Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of Gent-Wevelgem.
Cyclingnews is at the start of Gent-Wevelgem as the minutes count down to the stat of the race. The weather forecasts predict rain and strong winds. It should be a great race.
Stay with us to find out what happens during every moment of the race.
Gent-Wevelgem is known as the sprinters' classic because the 239km race route includes only a few hills and often ends in a sprint.
The riders are awaiting the start in the team buses to avoid the heavy rain. After getting wet in other races this spring, they are wrapped up in heavy rain gear.
The riders are awaiting the start in the team buses to avoid the heavy rain. After getting wet in other races this spring, they are wrapped up in heavy rain gear.
The riders are now at the start area, trying to stay dry for as long as possible.
To understand everything about the race route and the favourites for victory, read our full race preview by clicking here.
Milan-San Remo winner John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) is one of the last riders to sign on.
He is a big favourite for victory today due to the bad weather.
Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quickstep) is wrapped up in clothing and ready to race.
The weather forecasts for Flanders suggest the race will face heavy rain for much of the day, with strong winds, especially near the coast, that will perhaps touch 90km/h.
During the men's race, we will also bring information and updates from the women's edition of Gent-Wevelgem during a packed day of racing.
And they're off! The race has begun, with the riders rolling out of Deinze.
There have been some early attempts to get away but the peloton is all together as it heads north-west towards the coast.
As the riders head towards Tielt, a group of riders have opened a slight gap.
It seems the wind is already having an affect, and has split the peloton into three groups.
The early break of the day seems to have formed and there are seven riders in the move.
The move is down to six riders, with the peloton chasing at 30 seconds.
The move is down to six riders, with the peloton now at 2:00.
The breakaways are: Albert Timmer (Giant-Alpecin), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale), Alex Dowsett (Movistar), Jesse Sergent (Trek Factory Racing), Mirko Tedeschi (Southeast), Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff-Saxo).
215km remaining from 240km
The peloton has eased and the gap is now 3:30.
It is interesting to see that several of the teams targeting victory have sent a rider in the early break so they do not have do any of the chasing in the peloton. Tinkoff-Saxo has Brutt, while Giant-Alepcin has Albert Timmer.
The gap is rising fast. The six breakaways now have a lead of over five minutes.
With close to 40km covered, the riders are half way to the Belgian coast.
Cyclingnews editor Daniel Benson spoke to Bradley Wiggins before the start to find out about his form for the Classics and Team Sky's strategy for Gent-Wevelgem.
@dnlbenson Sun, 29th Mar 2015 11:28:08
The heavy rain is making it difficult to identify riders. However race radio has now confirmed there are seven riders in the break. The extra rider is Tim Kerkhof (Team Roompot).
The rain is causing several punctures. Both Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) have needed wheel changes in the last few minutes.
@GentWevelgem Sun, 29th Mar 2015 11:33:28
Bradley Wiggins also spoke about Team Sky’s race strategy on the start podium in Deinze: "Viviani? He’s one of the fastest men in the world. If it comes to a sprint – I don’t think it will be a full peloton – we will try to get him to the front."
Asked about the location of the Team Sky Service course in Deinze, Wiggins joked: "The mechanics like it because they get to go down the strip and see all the hookers and stuff, so they love it.”
190km remaining from 240km
The gap between the break and peloton continues to grow and is now 8:30.
@stevebeckett Sun, 29th Mar 2015 11:41:40
@klaasdanneel Sun, 29th Mar 2015 11:46:56
As the video posted by Klaas Danndeel shows, the riders are racing in wet and wind conditions. It will be a race of survival.
The riders are getting closer and closer to the coast, where the strong side winds often spark echelons.
The wind is blowing from the south-west today, with an average of 40km/h. However there could be gusts of up to 80km/h during the afternoon.
Cyclingnews' Flemish expert Brecht Decaluwe' spoke to Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) before the start. He was one of the few riders who seemed very keen to get out and race in the rain.
Back in 2010 during his first year as a professional rider he surprised the world with a second place in Wevelgem. This time he’s one of the favourites.
“It was a breakthrough performance. Now I have to perform. I don’t mind. It remains a very important race. In the future it will be a difficult race for me to win because it oftens ends in a bunch sprint but in these conditions it’s an golden opportunity for me to go for the win,” Vanmarcke said.
“There will be echelons. Nobody will be able to hide. It will be a hard race. The question is whether it will be a race straight from the start or from the Moeren [flatlands]."
"There are no plans to co-operate with Etixx-QuickStep. It’s hard to form a coalition because all the teams want to be in front on the crucial points. I had some bad luck. I’m looking forward to a day without bad luck because then it’ll be a fair race.”
175km remaining from 240km
The race is approaching the first feed zone just outside Veurne. The riders will need all the food and drinks they can get to survive in the tough conditions.
The riders have yet to hit the coast and turn left into the wind but there are already reports that the peloton has split.
Can Nacer Bouhanni win Gent-Wevelgem despite the tough conditons? The Cofidis team will be riding for him.
@TeamCOFIDIS Sun, 29th Mar 2015 12:08:47
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) is a rider who has the reputation of being able to perform well in the rain thanks to living in Norway. At the start in Deinze the warm-clothed Norwegian said the weather was similar to that at home, in Stavanger.
"It's like Norway here. I prefer the sun but with a few extra layers of clothing it's ok," Kristoff said.
Last year he won a stormy edition of Milano-Sanremo. One year earlier Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) created a reputation for hard conditions when he won Milano-Sanremo, after battling though snow and rain.
Several riders have already abandoned in the tough conditons. The latest according to race radio are Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merdia) and Spanish sprinter Fran Ventoso (Movistar).
Pozzato did not ride E3 Harelbeke on Friday due to a stomach virus.
The peloton is about to pass through Adinkerke and then turn left. This is when the echelons could begin to form due to the strong winds. Hold on to your hats!
The Etixx-QuickStep team has been doing much of the chasing in the peloton and the gap has fallen to 6:30.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) crashed hard in the E3 Harelbeke but seems to have escaped without serious injuries. He was clearly struggling to step up the stairs of the start podium in Deinze but once on the bike he hoped to be okay.
“I crashed hard but there’s no serious injuries. Apart from some scratches, a sore hip and muscles I’m ok. Luckily I was able to roll. I did notice that my helmet was damaged so I must’ve hit the ground with my head first. Yesterday I was in pain but it was good to go out for a ride of an hour."
"Today I’ll have to see how I recovered from the crash. I’m not looking forward to riding in the echelons but I’m trying to get in the mood. Maybe once I’m on the bike I’ll think differently. I’ll try to play my role today. We have a team that can do well in such a race. I used a smaller front wheel to avoid picking up too much wind.”
BMC also has Daniels Oss and Marcus Burghardt for the hard racing in the wind and rain.
The action is also underway in the women's Gent-Wevelgem and the Trofeo Alfredo Binda World Cup race in Italy.
The men are also in action at the Volta a Catalunya in Spain, at the Cirterium International in Corsica and at the Coppi e Bartali race in Italy.
Cyclingnews will have full coverage of all the action.
We have reports of a big crash in the peloton.
It seems the wind in the Moeren part of the route caused a crash that left several riders in the ditch.
It seems the peloton has split into three groups.
One of the riders to go down was Gert Steegmans (Trek Factory Racing).
It seems Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) was also involved in the crash.
145km remaining from 240km
The spits in the peloton and the chasing has reduced the gap to the break. It is down to 4:00.
Upfront, Tim Kerkhof (Team Roompot) has been dropped from the break due to a puncture. The break is down to six riders.
It seems that Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick Step) has also crashed, while Steegmans has been taken to hospital.
Cavendish is chasing but his teammate Martin Velits is out with a broken collarbone.
140km remaining from 240km
The break remains 4:00 ahead, with a chasing group 1:00 down on the peloton.
The peloton has split into 3 groups, spread across a minute.
The weather is so bad that some people are calling for the race to be neutralised. There are reports that riders were blown off their bikes on an exposed sector of road.
Rik Verbrugge of the IAM Cycling team has tweeted an appeal to neutralise the race.
"Organisator please neutralize this race @GentWevelgem to dangerous #SafetyFirst" he wrote.
However the race is continuing. There are only 40 riders in the front peloton.
Some of the big names in the move are Vanmarcke, Van Avermaet, Thomas, Greipel, Roelandts, Maes, Lodewyck, Haussler and Debusschere.
Two of the groups have come back together, creating a peloton of around 100 riders.
135km remaining from 240km
The six break aways now lead by 2:10.
Behind, Cavendish has reportedly returned to the main peloton.
The race is only 15km from the first climb of the Casselberg climb.
Cavendish seemed to have landed on his back in his crash but looked okay as he moved up through the peloton.
The BMC and Orica-GreenEdge teams are riding at the head of the peloton, while other riders take on drinks at the back.
130km remaining from 240km
The peloton is riding steady before an expected acceleration before the Cemmelberg.
Two years ago Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) won Gent-Wevelgem, one of the wins that turned him into a top favourite for the monuments of the Ronde and Roubaix.
This morning the Slovakian didn’t seem to be keen to race in the rain.
“I like this race. Today is different with the weather,” Sagan said.
He was also asked about the absence of the so-called tactical mastermind Bjarne Riis in the Tinoff-Saxo team car.
“This is one thing but it’s not my problem. We have another director sportif in the team car and I think they are very good. We have good information in the race. It’s ok.”
Sagan still was in doubts why he was unable to react on the attacks from Geraint Thomas and Zdenek Stybar in the final kilometres of the E3 Harelbeke. He said he wasn’t hunger-flat.
“No, I eat enough. I don’t know. Maybe I lose my too much energy before. I don’t know what happened."
Reports that Bradley Wiggins has set up and left the race due to the conditions.
And there's crash in the bunch and there's a Garmin rider picking himself up off the ground after heavy cross winds buffer the peloton.
It looks like Boasson Hagen was one of the riders who came down too.
125km remaining from 240km
Demare has also lost ground as but the peloton have caught the early break.
The cross-winds have split the race to pieces with groups all over the road. It looks like Sagan and Kristoff have made the lead group.
Cavendish has a puncture and takes a wheel from a teammate.
But it's LottoNL who set the pace at the moment on the front of the first group but there are at least five groups out on the road.
Another rider in the first group is E3 Harelbeke winner Geraint Thomas.
The races turns right and moves onto the Casselberg, and a few groups will have a chance to come back.
Terpstra is also in the lead group as Trentin sets the pace Sagan battles towards the head of the race. It's pure chaos out there.
Bouhanni is off the back of the bunch as Lotto lift the pace.
Thomas looks to be without any teammates at the moment in this 25-30 rider group but LottoNL, Katusha, QuickStep all seem to have numbers.
Greipel is in the second group, which is being led by Orica.
Ciolek and Stybar are two more names to tick off in the first group as we see them come through and share turns.
Degenkolb can be see at the front too, so the defending champion has made the split as well. The first group have 40 seconds on the chase group.
The riders are on a narrow country lane at the moment. It is only wide enough for four or five riders.
The front group reaches the top of the Cammelberg for a second time with the chasers just behind but spread down the road.
Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) was slowed by a flat on the climb. Niki Tersptra (Etixx-Quickstep) also had mechanical.
111km remaining from 240km
The wind is causing further havoc and further split in the groups.
On a long straight road the riders are split into three distinct echelons, with growing gaps between them.
107km remaining from 240km
The skies are grey and dark, creating a hellish atmosphere out on the road.
Matt Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge) is trying to go across to the front group but has to cross a 30-second gap.
BMC pulls Hayman back but then the chase looses speed. The gap is still 30 seconds.
Both LottotNL and Katusha are well represented in the front group. They keep relaunching the speed to ensure the move stays away.
But BMC is working hard to drag Van Avermaet back into contention.
100km remaining from 240km
So much has happened already but there is still 100km left to race.
The two pelotons have now merged and the riders ease to eat and drink.
Other riders are also trying to chase to get back on.
Terpstra, Farrar and Demare also make it back to the front group.
The LottoNL team seems keen to take charge of the race and has sent Maarten Tjallingii on the attack.
He has quickly opened a 30-second gap off the front.
Tjallingii is on the Catsberg climb. But the peloton is happy to let him hang out front.
Luca Paolini (Katusha) is controlling the tempo at the head of the peloton. He is protecting Alexander Kristoff.
After the fast descent, the peloton is lined out as it chases Tjallingii.
A mechanical for Vanmarcke.
Vanmarcke is chasing to get back on and should be okay.
90km remaining from 240km
The race is back in Belgium after a section in France. Tjallingii has a 50-second leas as he heads to the Baneberg climb.
Paolini gets a bike change after a problem. The team mechanic carefully kept hold of the old bike as lots of fans gathered around in the confusion.
In 10km the riders face the Kemmelberg for the first time. After all the early action and echelons, the race enters the key sector of the route.
The Kemmelberg, the Monteberg and the Baneberg will be climbed a second time as part of a loop, before the race heads towards Wevelgem for the finish.
The peloton hits the Baneberg, with Thomas close to the front. Quinziato is there for BMC too.
The Baneberg has stretched the peloton, with several riders going off the front to open a gap before the Kemmelberg.
The wind is still blowing and making the race even harder and more tactical.
Seven riders have edged clear of the peloton.
The riders are approaching the Kemmelberg now. The first passage of the cobbled climb will surely cause a split of some kind.
Tjallingii is powering his way up the Kemelberg but the peloton can see him just ahead.
Tjallingii begins the descent but the peloton is on him.
The corners on the descent are wet but the riders take them with caution.
The climb has lined-out the riders, scattering them into the wind. The race is a survival of the strongest.
Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) has jumped across to Tjallingii but they only have a slight lead.
Demare is at the back of the peloton. Can he hang on for an eventual sprint finish? He was well placed last year.
Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) is powering on alone. The peloton has eased for a moment as they approach the Monteberg.
73km remaining from 240km
Roelandts is able to take the best line on the narrow roads. He leads by 23 seconds now but Etixx is leading the chase for Stybar.
The wind is still strong and making it especially hard for riders at the back of the peloton.
Etixx is working hard to lead the chase and has clearly given up hope that Cavendish can get back on. However Stybar has a flat!
He gets a wheel from a teammate but will have to chase. He gets some help from the Etixx team car.
Fortunately he has three teammates up front, who can help him.
A sticky bottle from the team car also helps.
However the peloton is split ahead of him.
Strangely Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx - Quick-Step) is attacking off the front and is joined by two others, including Thomas of Team Sky.
Also there are Oss (BMC), Vanmarcke (LottoNL) Debusschere (Lotto Soudal).
The riders are having to lean into the wind to their right, to stay upright. The wind is that strong.
Jack Bauer (Cannondale-Garmin) throws his bike off the road in anger after his cape gets stuck in his wheel. He was in the front group but might struggle now to get back on.
60km remaining from 240km
After the selection caused by the wind and rain, the race has become very tactical now. Who will chase the chasers?
Peter Sagan is trapped in the group because he has no teammates with him. It will be up to Katusha to chase if they want to set up Kristoff.
However Etixx, LototNL and BMC are blocking any chase effort.
However Paolini has managed to get across to the five with a strong solo effort in the wind.
However the move traps Van Avermaet and Stybar in the peloton. They will not be happy.
Crash! Thomas seems to have be blown off the road and into the ditch.
He lost his balance and went onto the grass before tumbling and loosing his bike.
Thomas is up and chasing. The Team Sky car is protecting him from the wind and he is closing the gap to the attackers.
Thomas is in the car and about to catch the riders again.
Thomas is back and so there are again six riders in the attacking group behind Roelandts.
Because of the terrible weather, the average speed of the race has been just 36km/h so far.
In the attack group, Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) is not working because Roelandts is up the road.
Roelandts is actually opening his lead. But can he go all the way to the finish alone? There is still 5km to race.
Here comes Tersptra! He has jumped away from the peloton and is closing the gap on the six attackers.
That changes everything up front. Etixx now has two riders in the move and quickly go to the front.
But everyone in the move is wet and tired.
50km remaining from 240km
It is almost time for the second trio of climbs. The Baneberg comes first, then the Kemmelberg and finally the Monteberg, before the 33km of flat roads to the finish.
Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) is riding his own personal time trial in the wind.
He has won just six races in his ten-year career but has often been in the think of the action. He was third in the 2013 Tour of Flanders.
The peloton seems to have given up hope of catching the six. They are now 4:30 down on Roelandts.
Peter Sagan and Tinkoff-Saxo has again failed to land a result. Later today the team will announce their decision on the future of former team owner and current team manager Bjarne Riis.
The Baneberg bites into Roelandts legs but he keeps powering away, spinning his gear.
The chasers are stuck in a Lotto Soudal tactical sandwich: Roelandts is up the road, while Jens Debusschere sits at the back and waits for the sprint.
@AdrianTimmis Sun, 29th Mar 2015 15:46:51
The peloton begins the Baneberg but is now almost six minutes behind.
Here we go on the Kemmelberg. Roelandts begins the cobbled-climb with a 2:00 lead.
Roelandts will surely loose some time on the steeped cobbled climb but he looks as good, or as bad, as his rivals behind.
They will have to work hard to catch him.
The Route of Gent-Wevelgem passes numerous military graves and more than 5000 French solders are buried in the Kemmelberg cemetery.
The chasers are on the Kemmelberg too, with Paolini at the back as Etixx lead the way.
Thomas looks good but Vanmarcke is suffering.
There are some gaps. This could be a chance for Terpstra and Thomas to get ride of Debusschere.
After some nasty crashes, the riders no longer descend on the cobbled road but on a smooth back road.
Roelandts is now on the country road full of tractors and protesting farmers. His lead is down to 1:30.
Oss and Paolini are struggling to get back on after the Kemmelberg. Oss is about to throw in the towel.
There only five riders chasing now: Terpstra, Thomas, Vanmarcke, Debusschere and Vandenbergh.
Somehow Paolini makes it back on but Oss has cracked.
Behind Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) sets off in pursuit from the big group behind. but the peloton is 6:30 behind Roelandts.
@VeloVoices Sun, 29th Mar 2015 16:05:44
Roelandts seems to be fading. His lead is now below a minute. He's got 31km to go.
He is crouched over his handlebars, trying to get as aero as possible.
He will soon have a tailwind to blow him towards Wevelgem but so will the chasers and Vandenbergh seems very strong.
Thomas, Vandenbergh, Tersptra and Vanmarcke are working together to pull back Roellndts. It is four versus one all the way to Wevelgem.
Debusschere and Paolini are not helping the chase. The Belgian champion has Roelandts up the road and so has been able to save his strength. Paolini seems tired after chasing alone after the Kemmelberg.
25km remaining from 240km
The race is now in Ieper, the site of so much fighting during WW1.
The riders passes under the Menen gate, that remembers so many of the war victims.
20km remaining from 240km
Oss is still chasing the chasers. He bravely refuses to give up and is only 30 seconds behind. However the other riders are taking off their capes and even arm warmers as the races heats up.
Vandenbergh is riding aggressively and trying to split the chase group.
Thomas brings him back but they gap to Roelandts is only 20 seconds now.
The chaser can see Roelandts but are not working smoothly together.
Flat for Terpstra.He gets a new bike but looses time and is off the back.
17km remaining from 240km
Upfront Roelandts sits up and is caught by the five. Can he still fight for victory?
Terpstra is chasing through the cars in a desperate attempt to get back to the front.
He makes it because the others are playing games and taking a drink.
Now Tersptra and Paolini have jumped away.
The others don't seem to have a reply and they are opening a gap.
In the shelter of some houses, Thomas accelerates in pursuit, with the others on his wheel. Only Roelandts fails to hold on.
Thomas has single handedly gone across to the pair, blowing the other off his wheel in the strong side winds.
Now Thomas, Paolini and Terpstra are up front. Vandenbergh is slowly getting up to them too.
Vanmarcke and Debusschere are a little further behind.
10km remaining from 240km
This race is still wide open.
Vanmarcke and Debusschere are fighting their way back up to the quartet.
It's time for a tactical finish.
6km remaining from 240km
Paolini tries his hand but is quickly pulled back. He goes again and gets a gap.
Can he stay away?
Etixx has two riders and has to chase but nobody seems ready to commit. Paolini is riding away from them.
Paolini has 10 seconds.
Paolini is out of sight and riding to victory.
Paolini has taken flight.
2km remaining from 240km
Paolini is pushing a huge gear but is still clear.
Tersptra and Thomas have a gap on the other now but it is too late. Paolini is riding to victory.
Paolini turned 38 in January but has used his experience to outwit his rivals.
Paolini sits up in the finishing straight. He wins!
Tersptra beats Thomas for second place but it is of little consolation. Paolini outwitted all his rivals today.
Paolini can hardly talk after winning due to the emotions and fatigue.
What a race! That was arguably the toughest ever edition of Ghent-Wevelgem, with the strongest fighting it out for victory.
Paolini is the first Italian to win Gent-Wevelgem since Mario Cipollini in 2002.
Stijn Vandenbergh won the sprint for fourth place but there will further questions about Etixx - Quick-Step' s tactics.
Thanks for joining us for the full live coverage of Gent-Wevelgem.
We will have a full race report, a huge photo gallery, interviews and news on Cyclingnews very soon by our team at the race.
Join us next weekend for the full live coverage of the Tour of Flanders.
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