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Gent-Wevelgem Elite Men – Live coverage

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The peloton is gathering in Ypres for the start of Gent-Wevelgem, but without Trek-Segafredo, who were forced out last night after two confirmed cases of COVID-19, and without Bora-Hansgrohe, who have also been denied the start after already missing the E3 Saxo Bank Classic due to a confirmed coronavirus case. Yesterday, Bora-Hansgrohe intimated their intention to compete and they were reportedly travelling to Ypres this morning, but our man in Flanders Brecht Decaluwe reports that they will not now take part in the race. 

While Trek-Segafredo confirmed their withdrawal last night after the confirmed COVID-19 cases, it appears that Bora-Hansgrohe were prevented from starting this morning. Bora-Hansgrohe were unable to start in Harelbeke on Friday under the Belgian Cycling Federation's COVID-19 protocol after Matt Walls tested positive for the coronavirus, and they are now out of Gent-Wevelgem.

In the absence of Trek-Segafredo and Bora-Hansgrohe the Deceuninck-Quick-Step team will by far be the strongest force in the race, writes Brecht Decaluwé. They even have fast men Sam Bennett and Davide Ballerini if the race comes down to a group sprint. Yves Lampaert was asked about the chances of teammate Sam Bennett. “He’s good. They have forecast a lot of wind. I hope there’ll be a lot of wind. He’ll go well but we’ll have to see exactly how far he can get. It’s impossible to predict. We have another fast man with Ballerini. There’s Stybar and me too,” Lampaert said.

Bennett comes fresh from a win in De Panne, his first victory in a WorldTour one-day race. “It was a milestone. To do it in a Belgian team in a Belgian race was great,” Bennett said. He watched E3 Harelbeke where his teammates offered a masterclass. “It was awesome. I felt like a teenager watching that. It probably a lot harder than it looked. The guys that did it were incredibly strong,” Bennett said. Bennett is born in Belgium and will be riding by his birthplace Menin. “It’s special but I don’t think I will pay attention to it. I’ll be so concentrated in the race. There’s a lot of wind so I’ll be focused about that,” Bennett said. “The Kemmelberg? It will hurt. I will have to fight and get to it in a good position. We will have to see it on the road.”

DE PANNE BELGIUM MARCH 24 Arrival Sam Bennett of Ireland and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Celebration Jasper Philipsen of Belgium and Team AlpecinFenix during the 45th Oxyclean Brugge De Panne 2021 Men Classic a 2039km race from Brugge to De Panne OxycleanClassic on March 24 2021 in De Panne Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The peloton rolls out from Ypres at 10am CET and is scheduled to reach kilometre zero for the official start at 10.15. The 247.5km race features 11 climbs, starting with the Scherpenberg after 150km, while the final ascent of the Kemmelberg comes after 213km. There are also three sections of semi-paved road - the Plugstreets - around the 180km mark, while the firm threat of crosswinds to break the race into echelons.

Flanders Classics CEO Thomas Van Den Spiegel has spoken about Bora-Hansgrohe being denied the start this morning: “There’s the fact that 17 people from Bora have been marked as high-risk contacts. Once they’re quarantined, there’s not much we can do. Yesterday we informed ourselves in detail about their situation. This morning there was no other option for us than to inform them that they were not allowed to take the start.”

The Gent-Wevelgem peloton is waved away from the start by the mayor of Ypres, and the starters - minus Trek-Segafredo and Bora-Hansgrohe - are negotiating the 7.7km neutralised zone.

There is no Mathieu van der Poel at the start in Ypres, writes Brecht Decaluwé. The Alpecin-Fenix team will instead be aiming for a sprint with their fast men Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen. If there’s no sprint, then Gianni Vermeersch might be able to play his role in the attacks as he showed splendid form in previous races. He’s riding near his home. “It’s in my backyard. Two years ago, it was my first WorldTour race. I’m always super motivated. We’ll be aiming for a bunch sprint. With Tim and Jasper, we have the two strongest Belgian sprinters in the team. A group with one of them, or both, featuring is good too. It’s not the goal to get me in a lead group to the finish,” Vermeersch said. Tim Merlier has already won three races this year. He didn’t know how his legs would respond at the end of such a long, hard race. “It’s great to win three times already. I’m very happy about that. I don’t know if this will be a race for the sprinters. There’s a lot of wind so there’ll be echelons. I’ll have to ride in front. The Kemmelberg shouldn’t be a problem but after 250 kilometres the legs will decide. I’ll need a good day. With Jasper we can bank on two horses. We’ll see who his best positioned. If I’m faster than Wout van Aert? Maybe. Hopefully we’ll see about that later today.”

KOKSIJDE BELGIUM MARCH 19 Arrival Tim Merlier of Belgium and Team AlpecinFenix Celebration Mads Pedersen of Denmark and Team Trek Segafredo Florian Senechal of France and Team Deceuninck QuickStep during the 19th Bredene Koksijde Classic 2021 a 199km race from Bredene to Koksijde BredeneKoksijde on March 19 2021 in Koksijde Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

-247.5km

The peloton reaches kilometre zero and Gent-Wevelgem is officially underway. 

A brisk pace in the peloton in the opening kilometres. There's an early puncture for Frederik Frison (Lotto Soudal), who quickly chases back on.

Frison’s teammate Philippe Gilbert and Gent-Wevelgem aren’t a great match, as Brecht Decaluwé points out. Back in 2010 he did manage to finish third when Bernhard Eisel won the race in the sprint from a small group, with youngster Sep Vanmarcke finishing as runner-up. Gilbert abandoned quite early in E3 Harelbeke. At the start in Ypres, he explained why he opted to do so. “I wanted to stay calm and recover. I didn’t want to just ride along without ambitions. Worried? It’s not a good sign for the upcoming races. It’s just the way it is. Back in 2010 it was foul weather. Sometimes it’s not the strongest riders who ride away. That’s the way I’ll have to race today. I’m often not great when there’s crosswinds at the start. I prefer to have them at the end of the race. Early on it’s a matter of having the guts rather than having the strength.”

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2021 -75h Edition - Training - Flanders Classics - 25/02/2021 - Philippe Gilbert (BEL - Lotto Soudal) - photo Nico Vereecken/PN/BettiniPhoto©2021

(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

-232km

Stefan Bissegger and Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo) are among the early attackers, and they are joined by three more riders. Philippe Gilbert was briefly trying to get across to them. 

Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo), Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana Premier Tech), Christophe Noppe (Arkéa-Samsic) and Laurenz Rex (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB) have opened a gap over the peloton. 

Noppe doesn't last very long in the group, however. The Belgian is distanced and has been caught again by the peloton. Four men remain in front: Bissegger, Rutsch, Rex and the impressive Fedorov, who was the last rider to join the move, having bridged across strongly.

The second EF rider in the front group is Jonas Rutsch, not Arroyave as previously stated. Regardless of the identity of the break, the peloton is content to let them go for now. The quartet build an early lead of 2 minutes.

-222km

Break:

Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo), Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana Premier Tech) and Laurenz Rex (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB)

Peloton at 3:20

After all the apprehension over early splits, there will be relief for some in the peloton that the break was able to go clear so smoothly. The early truce sees a number of riders stop for a natural break, while the four escapees push their advantage out to four minutes.

Bora-Hansgrohe manager Ralph Denk is not a happy man, and he has made the COVID-19 doctor for the E3 Saxo Bank Classic the target of his opprobrium for placing “two-thirds of the team” in a seven-day quarantine. Denk has also confirmed that his team will now miss Dwars door Vlaanderen too.

"I am very disappointed and angry,” said Denk. “A GP from the region can block an entire team in one of the largest one-day races in the world. We had a positive Corona case with Walls and have the roommate and a physio as category 1 contact persons. That they have to be isolated and quarantined is absolutely clear. However, we of course have other riders and staff on site, so a part of them were also ordered to be in quarantine, but only some of them. Who was selected and the reasons are completely unclear and it seems rather arbitrary. Honestly, I can't understand why other teams are allowed to race after similar cases. We tried everything last night, but the doctor didn't even answer us anymore. It would be nice to at least understand how he has justified his decisions. We are testing every day at the moment and all the tests so far have been negative, without exception. The part of the team that has been quarantined will be quarantined until 1 April. This also means that we cannot start at Dwars Door Vlaanderen."

-217km

Break:

Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo), Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana Premier Tech) and Laurenz Rex (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB)

Peloton at 5:00

A look at today's breakaway.

See more

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The breakaway's advantage is currently up to a sizeable 8:35. 

The latest from Flanders Classics CEO Tomas Van Den Spiegel on the Bora-Hansgrohe situation...

"As much as we would have loved to have a complete field, we do not have the authority to overrule an ongoing quarantine. It is also not up to an organizer like ourselves to judge whether the quarantine is fair or not."

200KM

The riders pass the 200km to go mark – it's still early days in the race and we're still some way away from the race's major difficulties.

And the time gap is currently up to 9:30.

How to watch men's and women's Gent-Wevelgem 2021 – live TV and streaming

Van Aert, Van Avermaet, Bennett, D'hoore, Vos, Deignan compete for victory at Sunday's race

Benjamin Declercq (Arkéa-Samsic) has abandoned the race. He's the brother of Deceuninck-QuickStep rider Tim, who isn't at the race today but will be in action again at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday.

The peloton has sped up in recent kilometres with the gap to the break coming down to 7:45. The riders are heading towards the coast at the moment, so nervousness at the chance of winds affecting the peloton looks to be behind the upping of pace.

185KM

Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis) is the latest rider to abandon the race.

Two days ago, Wout van Aert surprisingly ran out of gas on the Tiegemberg in the E3 Harelbeke, writes Brecht Decaluwé. “We don’t have to look very far. I punctured and took a lot of initiative. I spent a lot of energy. Everybody has a limit,” Van Aert said before the start today. He seems to be banking on a sprint in this edition of Gent-Wevelgem, knowing he spent a lot of energy in E3 Harelbeke. “It’s hard to predict. It’ll be hard, even before the hill zone. We’ll have to see how much damage is done. There’s several ways for me to win so I’ll have to think about that this time. The Kemmelberg suits me well. It’s straightforward. There’s not much damage done each time, though.” When asked if he is faster than Tim Merlier, Van Aert smiled. “Maybe if we sprint here at the start then he’ll be the fastest but after 250 kilometres it might be different.”

HARELBEKE BELGIUM MARCH 26 Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team Jumbo Visma during the 64th E3 Saxo Bank Classic 2021 a 2039km race from Harelbeke to Harelbeke E3SaxobankClassic on March 26 2021 in Harelbeke Belgium Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

-176km

Echelon alert... Somewhere between Pollinkhove and Hoogstade, the peloton has begun to fragment...

21 riders have made the front echelon: Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Jack Bauer (BikeExchange), Luka Mezgec (BikeExchange), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Robert Stannard (BikeExchange), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Luis Mas (Movistar), Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Sven Erik Bystrøm (UAE Team Emirates), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Michal Golas (Ineos), Timothy Dupont (Bingoal), Jeremy Lecroq (B&B Hotels) and Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels)

The reports from out on the route suggests that the wind conditions are wreaking havoc, and this front echelon has a lead of half a minute or so over the rest of the peloton.

-171km

Break:

 

Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo), Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana Premier Tech) and Laurenz Rex (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB)

 

Chasers at 2:38:

 

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Jack Bauer (BikeExchange), Luka Mezgec (BikeExchange), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Robert Stannard (BikeExchange), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Luis Mas (Movistar), Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Sven Erik Bystrøm (UAE Team Emirates), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Michal Golas (Ineos), Timothy Dupont (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Jeremy Lecroq (B&B Hotels) and Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels)



Peloton at 3:20

Perhaps unexpectedly, Sam Bennett is the only Deceuninck-QuickStep rider to make this echelon with men like Wout van Aert and Matteo Trentin. One imagines the men in blue will be active in trying to stitch the race back together.

Team BikeExchange are well represented in this echelon. Michael Matthews has Luka Mezgec, Jack Bauer and Robert Stannard for company, and they're working to try keep this group clear of the peloton, which is regrouping behind. As well as Deceuninck-QuickStep - who have just one rider in front - AG2R-Citroen and Alpecin-Fenix both missed the split, and those three teams will surely collaborate behind. 

-165km

The group of 21 are closing in on the four leaders. The (provisionally) reformed peloton is about a minute behind the Van Aert-Matthews-Bennet-Trentin group, but the race is approaching De Moeren and it can be rent asunder all over again.

All the while, a fire has reportedly broken out in Menen, not far from the finish in Wevelgem, but Flanders Classics CEO Tomas Van Den Spiegal has told Sporza that it should not impact on the finish. "For the time being it looks like the fire here in Menen will not cause any problems for the race," he said. 

-160km

The racing is relentless even at this early juncture. The Van Aert-Bennett-Matthews group closes is just a minute down on the break, while the peloton is at 2:40. That gap between the front echelon and the main bunch appears to be inching outwards...

Only three riders remain out in front, meanwhile, as Laurenz Rex (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB) sits up.

-159km

Break:

Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo), Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana Premier Tech)

 

Chasers at 1:00:

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Jack Bauer (BikeExchange), Luka Mezgec (BikeExchange), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Robert Stannard (BikeExchange), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Luis Mas (Movistar), Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Sven Erik Bystrøm (UAE Team Emirates), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Michal Golas (Ineos), Timothy Dupont (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Jeremy Lecroq (B&B Hotels) and Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels)

Peloton at 2:40

 

-155km

The Van Aert-Bennett-Matthews group has caught the escapees, leaving 25 riders in front with a lead of 1:50 over the peloton.

Situation

Break:

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Jack Bauer (BikeExchange), Luka Mezgec (BikeExchange), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Robert Stannard (BikeExchange), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Luis Mas (Movistar), Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Sven Erik Bystrøm (UAE Team Emirates), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Michal Golas (Ineos), Timothy Dupont (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Jeremy Lecroq (B&B Hotels), Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels), Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo), Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana Premier Tech) and Laurenz Rex (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB)

Peloton at 1:50

Sporza's Renaat Schotte captured this footage from behind the Van Aert group.

See more

-150km

The peloton, meanwhile, has begun to fragment all over again. Sep Vanmarcke is reportedly among those caught out. A reminder that the first climb of the day is still over 50km away. Just like two years ago, this is proving to a breathless, relentless edition of Gent-Wevelgem.

A reminder that Trek-Segafredo and Bora-Hansgrohe are both absent today due to confirmed COVID-19 cases. You can read more about Bora's absence here

-144km

Break:

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Jack Bauer (BikeExchange), Luka Mezgec (BikeExchange), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Robert Stannard (BikeExchange), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Luis Mas (Movistar), Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Sven Erik Bystrøm (UAE Team Emirates), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Michal Golas (Ineos), Timothy Dupont (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Jeremy Lecroq (B&B Hotels), Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels), Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo), Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana Premier Tech) and Laurenz Rex (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB)

Peloton at 1:35

The peloton looked to be grimly clawing back some seconds on the men out in front, but it's a slow process, and the gap seems to have stalled at around 1:30 or so.

Groupama-FDJ, Alpecin-Fenix and AG2R-Citroën are setting the pace in the peloton, having missed the crucial split. Deceuninck-QuickStep are recused from chasing duties by the presence of Sam Bennett out in front, though they would probably like to have some riders around their fast man come the finale…

Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation) has abandoned Gent-Wevelgem.

-125km

The peloton is so far proving unable to make any inroads into the advantage of Van Aert et al, and they are losing ground again. 1:55 the gap.

Situation

Break:

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Jack Bauer (BikeExchange), Luka Mezgec (BikeExchange), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Robert Stannard (BikeExchange), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Luis Mas (Movistar), Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Sven Erik Bystrøm (UAE Team Emirates), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Michal Golas (Ineos), Timothy Dupont (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Jeremy Lecroq (B&B Hotels), Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels), Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo), Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana Premier Tech) and Laurenz Rex (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB)

Peloton at 1:55

-117km

The intensity is unremitting in the peloton, which is again beginning to fragment. Philippe Gilbert and Jens Keukeleire are among the riders losing contact with the front section, which is now 1:40 down on the leaders.

The race is proving attritional at the front, too. Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana Premier Tech), who was part of the early break, has lost contact with the front group.

-113km

The peloton - such as it is - has clawed back another handful of seconds on the leaders. The gap is at 1:30 as the race passes through Poperinge.

The leaders are just 15km or so from the first of the day's climbs. The 11 hellingen on the agenda are as follows:

1        Scherpenberg, 150km

2        Vidaigneberg, 154km

3        Baneberg, 156km

4        Monteberg, 161km

5        Kemmelberg (Belvedère), 163km

6        Monteberg, 193km

7        Kemmelberg (Belvedère), 195km

8        Scherpenberg, 202km

9        Vidaigneberg, 207km

10       Baneberg, 208km

11       Kemmelberg (Ossuaire), 213km

Deceuninck-QuickStep make a contribution to the pursuit, and the peloton's deficit comes down to 1:22.

-94km

Team BikeExchange set the pace in the front group, but the peloton appears to be gaining ground as the race hits the hills. After the Scherpenberg, the gap is at 1:12.

Situation

Break:

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Jack Bauer (BikeExchange), Luka Mezgec (BikeExchange), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Robert Stannard (BikeExchange), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Luis Mas (Movistar), Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Sven Erik Bystrøm (UAE Team Emirates), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Michal Golas (Ineos), Timothy Dupont (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Jeremy Lecroq (B&B Hotels), Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels), Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo) and Laurenz Rex (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB)

Peloton at 1:12

 

-90km

The gap comes down to a minute on the Baneberg, where Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep) springs into action. The Czech leads a four-man group as he tries to bridge across to the leaders, where his teammate Sam Bennett is isolated.

Flanders Classics have announced that the finale of the men's and women's races at Gent-Wevelgem will be rerouted due to a fire in Menen. The route was due to pass through the centre of Menen with 5km to go, but will instead take a deviation. The finish in Wevelgem remains on the route. 

See more

-84km

Stybar's forcing continues on the Kemmelberg, and his efforts have completely shredded the peloton. Yves Lampaert is in a small group with him and the gap to the leaders is falling. 38 seconds the gap.

Soren Kragh Andersen (DSM), Luke Durbridge (BikeExchange) and two Alpecin-Fenix riders are also in the small chasing group with Stybar and Lampaert. They are now 26 seconds down on the leaders, who are still swapping turns out in front.

-81km

A couple of riders lost touch with the front group over the Kemmelberg, including, it seems Jasper De Buyst and Imanol Erviti. 

The second group on the road with Stybar, Lampaert, Durbridge, Soren Kragh Andersen and Oliver Naesen (AG2R) is 35 seconds down. A larger, Lotto Soudal-led group is third on the road at 44 seconds. 

The man in the chasing group at 24 seconds are: Yves Lampaert, Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Oliver Naesen (AG2R), Luke Durbridge (BikeExchange), Soren Kragh Andersen (DSM), Oscar Riesebeek and Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix). A larger group is not behind them at 38 seconds.

-76km

The Stybar-Lampaert-Naesen group expands to 20 or so riders, with Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) and Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R) among those to make it across. 33 seconds the gap to the leaders. 

-73km

The small Stybar-led group was a more cohesive chasing group than this expanded group with Demare, Van Avermaet et al. The gap has stretched back out to 52 seconds on the approach to the first of the three sectors of unpaved road at the Plugstreets.

Situation

Break: 

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Jack Bauer (BikeExchange), Luka Mezgec (BikeExchange), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Robert Stannard (BikeExchange), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Luis Mas (Movistar), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Sven Erik Bystrøm (UAE Team Emirates), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Michal Golas (Ineos), Timothy Dupont (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Jeremy Lecroq (B&B Hotels), Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels), Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo), and Laurenz Rex (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB)

Chasers at 0:50

-70km

Alpecin-Fenix lead the chase on the first sector of Plugstreets, but they aren't outpacing the BikeExchange cadre out in front, who are piling on the pressure and keeping the gap at around a minute.

Deceuninck-QuickStep are no longer contributing to the chase. While Stybar and Lampaert would undoubtedly like to get across to accompany Sam Bennett, they don't want to bring me like Naesen, Van Avermaet and Demare with them.

Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) punctures in the second group ahead of the second unpaved sector, and that might also have an impact on the chase effort behind. AG2R take up the reins instead of them but the gap stays at one minute. 

The chasing group expands in size once again as more riders get back on. They are still a minute down on the leaders as they hit the third and final portion of the Plugstreets.

BikeExchange have lost Luka Mezgec from the front group. The Slovenian appeared to have a mechanical issue and he has been caught by the chasers. Stannard and Bauer continue to set the pace for Matthews.

-65km

AG2R's pace-making is helping to shave some seconds off the break's lead. 50 seconds the gap. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) is at the rear of this chasing group. His teammates Trentin and Bystrom, of course, are in the front group with Matthews, Bennett, Van Aert et al.

That looks like a puncture for Kristoff, who will hope he can get a quick wheel change and rejoin this chasing group before the next climb, the Monteberg. Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) is also forced to a halt with mechanical issue.

-63km

Break:

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Jack Bauer (BikeExchange), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Robert Stannard (BikeExchange), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Luis Mas (Movistar), Jasha Sütterlin (DSM), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Sven Erik Bystrøm (UAE Team Emirates), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Michal Golas (Ineos), Timothy Dupont (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Jeremy Lecroq (B&B Hotels), Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels), Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo)

Peloton at 0:37

Michael Schär is doing the bulk of the work in the chasing group for his AG2R leaders Van Avermaet and Naesen. His efforts have cut the break's lead to 44 seconds, but BikeExchange are not the only team working. The EF duo of Bissegger and Rutsch are contributing, as is Van Aert's teammate Van Hooydonck.

Sam Bennett was had to take some turns in the crosswinds earlier on, but since Stybar and Lampaert's abortive attempt to forge across, the Irishman is content to follow the wheels in this break and see how the race develops from here. 

Alexander Kristoff has made it back to the chasing group after his puncture. Zdenek Stybar drops back to the team car for a bidon and a quick discussion of the lie of the tactical landscape.

The chasers are increasingly desperate to close this very stubborn gap before the next set of climbs. After Schar sits up, Groupama-FDJ's Olivier Le Gac takes up the reins for Arnaud Demare.

-59km

The front group is back into a crosswind section and there is no option but to tap through for men like Bennett and Trentin if they are to maintain their position.

-58km

Michael Morkov, Bryan Coquard and Heinrich Haussler are among the riders distanced from the chasing group, where the desperation is evident: Arnaud Demare has himself started taking turns on the front in a bid to close the gap, which now stands at 1:05. 

-56km

The leaders head towards the Monteberg with a lead of 1:01 on the chasing peloton. The men in front are: Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Jack Bauer (BikeExchange), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Robert Stannard (BikeExchange), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Luis Mas (Movistar), Jasha Sütterlin (DSM), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Sven Erik Bystrøm (UAE Team Emirates), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Michal Golas (Ineos), Timothy Dupont (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Jeremy Lecroq (B&B Hotels), Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels), Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-Nippo)

 

Arnaud Demare hits the front again on the Monteberg and puts in a long, long effort in a bid to drag this chasing group across to the leaders. Fast men like Laporte, Coquard and Philipsen, who had just chased back on, now look like being distanced definitively.

Coquard stops for a bike change, but he looked to be struggling in any case. The front group, meanwhile, is now onto the Kemmelberg for the second time...

-54km

Nathan Van Hooydonck sets the pace for Wout van Aert on the Kemmelberg, and we can expect some riders to lose contact here... Bauer, Dupont and Rutsch are among those distanced...

Van Aert takes over as the gradient bites and not everyone can go with him. Matteo Trentin, Sonny Colbrelli, Stefan Kung, Sam Bennett, Danny van Poppel, Giacomo Nizzolo and Michael Matthews can all follow, but there are gaps behind.

-54km

Wout van Aert leads over the Kemmelberg with Bennett, Van Hooydonck Kung, Trentin, Van Popple, Nizzolo, Matthews and Colbrelli for company. They have opened a gap over the rest of the break and this looks like a decisive selection.

Back among the chasers, Yves Lampaert forges clear over the Kemmelberg and his effort has splintered the peloton still further. 

-52km

Break:

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ)

Chasers 1 at 0:17

Chasers 2 at 1:12

The Van Aert group has half a minute on the men dropped from the front on the Kemmelberg. Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix) are chasing at 1:30, with the remnants of the peloton scattered behind them. 

-50km

There's still a long way to go, but there are nine strongmen at the front and their advantage over everyone else is yawning out: Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ).

Yves Lampaert and Gianni Vermeersch haven't given up the ghost, 1:20 or so behind the leaders. They're picking up dropped riders from the front group, but they won't help much with the chase. Meanwhile, most of the nine strongmen out in front seem content to swap turns for the moment.

The race is scattered into groups of varying degrees of strength and cohesion. Unfortunately for all the chasers, the front group appears to the strongest and the most cohesive at this juncture. 

-45km

The nine leaders have 30 seconds on the remnants of the break. Yves Lampaert, Gianni Vermeersh, Jonas Rutsch and Robert Stannard are at 1:07, while a very fragmented 'peloton' is at 1:30 and - seemingly - going nowhere fast. 

That said, there are still three climbs to come and they could - should - shake things up out in front all over again. Van Aert is very, very quick, but he still won't want to bring Bennett, Matthews and Nizzolo to Wevelgem.

In the third group on the road, Lampaert and Vermeersch are doing all of the work. Stannard has Matthews out in front, and neither Rutsch nor Dupont have the strength to contribute much after their earlier efforts. 

Indeed, Lampaert and Vermeersch opt to sit up and wait for the peloton - 25 or so riders, with perhaps more chasing back on - rather than continue with their effort. 

-42km

Stefan Kung leads the break over the Vidaigneberg with 43 seconds on their erstwhile companions and - more relevantly - 1:18 over the growing peloton, where Alpecin-Fenix lead the chase for now. 

Stefan Kung is still in front on the Baneberg, where the nine leaders extend their advantage to 54 seconds over the chasers and 1:30 over the peloton.

-40km

Break:

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ)

Chasers at 0:47

Peloton at 1:19

-37km

Alpecin-Fenix lead the way in the peloton, 1:13 down on the leaders. Arnaud Demare is among the rides who have fought their way back up to the peloton, but they aren't making any real inroads into the break's lead.

Nathan Van Hooydonck leads the break on the approach to the final haul up the Kemmelberg. Sam Bennett is tucked onto Van Aert's wheel. He knows that's where he needs to stay if he is to win this race...

Matteo Trentin leads on the lower slopes of the Kemmel, with Van Aert on his wheel.

Trentin's forcing stretches out the group. Van Hooydonck is dropped. Van Poppel and Bennett are struggling...

Van Aert takes over near the top, but he can't shake off the dangermen. Bennett and Van Poppel are still in touch over the summit... Van Hooydonck was the only man shaken loose on the climb.

The peloton crests the top of the Kemmelberg 1:06 down on the break. The tailwin in the finale should favour the break's prospects of staying clear, but it depends on how they collaborate - and on whether any of the sprinters' teams can marshal a cohesive chase.

-35km

Van Hooydonck battles his way back up to the break after the descent off the Kemmelberg.

-34km

Break:

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ)

Peloton at 0:55

Sam Bennett looks in difficulty at the back of the break. He loses a few lengths but he manages to fight his way back up to the wheels.

The men dropped from the break were caught over the Kemmelberg, and over the the other side, a sizeable counter-attack with Lampaert, Stybar, Naesen, Van Avermaet and Dylan van Baarle has taken shape. They are chasing 50 seconds down on the nine leaders...

-30km

Despite his grimaces, Sam Bennett comes through and takes a turn at the front of the race. The nine leaders are coming through and off, and they still have 53 seconds in hand on the chasers.

Ineos and AG2R are doing the work in the chase group, while Stybar and Lampaert are content to police them for now. The gap is still 56 seconds to the nine leaders. 

-28km

Colbrelli, Bennett, Nizzolo, Trentin, Van Poppel, Matthews and Van Aert might all fancy their chances in a sprint at the end of a race like this - but will any of them be willing to chase if, say, Kung were to try to get away? For now, mind, they are finding common cause. 

-26km

Van Baarle leads the chasing group, but they can't make any real dent in the break's lead, which stands at 58 seconds. 

-25km

Bennett looked to be throwing up after the Kemmelberg, but he is still in this front group as they approach Ypres. His turns have, perhaps unsurprisingly, been a bit shorter than his companions.

-24km

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) pass through the Menen Gate in Ypres  with a lead of 52 seconds on the chasers. Barring a dramatic breakdown in their working alliance, the winner will come from this front group.

For now, the pace is even - and high - in the front group. If and when they start to watch once another, we can surely expect an attack from Kung. The Swiss rider was obviously trying to shake the sprinters loose on the Baneberg and he won't want to go to the finish line in Wevelgem with Van Aert, Bennett, Matthews et al.

-21km

Stefan Kung comes through and does two turns in quick succession, then turns around with an admonishment for those who are no longer working. Bennett and Matthews were, perhaps, the object of his ire. 

-19km

Despite Kung's annoyance, the break's lead is still solid. They have 50 seconds on the chasing group and 1:20 over the rest of the peloton.

The Italian trio of Nizzolo, Trentin and Colbrelli have been prominent at the head of the break in recent kilometres, as has Van Hooydonck on behalf of Van Aert. Matthews, too, comes through with a contribution. Their pace is constant, and they still have 44 seconds on the chasers.

-17km

Sam Bennett is at the rear of this break, apparently still paying after his obvious distress following the Kemmelberg. 

Anthony Turgis (Total Direct Energie) sets out in lone pursuit from the chasing group, but he can't make any inroads into the deficit.

-16km

And the finale begins in earnest in the front group.... Van Hooydonck attacks and the effort proves too much for Bennett and Van Poppel, who are distanced...

Stefan Kung was the first man across to Van Hooydonck after Van Aert had deliberately allowed the gap to open. Matthews, Van Aert, Colbrelli, Nizzolo and Trentin managed to make it across, but Van Poppel and Bennett simply had nothing left after a brutal afternoon of racing at the front.

-13km

The men left in front are: Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ).

An exhausted Bennett is in obvious discomfort and he can no longer hold Van Poppel's wheel. Despite his travails, Bennett's finishing speed meant that he was perhaps the man Van Aert most wanted to shed before Wevelgem. Now the question is whether Jumbo-Visma will look to repeat that move to take out more fast men...

-11km

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) have 20 seconds or so on Van Poppel, 56 seconds on the Lampaert group and 1:09 on the rest of the peloton.

-10km

Into the final 10km for the leaders, who have a minute on the Lampaert group and the most spirited chasers. There's a slight deviation in the finale, remember, with the centre of Menen off limits due to a fire. 

An exhausted Bennett is caught and passed by Anthony Turgis. He tries to tuck in behind the Lampaert-Van Avermaet group when they come past.

-8km

The seven leaders are still swapping turns for the time being, but once it becomes clear that they won't be caught, that working alliance might well collapse.

Van Aert has the advantage of having Van Hooydonck for company, but the precise deployment of his Jumbo-Visma teammate might depend on how Stefan Kung approaches this finale.

-6km

Van Hooydonck comes to the front to keep the pace high in the front group, then Van Aert comes through. 

Turgis has caught Van Poppel, and they are 8th and 9th on the road, 1:08 behind the leaders. Their aspiration this point, of course, is to fend off the chasers rather claw back the leaders. 

-5.5km

The turns at the front are a little shorter and a little slower now, but none of the fast finishers will want to slacken off the pace completely and give an open invitation for Kung to attack. 

-5km

The final 5km are a little more technical than previously advertised, which might - might - favour an attacker. But then, the majority of this front group want to bring this race to a sprint...

Dylan van Baarle has caught Turgis, while Van Poppel has been dropped, but they are fighting for the minor placings at this point.

-4.5km

Matthews starts to shake out his legs in preparation for a sprint - or is it the beginnings of cramp?

-4km

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) are still together as they enter the final 4km, but their turns are much more tentative now...

-3km

Van Aert is eyeing Kung repeatedly, but the Swiss champion is content to ride with the fast men for now...

-2km

Van Hooydonck takes over in front for Van Aert. Matthews has attached himself firmly to the rear of the group.

Kung's attack finally comes, but it's telegraphed. Nizzolo was on his wheel as he tried to duck around a traffic island, and the Swiss rider does little more than draw level with Van Hooydonck before relenting.

-1km

Van Hooydonck leads into the final kilometre with Kung on his wheel, followed  y Matthews, Van Aert, Trentin and Colbrelli...

Stefan Kung opens the sprint from a long, long way out but Van Aert responds...

Van Aert hits the front. Nizzolo tries to respond...

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) wins Gent-Wevelgem.

Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos) was second ahead of Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates).

Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) was 4th ahead of Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) and Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ), while Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma) - who played such a valuable role for Van Aert - rolled home with his arms aloft in 7th place.

Dylvan van Baarle (Ineos) took 8th ahead of Anthony Turgis (Total Direct Energie, while Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix) won the sprint for 10th.

Wout van Aert speaks: "It was a sprint at high speed, we had a tailwind all the way back from the Kemmelberg and we were able to launch early enough. Everything went perfect and nobody came past.

"It was only a group of about 20 guys [for the last 180km]. It’s a big group but you still have to do a lot of turns. The whole day in the crosswinds, it never stopped actually. And this is a massive effort but definitely worth it."

Result

1          Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma

2          Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Qhubeka-Assos

3          Matteo Trentin (Ita) UAE Team Emirates

4          Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain Victorious

5          Michael Matthews (Aus) Team BikeExchange

6          Stefan Küng (Fra) Groupama-FDJ

7          Nathan Van Hooydonck (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma

8          Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers

9          Anthony Turgis (Fra) Total Direct Energie

10        Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix

WEVELGEM BELGIUM MARCH 28 Arrival Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team Jumbo Visma Celebration Giacomo Nizzolo of Italy and Team Qhubeka Assos Matteo Trentin of Italy and UAE Team Emirates Sonny Colbrelli of Italy and Team Bahrain Victorious Michael Matthews of Australia and Team Team BikeExchange during the 83rd GentWevelgem in Flanders Fields 2021 Mens Elite a 254km race from Ypres to Wevelgem GWE21 GWEmen FlandersClassic on March 28 2021 in Wevelgem Belgium Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), who placed 5th:" I think there was 20 of us off the front, it was a very long day, very hectic. My team did a great job today, they split it up and made sure we were all in the front. Form there we tried to control the race for a sprint. I started to get double cramp in both my legs [in the finale]. That’s unfortunate, but it was a really hard day and I guess you have these problems but hopefully the next time I don’t."

On the composition of the front group in the finale, Matthews says: "It was not really what we wanted exactly. We wouldn’t have minded some less fast guys there in the finish but we did our best and that’s what we came out with. The course was too fast in the final to really attack so I think everyone just gambled on the sprint."

Matthews added that he wasn't fully aware of the travails of Sam Bennett after the Kemmelberg: "He started missing some turns but I thought it was because he had some teammates coming across. He did look pretty tired but it was good that he was there in the first place. 

"My own form is coming up, I think every race day I’m getting better and better so hopefully I can continue this and be good next weekend."

WEVELGEM BELGIUM MARCH 28 Arrival Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team Jumbo Visma Celebration during the 83rd GentWevelgem in Flanders Fields 2021 Mens Elite a 254km race from Ypres to Wevelgem GWE21 GWEmen FlandersClassic on March 28 2021 in Wevelgem Belgium Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Matteo Trentin on his third place finish: "The race was very good but tough. Together with the other guys in front we worked well pushing hard and making sure to not allow the pursuers to close the gap. The third place in the sprint always leaves a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth, I would have liked to win, but getting on the podium together with the strongest is still a good result."

A full report, results and pictures from Gent-Wevelgem are available here.

Belgian Wout Van Aert of Team JumboVisma L sprints to win over Italian Giacomo Nizzolo of Qhubeka Assos a at the finish of the GentWevelgem In Flanders Fields 2475 kilometers road cycling race from Ypers to Wevelgem on March 28 2021 Home rider Wout van Aert of JumboVisma won the GentWevelgem cycling classic in Belgium edging Italian pair Giacomo Nizzolo and Matteo Trentin The powerful 26yearold also won the MilanSan Remo and Strade Bianche classics in 2020 and has emerged as a major force in the sport Belgium OUT Photo by DIRK WAEM various sources AFP Belgium OUT Photo by DIRK WAEMBelgaAFP via Getty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

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