Jacobs (Movistar), Lindsay De Vylder (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Lluís Guillermo Mas Bonet (Movistar) and Rasmus Fossum Tiller (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team). 

146km to go and they have 3:30 over the peloton. 

Away from racing, we've looked at UKAD and their failure to investigate historic doping allegations - which have been denied. You can read the full story here.

UKAD

(Image credit: UKAD)

Terpstra, 36, has had a torrid couple of years with crashes and injuries but he's on the move today and in the break. The former Flanders and Roubaix winner is clearly testing his legs but he's also doing a job for his team today. 

You can find our complete start list for today's race, right here.

Koen de Kort  has pulled out. That leaves Trek Segafredo with one less rider for the main action later on. 

Trek Segafredo obviously come into the race with their tails up after winning Kuurne with Pedersen and then having Stuyven take a fine win in Milan-San Remo.

The latest edition of Procycling is out and they've got an exclusive with Vos. You can read about the new mag, here. And check out the cover - easily one of the best Pro covers in years (and they're always good).

Procycling April 2021

(Image credit: Future)

It's QuickStep who are leading the chase at the moment but like with Milan San Remo, Alpecin and Jumbo Visma are pitching in.

118km to go and there's a crash. Gaviria is down and he's holding his wrist. He has  a new bike but this doesn't look good. He's in pain here. He's struggling to hold the bars.

Narvaez went down first and then Gaviria went over the top of him. The Ineos rider looks okay but Gaviria is off the back and still struggling. The peloton are now at 2'10 behind the break, so the race is really on as we head towards the next set of climbs.

Narvaez has quit the race. 

We're on La Houppe and it's Tim Declercq who sets the pace for the peloton as more and more of the race favourites move up towards the front of the peloton.

112km to go

Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie), Andre Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation), Taco Van Der Hoorn (Intermarche), Marco Haller (Bahrain Victorious), Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious), Jelle Wallays (Cofidis),  Julius van den Berg (EF-Education Nippo), Alexys Brunel (Groupama-FDJ), Johan Jacobs (Movistar), Lindsay De Vylder (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Lluís Guillermo Mas Bonet (Movistar) and Rasmus Fossum Tiller (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team)


The leaders have 2'16 with 112km to go.

The break turn right and now they're on the Kanarieberg. This is a short but punchy climb. 

A few passengers are starting to appear in the break as Jumbo Visma hit the front to try and position Van Aert near the front.

The race into this right turn has basically turned into a sprint.

Asgreen needs a new bike. Terrible timing but he should be ok as he makes it back.

Pedersen in a great position as he leads the peloton up the climb. The break are at the top now and they pick up some supplies from the side of the road, with their gap at 2'02. 100km to go.

Colbrelli has a mechanical and he needs a new bike too but already riders are being dropped from the back of the main field. 

The Italian is sprinting back through the cars and he should be fine. 

At the front it's Deceuninck-QuickStep who move to the front once more and start to set the pace. Trek have numbers as well. 

104km to go and the break are on the Oude Kruisberg climb. 103km to go and the gap is at 2'30. 

News is filtering in that Gaviria has stopped and abandoned the race. 

Jumbo move up and bring Van Aert with them as the bunch continues to climb but there's just a constant fight for position as Lotto Soudal and EF muscle their way to the front as well. 

100km to go

100km to go and the gap is 2'30 still as we see Martinelli from Astana pull out of the race.

Degenkolb has a rear flat, and is waiting for a car. He's a real pro so he keeps pedaling until the car gets to him. He takes a wheel but is up and riding again. 98km to go.

Up front and Terpstra takes a long pull on the front of the break before the two Movistar riders take their turns. The break are working well in the main but their gap is only at 2'20.

There's more action from the front of the bunch. The break are on the Knokteberg but the peloton are closing fast as AG2R, Trek, and Ineos set a blistering pace as they look to position their respective leaders. Van der Poel is near the front as well. 

Matthews is at the front but doesn't have a huge amount of team support around him at the moment. He can take care of himself though and is a genuine contender for today. 2'13 for the break with 94km to go.

Victor Campenaerts has attacked with 93km to go.

Five riders have gone with the Belgian and this could be an important move in the context of the race. 

There's a large split as we crest the climb but it looks like it might come together. Jumbo Visma are forcing the pace though. There's a big side wind too so this part of the race is key. 

That lift in pace as seen the gap to the break drop to 1'43. The bunch ease up slightly after that acceleration and it's coming back together. 

Lotto Soudal lead the peloton but all the top contenders are showing their faces because they don't want to be caught out at this point in the action. 

Tim Declercq takes over and he sprints into a left corner and we're about to hit the Hotondberg. 87km to go.

There now groups all over the road but all the main contenders appear to be present in the van der Poel and Van Aert group. EF are missing riders, however. 

At the front of the race, the break have 1'28 as they hit the Kortekeer.

83km to go and Quinn Simmons has attacked from the bunch.

It's a strong attack from the Trek Segafrodo rider, who has the break at 1'10.

The break are heading to the Taaienberg, while Simmons extends his lead over the peloton to over 10 seconds. 

Tim Declercq is at the front of the peloton and he has several teammates on his wheel and they're splitting the peloton before we even reach the climb.

Flat out pace from the Belgian team and Trentin is following Stybar, then Asgreen makes a move. Wout Van Aert is trying to react. Everyone is having to chase. 87km to go.

Trentin is losing a bit of ground but he should make the main group. Deceuninck-QuickStep have the numbers though. Mads Pedersen has been dropped. 

78km to go

Ok so this group has four from Deceuninck-QuickStep, van Aert, van der Poel, Simmons, Matthews, Trentin, Stuyven, Andersen (DMS).  And that's it! 78km to go and the break are just at 39 seconds. 

No one there for AG2R, Ineos, Bahrain, or Lotto Soudal.

There are nine riders in total. Andersen is still chasing though, he's not made it to this group just yet. 

Zdenek Stybar,  Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchal, Kasper Asgreen, Matthews, Trentin and Stuyven. That's the group. No Simmons, and no Andersen just yet. 75km to go.

The Taaienberg saw Deceuninck-QuickStep blow the race apart and with four riders in the group, it's going to be so hard for AG2R, and Lotto Soudal to bring this all back. The gap is about 30 seconds. 

There's still a long way to go, so a chase is possible but right now AG2R just have one rider on the front. Van der Poel takes a long, long turn as Wout Van Aert has a bike problem.

The Deceuninck-QuickStep group have 40 seconds on the chase with 72km to go. 

If Van Aert has to drop back to the next group that could really change the race because then Jumbo Visma would take control of the chase. We're onto the next climb, the Berg Ten Stene.

And Van Aert is back with the chasers and his entire team are leading the chase of the QuickStep/Van der Poel move. 

Van Aert is 40 seconds down as we see the Van der Poeol group catch the early break with 71km to go.

Jumbo - Visma have taken another 20 seconds off the leading group's advantage and EF are pitching in too. Van Aert is going to let them chase and then he'll attack on the next climb. 

The next climb, the Boigneberg, is coming up next. 68km to go and the two groups are 20 seconds apart. 

Onto the climb and the gap is 16 seconds as Stybar accelerates. 

Now it's Asgreen who kicks on and he has a gap with 66km to go. Who will chase him? Kristoff has been dropped.

Trentin has countered but it looks as though Van Aert is attacking with 65km to go. And just as he does Van der Poel has attacked with 65km to go.

Five riders have gone after Van der Poel right away. 

Stybar is one of the riders with the Alpecin leader but it's still Asgreen who leads the race on his own. 

There are two QuickStep riders in the Van der Poel group, Van der Hoorn, Haller, Stybar and one more rider and it looks as though it's coming back together on the flat roads but Asgreen still leads. And Van der Poel and Stybar has sat up.

Eikenberg time and Asgreen leads with 16 seconds as what's left of the break has been caught. 

Kung has attacked but he's marked by three riders with 61km to go. Asgreen has 22 seconds. 

Front wheel flat for Trentin.

The Kung move has been caught but now Van Avermaet has gone clear another batch of riders. Campenaerts is there.

57km to go and we're onto the Stationberg. Asgreen has 19 seconds on the peloton, which is down to about 45 riders.

Attack from Total Direct Energie and it's Terpstra with 59km to go and Van der Poel goes right by him, followed by Van Aert.

Stybar goes with them. 

The race is really on as van der Poel leads, Van Aert and Stybar. Haller is trying to lead the chase with Matthews.

The Van Aert group has been caught, and Asgreen has 11 seconds with 54km to go.

Onto wide roads for a moment and Asgreen is still out front and with a lead of 23 seconds from a new chase group that includes Naesen. 

The Oliver Naesen have 14 seconds on the main field but Asgreen is just in full TT mode at the moment and he's extending his lead with 51km to go.

50km to go and Asgreen has 36 seconds on Naesen and 49 seconds on the peloton.

Agreen has form for this sort of move though, and he has a minute on the Van der Poel/Van Aert group.

The riders in the chase group are Anthony Turgis (Total Direct Energie), Oliver Naesen (AG2R Citroën), Haller, Markus Hoelgaard (Uno-X), Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix) and Senechal (Quickstep) ,as we see Campenaerts attack with 46km to go.

Asgreen makes it onto the Kapelberg with 46km to go. He's battling the gradient but still has 28 seconds on the chase, and 1'13 on the peloton. 

Naesen takes over at the front of the group and QuickStep will be concerned with his position because he's fresh and a good finisher. 

Paterberg time and Asgreen has 24 seconds 

Jumbo Visma are trying to set up their leader as it's Van Aert who puts in a huge move with 41km to go.

Asgreen still with 24 seconds as we head towards the Oude Kwaremont.

The next group is Van Aert, Van der Poel, Stybar and Van Avermaet.

Van der Poel and Van Aert are working together to pull this quartet clear with 39km to go.

Van der Poel and Van Aert hit the foot of the Oude Kwaremont.

The Naesen group and the Van der Poel group are about to merge on the Oude Kwaremont. 38km to go.

The groups merge so we have 10 riders chasing Asgreen, who has 21 seconds with 37km to go.

Asgreen is flagging a bit on the climb as we look at him.

Just 16 seconds for Asgreen but he's drawing out his teammates rivals and sacrificing himself as Van Aert accelerates. 

Van Baarle and Lampaert are a third group on the road right now.

Just two climbs remaining in the race as Van Aert and Van der Poel continue to do all the work in the chase group. AG2R and QuickStep are just sitting back and getting a free ride.

Onto the penultimate climb of the Karnemelkbeekstraat. Asgreen has 17 seconds.

10 seconds, so the gap is coming down.

Over the top of the climb and QuickStep are so well placed right now with Asgreen off the front and then two riders in the chase group able to sit back and wait. 27km to go.

And Lampaert has made it over to the second group, so that's three Deceuninck-QuickStep riders in the second group. 

There's just one climb remaining. 

AG2R are helping with the chase of Asgreen but if he makes it over the final climb with a 20 second gap he has a real chance of winning. 

The three Deceuninck-QuickStep riders are doing everything to slow the chase down, but they need to mark riders too if there are attacks. 

Deceuninck-QuickStep on the front to slow things down and then Van Avermaet takes over. 23km to go and the gap is at 23 seconds. 

Now the gap is 30 seconds and Asgreen is riding away with this right now. Van Aert/Van der Poel have to attack on this final climb. Benoot and Stuyven are closing in on the seconds group too.

Lampaert has a problem! Hand up and he needs a new back wheel. 

20km to go

He's gone, he's not coming back from this. Meanwhile Asgreen has 31 seconds with 20km to go.

Deceuninck-QuickStep lose a rider but they're still in control at the moment but we're about to hit the Tiegemberg - the final climb of the day in the race.

Van Aert goes first. 19.7km to go. 

And then Van der Poel and Van Aert has cracked!

Van der Poel leads Stybar, Van Avermaet, Naesen and Sénéchal. 18.8km to go and Asgreen has 11 seconds.

Van Aert is back with Haller. 

AG2r have to chase now, they can't leave it up to Van der Poel.

Van Aert is not out of it, he's at 10 seconds but Naesen and Van Avermaet don't want him to come back.

Van Baarle has made it to the Van der Poel group. That's a really good ride from the Ineos rider who has constantly fought back.

Asgreen is struggling though. He has just 8 seconds with 15.7km to go.

Van Baarle is in a really good position if this comes down to a sprint. 

12km to go and Asgreen has been caught. 

The Van Aert group is at 14 seconds.

10km to and the leaders don't want Van Aert coming back. The gap to his group is at 19 seconds. 

No help for Van Aert at this point in the chase group, and the gap is out to 20 seconds. 

Sénéchal, Stybar, Asgreen, Van der Poel, Van Baarle, Naesen and Van Avermaet in the front group with 7.8km to go.

28 second. Van Aert is out of this. 

6.2km to go for the first group but will Quickstep attack? Surely they have to try something. 

Asgreen attacks with 4.7km to go.

Van Avermaet leads the chase. 

Naesen attacks 4km to go. Stybar follows.

Naesen has been brought back but Asgreen is still clear. 3.7km to go.

Now Van Avermaet attacks with 3.2km to go. Sénéchal chases him.

Asgreen has five seconds with 2.8km to go. 

Asgreen might have this because he has 8 seconds with 2.4km to go.

Van Avermaet attacks but he has nothing left. Now Van der Poel goes 2km to go.

15 seconds for Asgreen with 1.8km to go.

Naesen tries to chase but they're racing for second now. 1.3km to go.

1km to go and Asgreen has 22 seconds. 

Van der Poel leads the second group but Kasper Asgreen wins E3 Saxo Bank Classic 2021.

Strength in numbers wins the day. 

Florian Sénéchal takes second but it was close for third. 

Asgreen won Kuurne last year and now has another major win in Belgium, and his team have a major boost ahead of Gent-Wevelgem and Flanders.

Van Poel was third at the line.

Results
Pos.Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck-QuickStep 4:42:37
2Florian Senechal (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:32:00
3Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix
4Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team
5Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Deceuninck-QuickStep
6Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team
7Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers
8Markus Hoelgaard (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team 0:01:28
9Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix 0:01:30
10Marco Haller (Aut) Bahrain Victorious

Let's hear from Asgreen:

"I knew after the effort I did today that I want’s going to have any chance in the last kilometre, so I had to get away and arrive alone if I wanted to win the race. It was all or nothing at that point.I don’t know if I surprised them but I tried to use the traffic island to put some distance between them and myself so I could get a gap before they could react. I don’t know if that made the difference. 

"I think everyone had a hard day and everyone was on the limit.I felt good out there. I felt good the last week so I was really motivated to go out and create a hard race - that’s where I have my biggest strength. I was not afraid to open up the race early. To go solo for that long was not the plan but in the end when you’re off the front you just have to put your head down and make the most of it.We had an amazing team here.

"Everyone was so strong. I could hear them cheering for me behind and I could hear how well they were bluffing the other guys. We always had someone there. It was really perfect. A huge thanks to the guys. It’s really amazing teamwork. It would not be possible to do a ride like this without my teammates, that’s for sure."

Here's our full report from the race.

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