Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of Gent-Wevelgem.
The sun is out and the temperatures are warm for this year's race. It should be another spectacular day of racing on the roads, cobbles and climbs of Flanders.
The riders are currently gathering at the start in Deinze, on the outskirts of Gent.
Tom Boonen is part of the Omega Pharma-QuickStep line-up but has signed on with his right thumb and wrist taped up after straining his ligaments in a crash at the E3 Harelbeke race.
There is a late change in the OPQS team after Stijn Vandenbergh's partner gave birth to a baby girl at midnight. Guillaume Van Keirsbulck will replace Vandenbergh in the team.
This year's race follows a different route for much of the first half of the race in remembrance of World War One.
The traditional route headed to the coast, with side winds often splitting the peloton into echelons. This year the route cuts across nothern Flanders, visiting numerous war memorials, battle sites and war cemeteries.
Tom Boonen (OPQS) is the local hero but the start list includes some of the biggest names in the sport.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) wears dossard number 1 after his solo victory last year.
Gent-Wevelgem is always a fascinating race because the sprinters have a chance to take on the Classics riders if they can handle the climbs of the Kemmelberg.
Mark Cavendish (OPQS) is absent after being hit by a stomach virus but Milan-San Remo winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) is riding, so are Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol), Arnaud DEamre (FDJ.fr), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), Bryan Cochard (Europcar), John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky).
And they're off! 199 riders have rolled out from the start. The action will soon be underway after the official race start outside of Deinze.
Check out the full start list here.
Also riding are Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Lars Boom and Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin), Greg van Avermaert and Taylor Phinney (BMC), Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), Tony Gallopin (Lotto Belisol), Geraint Thomas and In Stannard (Team Sky), Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka), Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling), Sam Bennett (NetApp-Endura) and Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff-Saxo).
As expected the first attacks have begun as soon as the flag is dropped.
We already seem to have the early break of the race. Five riders have quickly gained a minute.
The five are Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo), Sebastian Lander (BMC) Marcel Aregger (IAM Cycling), Jacobus Venter (MTN-Qhubeka) and Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert).
227km remaining from 233km
After six kilometres the gap has jumped to 2:20.
Gent-Wevelgem was first held in 1934, with Belgium's Gustaaf Van Belle the first ever winner.
It has traditionally been known as the sprinter's Classic, with some of the fastest finishers adding their name to the list of famous winners.
213km remaining from 233km
After 20km on flat roads across the Flanders fields, the gap is up to 4:00.
Local heros Briek Schotte, Rik Van Looy and Raymond Impanis dominated in the fifties.
Eddy Merckx won three times in the sixties and early seventies, with Britain's Barry Hoban winning in 1974. He remains the only British winner. Will that change today?
The late seventies saw some legendary battles between Roger De Vlaeminck, Freddy Maertens and Jan Raas.
The Italians arrived in force in the late eighties and nineties, with Guido Bontempi winning in 194 and 1986, Sean Kelly struck in 1988 and then Mario Cipollini win in 1992 and 1993 after losing to rival Djamolidine Abdoujaparov in 1991.
The peloton is happy to let the break blast clear. The five no have a lead of 8:00.
Cipollini won again in 2002, with Tom Boonen taking his first win in 2004.
Team sky has two past winner in its team today but both Edvald Boasson Hagen and Brnhard Eisel were riding for HTC when they won in 2009 and 2010.
Boonen also won Gent-Wevelgem on 2011 and 2012, with Peter Sagan the last winner in 2013.
This year's race is officially called Gent-Wevelgem, in Flanders Fields because the race follows a unique route through the area that was the setting of the First World War 100 years ago.
The race organiser Flanders Classics says it "wants to contribute to a fitting commemoration of the Great War and keep the memory of the conflict alive with future generations. As a tribute to the heroes and 600,000 people who fell in the Westhoek region."
198km remaining from 233km
After 35km of fast racing, the break of five riders has a lead of 10:30.
The Orica-GreenEdge team has confirmed via Twitter that Svein Tuft did not start today after his crash at E3 Harelbeke.
"Last minute decision to pull Svein Tuft from #GW as a precautionary measure following his crash at #E3H. We started with seven."
The break has entered the town of Diksmuide and will be at the first feed zone in 10km.
It marks the first of the many WW1 memorial points the race route visits this year.
The main peloton has begun to pick up the chase of the break, bringing the gap to below 10 minutes.
The wind is usually an important factor in Gent-Wevelgem but it is warm and still in Flanders today. That favours the sprinters.
With 163km left to race, its time for the peloton to enjoy the first feed of the race.
157km remaining from 233km
The gap is melting in the warm spring air. It is down to 7:40.
The race has crossed the border into France and will begin the first of nine climbs: the Casselberg, in 20km or so.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) was relaxed before the start.
"The weather's good, we have a nice spring day. Lets go for it. It looks like there could be 100 people in the sprint and a lot of riders seem to want a sprint finish We'll see what will happen on the Kemmel. There could be a few surprises," he told Sporza.
Last season Johnny Hoogerland was forced to look for a new team after Vacansoleil folded at the end of the year. The Dutch national champion is now riding for Gianni Savio’s Androni Giocattoli team. He’s had a steady start to the year and finished inside the bunch at E3 Harelbeke.
Cyclingnews caught up with him at the start of Gent-Wevelgem to see how he was settling into the Pro Continental team.
“It’s different, different culture. It is what it is. It’s an Italian team so it is very different to riding in a Dutch team. Basically, I do the same races. So in the programme I don’t really feel much different. It’s a lot smaller than in a pro team, that’s the big difference.”
Hoogerland also got a chance to hold his three-month old daughter, who was born on Christmas day last year, before he rolled off to the start.
“It’s special, it’s a big responsibility. It’s nice though,” he told Cyclingnews. It changes my perspective on life, but not on racing.”
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is chasing history over the next three Sundays. He is the joint record-holder of victories at Gent-Wevelgem (three), the Tour of Flanders (three) and Paris-Roubaix (four), and he is looking for the wins that would put him alone at the head of the roll of honour for those three races. Two years ago, of course, Boonen completed the hat-trick of Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, and added E3 Harelbeke for good measure.
105km remaining from 233km
After twin ascents of the Casselberg, the race is now heading for the Catsberg, the final climb before we cross back over the border and in to Belgium. The five escapees retain a lead of 8:50 over the peloton.
In the absence of Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish, André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) lines up as the favourite today, but as the German warily noted at the start, "That doesn't help you." Lotto will try to work for a bunch finish, but nothing is guaranteed at Gent-Wevelgem. "First we need to do 233 kilometres," Greipel said. "It’s not an easy race and we’re expecting a lot of attacks. I feel good, the condition is there, we just need the luck today."
No longer a dark horse following his fine win at Milan-San Remo, the modest Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) is still hoping to fly under the radar at Gent-Wevelgem. "I don’t expect to win but then I didn’t expect to win at San Remo either, so I hope I can do a good result,"
Greipel has stopped for a mechanical and gets a quick bike change.
That's an unfortunate place for a problem but he's quickly back at the rear of the peloton.
However the cobbled streets has lined out the peloton. Fortunately some teammates have dropped back to help him move back up.
Stannard also suffers a mechanical, at the foot of the second climb of the Casselberg.
Nick Nuyens (Garmin-Sharp) has a flat. While up front, the peloton has gone the wrong way!
Fortunately they realised very quickly. part of the peloton managed to take the left turn, while other riders had to turn back quickly.
Nuyesn is back on but is at the rear of the peloton on a very narrow lane. Some riders are jumping on the footpath and edge of the road to move up.
The peloton has climbed up to the village of Cassel and passed the town hall that was the Allied HQ during WW1. It is now the Flanders Museum.
It's almost time for the bergs in the meaty part of the 233km race route. The Catsberg is Helling number 3 of 9.
Chris Sutton (Team Sky) stops for a flat but is quickly serviced by his team car.
The in-car TV cameras give an inside view of what is happening and has just caught Cannondale manager Roberto Amadio taking a nap.
Speaking to Belgian TV before the start, Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) refused the idea that Gent-Wevelgem will definitely end in a sprint.
"First we need to do 233km. It's not an easy race. We expect a lot of attacks and we will find out what happens," he said.
"The condition is there. We just need the luck today. I feel good."
91km remaining from 233km
The peloton is climbing the Catsberg.
Upfront, FDJ.fr and Team Sky is leading the chase.
Here we go! Ian Stannard (Team Sky) ups the pace and tries to split the peloton.
Stannard is pulled back but now Eisel tries to sneak away.
The peloton is about to tackle the Baneberg and the first climb of the Kemmelberg is only 10km away.
The five breakaway riders are on the Baneberg but their lead is fading. It is now 5:00
FDJ.fr is riding for Demare today. They will try to control the race and then set up the Frenchman for the sprint.
Demare spoke to Cyclingnews before the start. Read what he told Brecht Decaluwé here.
Crash! Several riders have landed in the ditch at speed.
Fran Ventoso (Movistar) is amongst the victims.
The break is on the approach to the Kemmelberg.
Sebastian Lander is flying the flag for BMC in the break. This is his first Gent-Wevelgem and he's experiencing it up front.
He earned his first top 10 finish for BMC in February with ninth on the final stage at Tour of Qatar. Last year, he started his first career Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España. He also helped Thor Hushovd win two stages and the overall at the Arctic Race of Norway. In 2012, he captured three Danish national titles: Elite road, Under 23 road and the team time trial.
The break gets a huge cheer on the Kemmelberg but is starting to split.
Here we go! The peloton hits the Kemmelberg cobbles.
Boonen, Sagan and Cancellara are all near the front. Boonen is trying to ease the pain on his thumb and wrist.
Cancellara is not letting Boonen out of his sight.
Demare and Hushovd are also well to the front as they begin the descent.
The riders no longer face the cobbled descent but the road descent is still technical.
Goss is at the back of the peloton and has swapped his bike with a teammate. It will be a tough job for him to get back on now.
75km remaining from 233km
Steve Chainel (Ag2r-La Mondiale) has a dig after the descent, sparking a split in the peloton.
The peloton is on the Monteberg and the speed is causing more pain.
Bram Tankink (Belkin) tries to go clear.
As expected, the Kemmelberg has cut into the lead of the break. The five lead by just 2:00 now.
Not surprisingly, Boaro and Veuchelen surge away from the other riders, who seem to be struggling.
71km remaining from 233km
The only rider not to make it is Seb Lander (BMC).
Silvan Dillier (BMC) attacks from the bunch and goes clear alone. Tom Boonen (OPQS) is patrolling the peloton but opts not to chase him.
Paul Voss (NetApp-Endura) crashes and it looks like Ian Stannard (Team Sky) ends up in the ditch. His race seems to be over.
The tension is rising at the front of the peloton.
The races passes close to the Messines Ridge, that was a strategic point in WW1.
The memorial remembers 840 missing Kiwi soldiers.
The riders also pass the Irish Peace Tower that remembers all Irish soldiers from WW1.
Riders are trying to form an attack to gain a gap before the second and final climb of the Kemmelberg.
The speed is high at the front but Cancellara is at the back and enjoying some race food.
60km remaining from 233km
Ian Stannard (Team Sky) has been taken to hospital for a check-up after crashing in the ditch at speed after what looked like a touch of wheels.
The women's Gent-Wevelgem has just ended, with Lauren Hall of the USA winning. We hope to have more on her success later.
55km remaining from 233km
In the men's race we now have several attackers between the break and the peloton.
Dillier is there from BMC after hanging off the front for a while. He has been joined by Parrinello, Mondory and Grivko.
The Baneberg is approaching again and the race is close to coming back together.
50km remaining from 233km
A crash slows the rear of the peloton. Morkov (Tinkoff-Saxo) is one of those delayed.
Up front Boaro goes on the attack on the Baneberg.
Marcel Seiberg (Lotto Belisol) gets a wheel change from a teammate. He is a vital lead out man for Greipel and will fight to get back on.
At the head of the peloton, Eisel is leading and looking back into the peloton. Everyone knows that position is vital before the final climb of the Kemmelberg.
Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) is again at the back of the peloton. He is having a difficult season.
Boaro is trying to reach the Kemmelberg ahead of the peloton.
Cannondale is also looming at the front of the peloton.
Several riders are down and tangled, including Haussler, Paolini, Dwosett and Pozzato. A Team Sky rider is also down.
40km remaining from 233km
Belkin leads the peloton onto the Kemmelberg as Boaro fights the cobbled section just up the road.
Vanmarcke is leading for Belkin. Cancellara and Sagan is also close to the front.
Boonen is a few places back but is ok.
This effort will surely split the peloton.
Boaro makes it over the top and dives down the descent. But Sagan leads the peloton and they have him sight.
Greipel and Bennati are up there too. There is no sign of Boonen up front on the descent. Is he there?
Cancellara is on the front, with Sagan taking over and doing a long pull on the front.
The peloton is split but the groups are fighting to catch Cancellara and Sagan.
Boonen is back to the front and shows all his rivals he is there. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) is also up front.
35km remaining from 233km
The peloton is now on the Monteberg, the final climb of the race.
A second group is trying to catch the front group but the speed is very high.
Dillier is driving the pace but it is unclear where teammate van Avermaert is.
Offredo (FDJ.fr) jumps away but is followed by Stybar (OPQS) and others.
The group contains around 40 riders, including several big-name sprinters.
BMC is taking charge at the front and the other teams seem happy to let them do it. Several domestiques are dropping back to their cars for a last round of drinks and final tactics.
Gatto is loaded up with bottles and will no doubt go on to help Sagan and Cannondale.
Boonen is mid-peloton with several teammates. What plan will they hatch for the finale?
A BMC rider tells his teammates to stop working and so Lotto-Belisol and Garmin-Sharp take over.
Cannondale DS Zanatta has told his riders to eat and drink but not to work, saving their strength for the sprint.
25km remaining from 233km
A big group is close to catching the front group, with vital Lotto leadout man Marcel Sieberg in there.
The race is passing through Ypres, a town at the centre of WW1. The riders dive under the huge Menin gate memorial arch.
Dillier (BMC) is again on the attack and has dragged s trio clear.
20km remaining from 233km
The peloton is undecided on if they should chase the move.
But they should be careful, Devolder (Trek) and Amador (Movistar) are in the trio.
Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (OPQS) tried to go across to the move but has faded and is about to be caught by the peloton.
Cannondale has two riders leading the chase.
But the trio up front now has 20 seconds.
The peloton is 40-strong but is losing ground to the attack.
OPQS has two riders on the front now but the gap is up to 30 seconds.
Devolder is using his time trial skills to drag the trio way.
Dillier and Amador are also working hard.
12km remaining from 233km
There is 12km to go. The peloton could have blown this.
Cannondale, FDJ.fr and OPQS all have several riders but are not committed to a chase.
10km remaining from 233km
Garmin-Sharp also has several riders and the peloton is starting a more organised chase.
Meanwhile, in Spain, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) has won the Volta a Catalunya after a wet final stage in Barcelona.
We'll have a full report and photo gallery soon on Cyclingnews.
Farrar, Bennett and Greipel have all gone down! Thomas too.
That will mean several teams will stop chasing the trio.
6km remaining from 233km
The gap is 25 seconds now.
OPQS is near he front but BMC is watching for any attacks.
Meanwhile a battered and shocked Andre Greipel climbs into the Lotto Belisol team car, with images of him captured on the in-car camera.
OPQS is now finally committed to the chase.
The trio seem to be fading on the back streets of Wevelgem.
4km remaining from 233km
This is going to be very close. The gap is down to 15 seconds
Giant-Shimano is also working for Degenkolb it seems.
The peloton can see the break 150m up the road.
There are 40 or so riders in the front peloton.
2km remaining from 233km
Belkin is leading the chase now, with traffic furniture splitting the group.
1km remaining from 233km
Last kilometre and the peloton comes back together.
Here we go! Sprint finish!
Sagan goes early but Degenkolb comes down the middle and seemed to beat him at the line. Demare seemed to get second.
Degenkolb blows kisses to the camera. This a big win for him and Giant-Shimano.
A crash in the final 500m caused chaos and left several riders on the ground.
Sagan made the mistake of going early. Demare came off Degenkolb's wheel but he ran out of road and legs and was a close second.
Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin)was fourth and Boonen (OPQS) fifth. Thor Hushovd (BMC) was ninth.
Degenkolb described the finish as hectic due to the speed and late crash but he was super happy to have won a major Classic. He won the Hamburg Cyclassics race Gent-Wevelgem is something else.
Wow. What a race. Like Milan-San Remo, this year's Gent-Wevelgem proved that a race route does not need to be difficult to make an exciting race.
Thanks for joining us for our live coverage of Gent-Wevelgem. We'll have full coverage with interviews, a huge photo gallery and exclusive news on Cyclingnews.com very soon.
We'll also have coverage of the Volta a Catalunya, Criterium International, the Coppi e Bartali and the women's Trofeo Binda race.
Join us later in the week for more live coverage from Belgium and then next Sunday for total live coverage of the Tour of Flanders.
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