Hello and welcome to live coverage frome the 2015 edition of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne 2015.
After yesterday's thrilling action from Omloop we're in Kuurne for the second of this weekend's double-header with a race a bit more suited towards the sprinters and there are plenty of them in the pack. The official start is in the next 30 minutes but riders are already gathering at the sign.
As you might expect the biggest crowds are around the Etixx-QuickStep team bus of Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish, the latter drafted in after missing yesterday's race. Both Boonen and Cavendish are previous winners of this - in fact Boonen is the defending champion - and there's a fair amount of pressure on the Belgian after yesterday's race.
Stannard, of course, wasn't concerned with the post-mortem at the Etixx team bus after he cruised to his second title in the race on two years. The Team Sky leader finished off some excellent early work from his team and is now a major contender for the rest of the spring campaign.
At least, from an Etixx point of view, they don't have to wait long before they can attempt to bounce back. In fact Kuurne starts in just over 15 minutes and most of the riders are already on the start line.
Here's your chance to scan through the start-list.
For Lotto-Soudal, no Greipel as he's still recovering from illness but the team do have Jens Debusschere - an outsider for the win here today. The Belgian squad really need a result on home soil, they've only won three races in Belgium since August of last year.
Alexander Kristoff - who won three stages in Qatar last month - leads the line for Katusha. He's here with his new leadout man Jacopo Guarnieri and the pair will be looking to keep their winning run together after their impressive start to the year. Kristoff wasn't able to feature in yesterday's race so he he'll be looking for a result today.
A sprinter with a bigger point to prove is Nacer Bouhanni, who was off the pace in Qatar until the final stage and is still searching for his first win on Cofidis colours. The Frenchman has built a leadout around himself at this new team but so far they've not really gelled out on the road. That needs to be put right sooner, rather than later.
To throw a few outsiders into the ring, we’ve Edvald Boasson Hagen and the rest of the sprint contingent at MTN, Bryan Coquard heads here full of confidence after his track Worlds, Sam Bennett won an impressive stage in Qatar, and Matteo Pelucchi.
And the riders are now heading through the short neutralized zone, having left the start. The flag will drop in just a few minutes.
@IAM_Cycling Sun, 1st Mar 2015 11:05:08
From here the race does a small loop on itself and heads towards Kortrijk where a number of teams, including Etixx (just outside to be accurate), BMC and Team Sky base themselves during the entire cobbled campaign. The race then swings east with nine features climbs on the route.
The race flag has officially dropped and we're racing in the 2015 edition of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
Most importantly - in this race - the final climb of the Nokereberg comes a shade over 50km from the finishline. This is a factor that typically sees the sprinters dominate.
@dougryd Sun, 1st Mar 2015 11:20:18
189km remaining from 196km
Still inside the opening 10km as the peloton try and warm up but there's no attacks at this stage.
Last year, after missing out on the win Omloop, Etixx took Kuurne apart on the Oude Kwaremont and drove a ten-man break all the way to the line with Boonen picking up the win. They don't quite have the team to do that today, with Terpstra and Vandenbergh resting but wth Cavendish in the mix they're more likely to race around the British rider and his needs. They'll be confident that the former world champion can win the race in a bunch sprint.
182km remaining from 196km
Still no serious attacks from the front of the bunch, with the first climb of the day roughly 25km from here.
There are actually only three former winners of this race still in the peloton - Boonen, Sutton and Cavendish. Traksel who won in 2009 has retired, and the other three winners in the last decade - Steven De Jongh, George Hincapie, and Nick Nuyens - all also hung up their wheels.
174km remaining from 196km
Riding into a headwind, still no attacks from the peloton at this stage.
Vanmarcke, perhaps the strongest rider in the race yesterday, has told the press at the start that he doesn't expect today to end in a bunch sprint.
@gracieelvin Sun, 1st Mar 2015 11:48:36
Catch up with yesterday's action from the women's edition of Omloop, right here.
Nearly 30km into the race, and still no attacks from the field as they bunch together in the cold.
167km remaining from 196km
Eight riders have slipped from the peloton and are finally on the attack.
Coquard is one of the riders in the break but they only have ten seconds at this stage, so the bunch aren't happy with the current mix of riders on the attack.
In yesterday's edition of Het Nieuwsblad, the paper talked to Rik Verbrugghe (IAM), Patrick Lefevre (Etix-Quick Step) and Marc Sergeant (Lotto-Soudal) over lunch. There's no indication over what the trio ordered but they did open up about few topics. Here are a few snippets.
The opening weekend is important in Belgium, not elsewhere. Do you understand why non-Belgian teams like Astana, Trek, Tinkoff stay away?
Sergeant: A few years ago they said they didn’t show up with Cancellara because he was their only rider who could score in April and didn’t want to take the risk of a crash during the opening weekend.
Lefevre: He can crash in Oman too. What do they ride this weekend? Nothing?
Verbrugghe: Leave Cancellara home but give guys like Steegmans and Stuyven a chance
The topic then shifted towards Boonen, who is approaching the final few years of his long career:
Lefevere: Stijn Devolder can say what he wants. Without Boonen he would not have won the Ronde van Vlaanderen twice. Some team leaders can’t stand it when another rider wins. That’s not how Tom is.
If there’s no financial agreement, would Boonen ride for another team?
Sergeant: I don’t think that Boonen will still swap teams.
Lefevere: It would feel like a missed opportunity if he ends his career in another team. But the sun’s going up for everybody in the morning... I hope he doesn’t do it for the money, but money is always a factor.
Without taking into account money, which rider would you take in the team?
Lefevere: I already have the best team. Ask me the same question next year.
Who’s going to be the rider of the spring?
Lefevere: Kristoff. Look at his palmarès of the last two years.
Verbrugghe: You can see him on the photo of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, in the distance behind the riders in the sprint.
Lefevere: And his start to the season. He won a sprint in Qatar in which he led for 250-300 metres. I don’t know how to fight up against him.
Verbrugghe: He also won a sprint in Qatar in which he rode in the wind for 500-600 metres.
Meanwhile, the eight riders are still pressing on but they're unable to gain a substantial lead over the peloton at this stage.
Bryan Coquard (Europcar), Xandro Meurisse (AN Post) and Thomas Vauborzeix (Veranclassic-Ekoi) are among the riders in the break.
Peyskens, Backaert and Meurisse are also on the attack as we hear that two riders, one of which was Coquard, have sat up.
In donkey-town Kuurne there's always a good chance the race will come down to a bunch sprint. When asking top favourite Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) who he expected to be his most important rival if it came down to a sprint he named Mark Cavendish (Sky).
"I expect Cav to be quite good. He already won a lot and he hasn't raced yesterday so he'll be fresh. For sure he will be there. I fear him a lot. I haven't raced against him this season but I saw he won a lot," a relaxed Kristoff told Cyclingnews at the start line in Kuurne.
Team-mate Jacopo Guarnieri is supposed to support him in the sprint. "We have Guarnieri who didn't race yesterday. He's fresh and will help me out today. We try to go for the win but there's a lot of other guys. It will be difficult. Who? The way Stannard won against these Quickstep guys was impressive. Maybe Vanmarcke was even stronger. He went up and down while puncturing all the time. If he races like yesterday it will be a hard race."
Coquard, is just at the back of the break, not sitting up, and the gap to the bunch is now up to over three minutes with 144km still to cover.
It's Etixx who are currently setting the pace at the front of the bunch with Iljo Keisse doing most of the work.
Katusha respond by placing their own man on the front, Smukulis. Today should provide an insight into the form of both Cavendish and Kristoff as they go head-to-head. Both riders, former winners of Milan San Remo, will be targeting the Italian race later this month.
This morning Roy Jans (Wanty) was welcomed on the start podium as an outsider when it comes down to a bunch sprint. The 24-year-old appreciated that position which he thanked to a stage win in Bessèges. "I'm well prepared and feel good. This race is one of my major goals during the spring season. If I make a chance or not depends on the circumstances. The race will decide that. The strong wind will make it very nervous and maybe there'll be echelons. I'll have to ride near the front to make the cut if it breaks," Jans said.
Mattia Pozzo and Sjoerd van Ginneken are the two other riders in the break.
133km remaining from 196km
Mattia Pozzo (Nippo - Vini Fantini) Sjoerd van Ginneken (Team Roompot), Bryan Coquard (Europcar), Xandro Meurisse (AN Post), Fredrik Backaert, Dimitri Peyskens (Team 3M), Thomas Vauborzeix (Veranclassic-Ekoï) and one other rider are in the break. They have 3:10 on the peloton with 133km to go.
It's still Etixx and Katusha on the front of the peloton as they hold the break at just over three minutes.
Around 15km until the start of the next climb, La Houppe. Then the climbs come thick and fast before the long and flat run-in to the finish.
Closing in on the second climb of the race and the peloton are still tracking the 8-man break at three minutes.
Remaining climbs: La Houppe, Kanarieberg, Kruisberg, Hotond, Côte de Trieu, Oude Kwaremont, Holstraat, and the Nokereberg. We've 105km of racing left an the gap, well it's still at three minutes.
And the bunch have woken up, shaving a quick 40 seconds off the break's advantage.
And the peloton have eased off again, allowing the escape to establish that three minute buffer once more.
93km remaining from 196km
There's a brief counter-attack from within the bunch with two riders jumping clear. The leaders still with three minutes over the bunch.
The leaders are now on the Côte de Trieu but the gap has dropped to 1"54 with 77km to go.
It's in fact Engoulvent in the break, and not Coquard. And Eugert Zhupa is the eighth man in the escape.
The bunch is starring to split on the climb though as a number of leaders and their teams start to fight for position.
On the front are Etixx, FDJ, and Team Sky.
The bunch come over the climb and it's Etixx who put the hammer down, lining out the bunch and causing several small splits.
It's Boonen himself who is on the front with Vanmarcke on his wheel. Eisel is there too, and Offredo as the splits become bigger. There are around 30 riders in the Boonen/Vanmarcke group.
It looks live Cavendish is tucked n there too, with a couple of teammates around him.
The gap to the eight leaders is down to just over a minute as riders try and scramble back to the Boonen/Vanmarcke group.
And in fact Boonen has moved clear and Vanmarcke has gone with him.
They sit up for one moment and Boonen goes again, 71km to go. He's trying to make the race as hard as possible in order to distance as many of Cavendish's rivals as possible.
The move has been shut down and Team Sky are on the front now with Eisel leading the troops.
The bunch has swelled to around 50 riders.
Etixx have joined Team Sky on the front and there's a real battle for control and that's becaus we're about to hit the Oude Kwaremont.
There's a crash and four riders are on the deck as up ahead the break hit the lower slopes of the Oude Kwaremont with 41 seconds between them and the peloton.
It's Boonen who set the pace but Vanmarcke comes over the top and has attacked. He looks so strong at the moment as he takes two riders with him. Make that three, Stybar has made the move as well.
Team Sky are leading the chase but it looks like Boonen, Vanmarcke, Stybar and one other rider have a small gap. It's been shut down by Team Sky but there are several more splits in the field.
Vanmarcke keeps pushing though and riders are struggling to make contact, coming over in ones and twos. Stannard is there.
Cavendish has made the split as well, the Boonen/Vanmarcke group at around 25 riders.
Vanmarcke has one teammate but Etixx have the strongest contingent. Will they use that advantage today?
The remnants of the break, it's down to four riders, have just 28 seconds with 62km remaining.
Onto a section of cobbles and Etixx put the group onto the pathway. Cavendish has made this split but there's no sign of Viviani yet. Sky do have riders in the mix though.
Gilbert is in the Boonen group but he's struggling.
The riders swing right, off the cobbles and now there's a chance for Etixx to look at the situation and decide on their tactics.
Sep Vanmarcke drifts to the back of the bunch and calls for his team car as we see Cavendish ride through the wheels of the main group. He's at the back so he needs to move up. Near the front of the group it's Etixx who sweep up the early break.
There's a Katusha rider in the lead group too but no confirmation if that's Kristoff or not.
Trentin is on the front, Stannard on his wheel and Sybar there too.
Sam Bennett is in the move as well. There's another Sky rider present.
MTN have missed the split and they're leading the chase.
20 riders in the Boonen/Cavendish group including Thwaites, Kristoff, and Wynants. They have 1'02 on the MTN chase.
Vanmarcke takes a turn on the front, breaking up the monopoly of control from Etixx. There are cross-winds now so everyone needs to work, Kirstoff comes through and Viviani is there for Team Sky.
Riders are being dropped from the lead group but MTN are taking time, the gap at 51 seconds.
Etixx have the numbers but they're expecting a number of teams to help them with the work. Only Stybar is on the front for the Belgian team.
And onto the final climb of the day and it's Stannard who hits the front at full gas. He's matched by Boonen who takes control, with the gap to the MTN chase at 56 seconds.
Vansummeren is now leading he chase for the peloton.
MTN seem to have lost heart as BMC - with to riders - help Etixx with the pace setting at the front of the first group.
46km remaining from 196km
MTN are back on the front for the chase but the gap is still at 1'04.
There are a few passengers in the lead group though as we see Kristoff take a turn on the front. Maes is at the back for Etixx having gone back to a car. There's another Etixx rider near the front and he's asking for more help in the pace setting duties.
Team Sky, despite having two riders in the first group are also chasing the leaders down.
Cavendish takes a drink on as he keeps towards the back of the group as Boonen and Stybar swap turns.
The chase are still plugging away, the gap at 58 seconds.
It's coming down with Wanty joining the chase as Farrar takes a huge turn on the front. 46 seconds with 39km to go.
IAM Cycling and Cofidis have also joined the chase.
Gilbert comes up and takes a turn for the lead group as Boonen takes a drink near the back of the group. It's starting to come back together.
36km remaining from 196km
The gap is down to around 20 seconds as MTN pick up the pace once more.
There's a change in direction, so a change in wind but the gap is under 10 seconds.
Counter attacks from the front group as the peloton come into sight. It's Boeckmans clear but he only has a few seconds.
34km remaining from 196km
Only Boeckmans is left out there as the rest of the race re-groups.
There's a slight lull on the front of the peloton, no team really wants to take control at this stage, with two 16km loops remaining in the race.
Europcar and Cofidis eventually move up as they look to protect their sprinters in Coquard and Bouhanni.
Onto the first of two-laps of this finishing circuit and it's Katusha who set the pace at the moment. Etixx are just a little further back with Cavendish there.
26km remaining from 196km
Almost into the final 25km of the race and the pace is steady as Kristoff's men continue to control events at the front of the peloton.
Katusha have all the confidence after their rides in Qatar, where Kristoff won three stages and pushed for the overall. On the other side of the road Team Sky are starting to organise themselves as well, with Viviani set to be their sprinter.
The Russian squad are still on the front of the bunch and doing all the work. Ettix are just behind with the LottoNL Jumbo squad also moving up with just under 20km to go.
And it's Katusha who lead the peloton over the line for the start of the last lap.
13km remaining from 196km
Just 13km to go now as more and more sprint trains move to the front. Trentin drops back and has a quick chat with the Etixx DS as Cavendish, Viviani and Kristoff prepare to lock horns. Just behind them is Bouhanni. Can Cofidis iron out their sprint train problems from earlier in the year?
Knees looks to bring the Sky train up to the front of the bunch with just over 10km to go. Trentin has cramp it seems and he's losing contact with the main field.That could be a factor for Cavendish's leadout.
It's still all Katusha on the front with Kristoff still with at least four men to help him.
And Kristoff's men continue to raise the pace, really putting pressure on the riders and teams behind them.
Now Sky and Etixx get moving and Katusha need to respond as we hit the final 7km of action.
Wanty and Jumbo are trying to get involved but Katusha respond and move to the front once more.
Etixx are waiting and waiting before they move right to the front, as Sky now set the pace.
Nordhaug leads the race with all his team behind him. Stannard is there, Puccio, Knees, Rowe, Eisel and Viviani.
And Gilbert has attacked with 4.5km go to.
A big from the BMC rider as he creates an instant gap.
The former world champion has around 75m on the peloton.
He has six seconds on the bunch with 3.2km to go. It's not going to be enough.
Or is it because the gap is now at 10 seconds.
Gilbert is holding the gap at 10 seconds with 2.5km to go. He looks back but then turns that huge gear some more. Team Sky are leading the chase, with Etixx now near the front.
A headwind for Gilbert but he's keeping the lead at ten seconds with 1.9km to go. Etixx and Cofidis lead the bunch.
Lotto are there too and Gilbert has 11 seconds with 1.6km to go.
1.5km to go and Gilbert is stil clear by 11 seconds.
Now it's 7 seconds.
Lotto Soudal lead the chase with 1km to go.
It's all over for Gilbert with 1km to go.
Lotto are leading this home.
And Cavendish takes the win.
An incredible sprint from the Etixx rider who comes around Kristoff to take the win.
Kristoff hit the front from around 200m to go but Cavendish swooped onto his wheel and then came around the Norwegian to take his second win in this race.
Results#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult 1Mark Cavendish (GBr) Etixx - Quick-Step 2Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha 3Elia Viviani (Ita) Team Sky 4Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Team LottoNL-Jumbo 5Daniele Colli (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini 6Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing Team 7Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal 8Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) MTN - Qhubeka 9Raymond Kreder (Ned) Team Roompot 10Matteo Pelucchi (Ita) IAM Cycling
Thanks for joining us today. You can find our report, results and photos from today's race, right here.
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