Welcome to "La Doyenne", the last of the Spring Classics!
Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the Spring Classics. Today is the last one, and we are eager to see who will win today.
Hello and welcome back to Cyclingnews' Live coverage of the Spring Classics. Today, the Ardennes trilogy will be culminating with the last of the three hilly Classics taking place, "La Doyenne" ("The Eldest"), Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The 96th edition of the event located in Southern Belgium will take the riders over 258 kilometres from Liège southwards to Bastogne, then back up north to the town of Ans close to the start. This loop through the Ardennes countryside includes many bumps, of which 10 are categorised:
Km 69.0 - Côte de la Roche-en-Ardenne - 2.8 km averaging 4.9 %
Km 116.0 - Côte de Saint Roch - 0.8 km averaging 12 %
Km 159.0 - Côte de Wanne - 2.7 km averaging 7 %
Km 166.0 - Côte de Stockeu (Eddy Merckx memorial) - 1.1 km averaging 10.5 %
Km 186.0 - Col du Rosier - 6.4 km averaging 4 %
Km 198.0 - Col du Maquisard - 2.8 km averaging 4.5 %
Km 209.0 - Mont-Theux - 2.7 km averaging 5.2 %
Km 223.0 - Côte de la Redoute - 2.1 km averaging 8.4 %
Km 238.0 - Côte de la Roche aux Faucons - 1.5 km averaging 9.9 %
Km 252.0 - Côte de Saint-Nicolas - 1.0 km averaging 11.1 %
It is a beautiful day here in Belgium, with the sun out again and just a few scattered clouds in the sky. Temperatures are around 17° right now and will rise up to 24° in the afternoon, but unfortunately with them the risk of local rain showers also increases.
198 riders have taken the start at 10am. Let's see who will make the first move!
The route of this year's race has been slightly modified because of road renewal works in the Côte de Haute Levée, which has therefore been scrapped. The organisers chose to replace it with the Col du Maquisard and the Mont-Theux. The Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, the penultimate climb, will certainly create a first selection in the group of favourites, with the Côte de Saint-Nicolas the final decider.
One of toay's big favourites is of course Classics specialist and local boy Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), who won the Amstel Gold Race last week and is eager to score again on home turf. He has an additional motivation, which is the UCI ranking, where he hopes to gain further ground to top the classification by this evening.
Amongst the other top guns today are the World Champion and Flèche winner Cadel Evans (BMC), the Schleck brothers (Saxo Bank), Alberto Contador and Alexander Vinokourov (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) to name but the most important. Another rider who is back in the bunch today is Carlos Sastre (Cervélo), who missed out on Amstel and Flèche due to the volcanic ash cloud from the volcano in Iceland whose name it is impossible to spell...
At the moment, no decisive breakaways have formed in the race, even if Jérôme Baugnies (Topsport Vlaanderen) tried a first move which was immediately countered.
One rider did not take the start in Liège: Anthony Roux (Française des Jeux).
Another escape attempt: Thomas De Gendt (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Maxime Bouet (AG2R) are off the front now and are given a bit more freedom by the bunch at the moment. Let's see if they can make it further away.
Aha, this could be interesting: five riders have bridged up to the duo. They are Alan Perez (Euskaltel), Jussi Veikkanen (Française des Jeux), Dries Devenyns (Quick-Step), Niki Terpstra (Milram) and Mauro Finetto (Liquigas).
It seems the break of the day is under way. The seven riders now have a gap of 2 minutes, with Dirk Bellemakers (Landbouwkrediet) hovering between the two groups, desperately trying to make it up to the leaders.
Bellemakers may have reacted too late, as he is 1'35" behind the escape group.
Our seven leaders thus are: Thomas De Gendt (Topsport Vlaanderen), Maxime Bouet (AG2R), Alan Perez (Euskaltel), Jussi Veikkanen (Française des Jeux), Dries Devenyns (Quick-Step), Niki Terpstra (Milram) and Mauro Finetto (Liquigas).
Taht is quite an international group, with one name sticking out: Veikkanen. The young Finnish rider won the second stage of the Tour Méditerranéen this Spring.
Last year's winner, Andy Schleck, could write another chapter of history this year by winning the event two times in a row, a feat only achieved by very few riders like Eddy Merckx, Moreno Argentin and more recently Michele Bartoli (1997 and 1998).
"This is the most beautiful course of the year, and also one of the most difficult," he told reporters at the start. "Only a few riders have managed to win it several times in a row. I would love to be amongst them! My biggest rival will be Gilbert."
The leaders have extended their gap up to eight minutes now! Bellemakers, whose mission proved to be impossible, is back in the bunch.
Valverde will also be on the hunt for a third win of the great Classic, as he's already crowned himself King of Liège in 2006 and 2008. If his fate is a Liège victory every two years, then 2010 could be a good one for him again...
The great Belgian favourite Gilbert, if victorious, would take the title for his home country for the first time again in 11 years, after the late Frank Vandenbroucke was successful in 1999. "I can wait, because I'm fast in the sprint. But that's not my style of riding," said Gilbert before signing in. "If it's possible, I will not wait. The Redoute climb, where my family and fans are standing, will be real special."
Another Belgian, Bert De Waele (Landbouwkrediet), who got fourth last week in Amstel Gold, hopes again for a top placing. "I can achieve a top 10 again, but then everything has to pan out perfectly," he said. "The race will unfold on La Redoute and then again on the Roche-aux-Faucons. My favourite is Contador."
Also present in the breakaway is Dutchman Niki Terpstra (Milram), who won a stage in the Dauphiné Libéré last year. His best result in the Spring is a third placing in Dwars door Vlaanderen this season.
After struggling with a knee injury after Paris-Roubaix, Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) returned to action in Liège today. It's unclear whether the Belgian is capable of riding a good race in the Ardennes and Devolder didn't know either. "I raced here twice after a tough Spring Classics campaign. This time I haven't been able to train well the last few weeks but during the reconnaissance I had good sensations on the climbs; hopefully today will be the same. I have nothing to lose and look forward to the race action. I don't know where I am compared to the top riders but maybe I need to take advantage of the rivalry between Gilbert and the others," Devolder said to Sporza at the startline in Liège. The former Belgian champion has team-mate Dries Devenyns in the early breakaway, but may well have to ride for his team leader Sylvain Chavanel.
Oops, it seems we were wrong about Dirk Bellemakers (Landbouwkrediet). Sorry! The Dutchman is still between the break and the bunch, but at only 50 seconds behind the leaders. He looks like he could make it, but this long solo ride certainly drained his body, too.
Team Sky's Scott Sunderland explained to Cyclingnews that his squad would be working for Simon Gerrans even though the Australian isn't at the top of his form. "Wiggins is really good but Simon is our man today. He lost some time in his preparation towards the Ardennes classics and he's not at the level where he hoped to be. It's too bad because I think he can be in top form in one, maybe two weeks," Sunderland said.
The sky above the Ardennes region is still sunny with a few scattered clouds here and there. It could be a perfect day to race, but the weather forecast predicts some rain showers during the afternoon - let's hope that will be late afternoon if they are right.
Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) won the race last year with a 1:17 margin over Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). He and brother Fränk are favourites once again, but the two have remained guarded about which of them has the best chance of victory today.
"I can't tell you how my legs feel now, I've only ridden a few hundred metres today," Andy joked after rolling to the start. "I think I'm recovered from Wednesday [at Flèche Wallonne]. I expect a hard race today, it's not a big secret La Redoute will be the start of the race."
The Côte de la Redoute (2.1 km averaging 8.4 percent) comes as third-to-last climb with 35 kilometres to go. It is followed by the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons (1.5 km averaging 9.9 percent) with 20 kilometres to the finish and the Côte de Saint-Nicolas (1.0 km averaging 11.1 percent) with just 6 kilometres to go.
Now, the riders have just put the first real climb of today behind them, the Côte de la Roche-en-Ardenne (2.8 km averaging 4.9 percent).
Garmin-Transitions have reinforced their line-up for the race as they support Ryder Hesjedal's bid to claim a breakthrough Classics win. The Canadian has shown himself to be a contender with a strong second place finish to Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) at Amstel Gold Race last weekend.
"It would be a dream come true to win a big Classic. Everyone has a different opinion about where the race will be decided. We'll have to see what happens on [Côte de la] Roche aux Faucons; that's the hardest climb and it's so close to the finish," Hesjedal said at the start in Liège this morning. "But if a lot of guys open the race up early, then that's fine by me too. I've got Christian Vande Velde on my side and he knows the form that I have."
Bellemakers has finally made it to the lead group! We have thus a break of eight men, with an advantage of six minutes to the bunch.
That was actually Hedwig Kröner hard at work this morning. Susan here now to take you along for the next hour.
What was it like at the start this morning? We had our huge crew out there, and you can read their report and see their photos just by clicking here.
What are your thoughts on this race? Who will be top and who will be flop? You can discuss it in the Cyclingnews forum.
180km remaining from 258km
The lead group is now nearing Bastogne, and the turnng point of the race. Then they will start heading back towards Liege. The gap is holding steady at 5:55.
HTC-Columbia's Tejay Van Garderen has come into his team's line-up for Liège after finishing second at the Presidential Tour of Turkey. He told Cyclingnews that he has modest expectations for his performance in his first major Classic. He is using the race to hone his form for next month's Amgen Tour of California.
"I've never really done this distance before and one-day races are kinda hit-and-miss for me all the time. But the legs feel good after Turkey and I'm trying to hit form for California. I think if all goes well I should be able to make it to the finish and maybe you'll see my name up there just a little bit," he said.
"We don't really have the big favourite today, but we want to be represented in any attacks. I think if we wait to long then once the big guns start going, we might not be able to follow, so we might try and get ourselves out there a little bit earlier. Tony [Martin] and Maxime [Monfort] are our two main guys."
Well, Columbia didn't make it into this escape group, but the race is sure not over yet. Let's see what they can do a bit closer to the end.
RadioShack's Chris Horner called this the “best one-day race in the world”. The American is captain for his team here today, and thinks this race suits him better than the first two Ardennes Classics.
Damiano Cunego (Lampre) told Cyclingnews at the start this morning: "I'm ready, lets see what happens out on the road. I've been a little frustrated not to right up there both at the Amstel Gold Race and Fleche Wallonne. I was ill at Pais Vasco and so I've been trying to catch up and find by best form since then. Hopefully today will be my day."
Let's look at the rest of the riders in the break. Thomas de Gendt, 23, was born in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium. This is his first year with Topsport Vlaanderen. Last year with team Davo he won the Internationale Wielertrofee Jong Maar Moedig.
Another favourite today is Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). He told Cyclingnews this morning, “I'm feeling good this time so I hope I can win this time. Riders like Cunego, Valverde and Gilbert are faster than I am in the sprint, so I know I have to win alone. Gilbert is the favourite. He was the strongest last autumn and seems just as strong now."
Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) hasn't had the most complex race calendar this season. He's raced once so far, at the Tour of Catalunya, with his planned start at Amstel Gold Race scuppered by the Icelandic volcano. "For me it wasn't a problem to stay at home in Spain, but that was a big problem for the planes," he told Cyclingnews before the start on Sunday. "This is important for me. It was a long off-season for me just training; I did a lot of hard training and it was difficult because of the weather. Recently the weather has been better and it's been nice for training, but I'm happy to come back and race.
"Today is an important day. I will test myself to see where I am and how the training went at home. Now is the moment to get everything ready for the Giro."
We apologize for not bringing you more direct news from the race, but we just aren't hearing anything. We suspect that is because there is basically nothing happening. Seven leaders, big gap, peloton biding its time -- that's the race right now in a nutshell.
Andy Schleck told the La Derniere Heure newspaper: "The dream is for me and Frank to finish first and second but we know there are some big names who can win such as Valverde, Gilbert and Ivanov. But we're motivated and ready to race."
"We hope it will be a hard, selective race. The weather will also play a role: the hotter it is, the better it is for us."
"The côte de la Roche aux Faucons is still the key climb of the race. It's the hardest one and will hurt the legs the most, it's also after 230km of racing. There's no lying, only the strongest riders will be up there after that."
Speaking of Andy Schleck, wouldn't he like to repeat his victory here today? Well now, isn't that a stupid question! Of course he does. He knows he will have the support of brother Fränk, as well as of the whole Team Saxo Bank. And he has no intention of letting it come down to a sprint. “That would be stupid.”
100km remaining from 258km
As we thought, there is no change out there on the course. The gap is holding at the six minute mark. Eventually things wll happen though -- soon the riders will start hitting some of those short but steep climbs that make this race what it is.
Garmin-Transition's Christian Vande Velde isn't captain here but riding in support of teammate Ryder Hesjedal. Then he's off to Romandie and the Giro. It's not his first time in the Ardennes, and he told Cyclingnews, “I'm really happy to be back here racing again.”
One rider who wasn't there today – and won't be around for a while – is BMC's Karsten Kroon. Tomorrow he is undergoing facial surgery to fix all the fractures he suffered in the Fleche Wallonne. It certainly sounds most unpleasant, and we wish him the very best.
Maxime Bouet is also 23, and rides for Ag2r-Le Mondiale. He rode for Agritubel in 2008-2009. This season he has brought in top ten finishes in the fist stage of the Tour Med, the GP di Lugano and the GP Miguel Indurain.
We're doing a tag-team live report today. Susan is about to hand it back to Hedwig, who will be with you the next few hours. Then I'll be back for the final gallop to the end.
Euskaltel's Alan Perez, also one of the escapists, is 27 and turned pro with Orbea in 2005. He has been with Euskaltel since 2007 but hasn't had a pro win just yet, only a second place in a stage of the 2008 Giro d'Italia. In the first two Ardennes races this year, he was DNF in Amstel Gold and 91st in Flèche Wallonne.
Hedwig is now taking over again for Susan - we're alternating a bit today as the race is rather long!
Chris Froome told the Team Sky official website that he believes the changes to the course because of road works will mean a bigger group of riders will be together in the final part of the race. He warned people not to write off Team Sky's chances despite team leaders Simon Gerrans and Thomas Lövkvist being affected by illness and injury in the build-up to the Classics.
"We'll have to see how it pans out but I'm sure myself and everyone else will be really happy if we can ride as well as a group again as we did on Wednesday.
"260km on its own is never easy and then riding in the Ardennes on narrow country roads makes it an even harder test. I actually think this year's route will leave the guys a little bit fresher, it's not going to break up the peloton as badly as it has in previous years. There's more space to recover and for guys to get back after the initial climbs.
"Personally I think it will put more tension on the second part of the race towards the end. There are going to be more riders coming into the final 50km but that also means that those climbs are probably going to be harder as a result."
Dries Devenyns, the second Belgian in the escape, has already scored a pro victory: a stage at the Tour of Austria 2009. The 26 year-old Quick Step rider showed his good form again this Spring at the Volta a Pais Vasco, where he finished 10th overall.
138km remaining from 258km
The race has moved past the Côte de Saint-Roch now, the shortest but steepest climb of the event - only 800 metres but 12 percent average. After 116 kilometres the riders will start feeling their legs a bit more, even if the pace is still reasonable.
Mauro Finetto is also present in the lead group, which still counts around six minutes advantage over the peloton. The Liquigas rider also likes the Spring Classics and was able to win the Hel van het Mergelland on the cobbles last year, as well as two stages of the Tour of Turkey. This year, he finished seventh in the GP Indurain and sixth at the Klasika Primavera.
There is still no particular ambition within the bunch to start a proper chase of the leaders. The break has maintained almost all of its advantage since the beginning. 20 kilometres to go until the Côte de Wanne (2.7 km averaging 7 percent).
130km remaining from 258km
The race has reached its mid-way point. Unfortunately, there is still not much happening.
We hope Saxo Bank will soon organise a chase, as the Schleck brothers promised some action before the finale. Lotto and Caisse d'Epargne could leave it up to a sprint, as Gilbert and Valverde are both fast finishers...
Ah, finally: the gap is slowly coming down. Race radio now announced it is only 4'30" now compared to 6" a while ago. The pace is picking up, and so is our pulse!
It's actually BMC who has taken the initiative of driving the bunch for a while. Seems like World Champ Cadel Evans has a double Flèche - Liège in mind...
There are also some positioning fights going on in the bunch, with the climbs of Wanne and Stockeu coming up so close together. They are important climbs because you never know who might go for an early attack there, especially with the lead group now within reach.
102km remaining from 258km
Finetto is the first one to get dropped on the Côte de Wanne. The Italian can't follow the rhythm of his break companions and lets go. The peloton is just 3'30" behind now.
Finetto has gotten back up to the group.
The bunch is on the climb now, some riders fall out the back. Jens Voigt is having a go!
Voigt just made an enormous effort to break free and continues to dig hard. A little early with almost 100 kilometres to go. But his gap is not determinating, another rider just bridged up to him.
They are still on the descent, but Voigt only has 200 metres in front of the chasers - good move by Saxo Bank though, as this could leave some riders of rival teams behind.
Oh no, a crash has brought a handful of riders down and caused a jam on a small road. But all of the riders are back on their bikes.
168km remaining from 258km
The leaders pass the Eddy Merckx memorial on the Côte de Stockeu. Voigt is somewhere behind them with the bunch following at a little over 2 minutes.
Voigt is digging deep on this very steep climb, while in front Perez has launched an attack, sensing that the bunch will soon catch the break. The race is on, finally! The bunch looks pretty intact but this acceleration will surely leave some legs sore.
Voigt is only 30 seconds behind the leaders. The situation after the Côte de Stockeu:
- Thomas De Gendt (Topsport Vlaanderen), Maxime Bouet (AG2R), Alan Perez (Euskaltel), Jussi Veikkanen (Française des Jeux), Dries Devenyns (Quick-Step), Niki Terpstra (Milram), Mauro Finetto (Liquigas) and Dirk Bellemakers (Landbouwkrediet)
- Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) at 2'20"
- Peloton at 2'50"
Perez is back within the leading breakaway. Voigt is stioll between the two groups at 1'55" behind the leaders.
The race has clmed down a bit for now, with the bunch following at 2'47".
82km remaining from 258km
Lotto's Mario Aerts is driving the pack now, followed by two Caisse riders.
Just a word on the weather: still sunny, no worries. Hopefully the predicted rain won't happen.
Voigt is incredible. But good thinking of Bjarne Riis, as this way Saxo Bank doesn't have to sacrifice any riders in a chase.
The leaders get some fresh water bidons from their team assistants standing at the side of the road.
A Cervélo and a Liquigas rider just collided at the back of the bunch. They got up quickly again htough and continued on, which is why wwe couldn't see who it was...
Valverde stopped to get a new bike, looks like he had a mechanical. He's reintegrating the bunch without problems.
74km remaining from 258km
The gaps are getting smaller again: 1 minute to Voigt, and the peloton a further minute behind him.
Even though Voigt rides hard as usual, he doesn't seem to be getting any closer to the leaders at the moment.
In front, Bouet is again yoyo-ing out the back as they hit the Côte du Rosier. Maybe this time, he won't make it back, as the climb is rather long, six kilometres.
Voigt has reached Bouet and passes him easily. The Frenchman hangs on... for now.
71km remaining from 258km
Voigt has made up a lot of time on this climb, he is only 40 seconds adrift now.
Valverd is getting medical assistance at the race doctor car. We now have information that he was part of the earlier crash, which is why he had to change bikes, too. His right knee looks a bit ripped.
Veikkanen also had to let go, he is now with Voigt, while Bouet is gone, too.
Earlier in the race, Liquigas' Finetto also got dropped from the break. There are only five leaders now.
Voigt and Veikkanen chase the leaders at around one minute, with the bunch another minute behind. The situation on the Col du Rosier:
- Thomas De Gendt (Topsport Vlaanderen), Alan Perez (Euskaltel), Dries Devenyns (Quick-Step), Niki Terpstra (Milram) and Dirk Bellemakers (Landbouwkrediet)
- Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) and Jussi Veikkanen (Française des Jeux) at 0'58"
- Peloton at 1'55"
Susan back again, for the last 65 km. Thanks, Hedwig, for brining us this far.
Voigt moves into the lead of his little chase group, which has only a half a minute on the field.
61km remaining from 258km
We have a whole flock of Saxo Bank riders at the back of the field, including Andy Schleck.
And now Voigt's escape is over, as he and his companion are caught.
No sooner are those two caught than we have a counterattack. It is Maxime Monfort, HTC-Columbia's Belgian.
Peter Weening of Rababank tries his luck, but can't get away. The peloton has picked up its speed.
60km remaining from 258km
Monfort has built up a little lead over the field, 20 seconds.
Th five in front have just topped anotgher climb, with Bellemakers the first over.
A crash? Or did someone ride into the ditch? Or did a Caisse d'Epargne rider simply puncture?
Monfort grabs a quick snack while he tries to catch the five in front.
56km remaining from 258km
No major changes in the time gaps. The two Belgians in the lead group have a word with one another -- planning something, perhaps?
What one notices: Bellemakers has quite long hair. Perez has something flapping around his chest: a necklace? The cable from his radio?
53km remaining from 258km
The Belgian teams lead the chase, as the number one and two riders are from Omega Pharma-Lotto and Quick Step.
51km remaining from 258km
Monfort is slowly gaining, as his gap to the lead group is now 34 seconds.
Fränk Schleck is paying a visit to the neutral material car, looks like he is having some kind of small adjustment made.
50km remaining from 258km
Monfort will have the leaders any second now, and now the gap to the peloton from the front has fallen to under a minute.
The lead group has now fallen apart. Devenyns is now along in front.
49km remaining from 258km
Monfort has caught and passed De Gendt.
Another HTC-Columbia rider is at the head of the peloton.
A Milram and an HTC-Coliumbia rider hav now attacked out of the field.
It seems that Monfort has been caught, and most if not all of the escapees other than Devynens. The field is hectice, with feints and attmpted breaks. But no one is getting away -- yet.
Riders are spearating from the peloton, hard to tell who will be successful.
The speed is very high right now. We are pproaching the next big climb, the Redoubte.
Peter Velits of HTC-Columbia has taken off. He has caught and pased Bellemakers. Now most of the field is together again, around Bellemakers.
44km remaining from 258km
Caisse d'Epargne moves to the head of the peloton and takes charge of things.
Bert Scheirlinckx of Landbouwkrediet is the next to give it a try.
Velits has been caught, and Schielrlinckx is rapidly approaching Devenyns.
40km remaining from 258km
Devenyns has quite a bandage on his right elbow.
10 seconds between the first two, with the field at 24 seconds.
39km remaining from 258km
Will w see a move now? Or on the Redoute?
RadioShack is driving the peloton now, riding for captain Christopher Horner.
Milram can't wait for the Redoute and attacks.
he filed is moving through a city now, lots of turns.
36km remaining from 258km
Peter Wrolich and Johannes Fröhlinger lead the pelotn a they start up the Redoute.
On a steep part now, the speed is down...
Liquigas in front now, Contador to be seen too.
Fabian Wegmann and Tony Martin are representing Germany at the head of things.
Agnoli of Liquigas has moved ahead of the field. Devenyns has long since been caught, by the way.
Barredo of Quick Step leaps out and gives chase.
35km remaining from 258km
And just like that he catches Agnoli. Nw a Rabo rider goes, too, Laurens ten Dam.
34km remaining from 258km
HTC-Columbia's Martin attackes, and quickly moves up. Barredo is in the lead.
Garzelli catches Martin and Ten Dam.
Ah, a Garmin rider up front, where did he come from? Barredo still alone in the lead.
A chase group of four including Martin and Ten Dam is hot on Barredo's heels. They are at 11 seconds, with the field at 20 seconds.
We now have 7 or 8 riders in teh front -- but the filed is not far back.
30km remaining from 258km
A Rabobank rider in the head, either Ten Dam or Tankink -- we think.
It is Tankink, but with a minimal lad.
Monfort is toasted, he is falling off the back.
Another blue and orange rider is at teh front, but this is a Garmin rider.
Tankink alone in the lead, with Astana leading the peloton.
Things are going up again.
29km remaining from 258km
Tankink has topped out and can now build up his lead.
27km remaining from 258km
Serguei Ivanov of Katusha jumps and gives chase.
Sastre is in one of the group of riders who has been dropped.
25km remaining from 258km
Two mor riders jump -- actually it would be safe to say the situation is very fluid at the moment...
22km remaining from 258km
Tankink is building up his lead. He now has 28 seconds on Ivanov and 37 seconds on the field.
Liquigas moves into the head of the chase.
TAnkink is almost at the penultimate climb: an average gradient of 9.9%.
The field has Ivanov now. The Schlecks attack!
Andy Schleck takes off, but Philippe Gilbert hangs on to him. Cunego and Voeckler follow.
Schleck continues to pull Gilbert up the climb.
They can see Tankink now.
Evans at the head of the field. Schleck and Gilbert catch and pass Tankink easily.
Evnas is pushing the tempo, looking good. Cunego is suffering. Up ahead, Gilbert moves into the lead.
Contador attacks out of the field.
20km remaining from 258km
Tankink is caught be the field. Contador will be by Schleck and Gilbert momentarily. Oops, the three are together now.
What a trio we ahve in the lead -- all would be worthy winners. But there are groups close behind them. The peloton has exploded now.
Vinokourov has moved up to the lead group now, as have a number of others. Contador has fallen out of the lead group.
Vinokourov is alone in the lead. Behnd him riders straggle along. Very difficult to know exactlywho is where. A. Shleck, Gilbert, Valverde, Rodriguez, Anton, and Evans all together giving chase.
16km remaining from 258km
Vino is now being joined by Kolobnev. Gilbert takes off on his own in pursuit.
16km remaining from 258km
Another climb has been cancelled. Vino and Kolobnev together in the lead. Gilbert and Valverde 8 seconds back.
14km remaining from 258km
The Russian and the Kazakh are still in front.
Valverde, Evans and Glivert are 13 seconds behind.
Behind them at 36 seocnds is a large group, which also contains Contador and A. Schleck.
A descent now for our leaders.
10km remaining from 258km
The chasing peloton is surprisingly large.
Vino and Kolobnev are now moving into the city.
The peloton is at 1:14! They are out of it now.
Four riders have jumped from the peloton, but have only a minimal gap.
The peloton is not working together or organized, so they are really reducing their own chances.
8km remaining from 258km
The trio of chasers has 25 seconds now.
Kolobnev has moved into the lead work now.
Th high-powered chase trio is working wll together. Up front, Kolobnev and Vino are on the final climb.
The chasers are also going up, but spending far too much time eying one another. Valverde has probably had the fewest times at the front.
Vino attacks, about 200 metres befoe the top, but Kolobnev goes with him. Now 32 seconds to the chasers.
A. Schleck, Anton and Contador jump from the peloton. Valverde tries to take off, but Gilbert goes with him.
Gilbert counterattacks and 'Valverde goes with him. They have dropped Evans. Gilbert goes again and this time alone.
6km remaining from 258km
The two leaders are now descending, and Gilbert is alone 24 seconds behind them.
Vino and Kolobnev yre flying along but Gilbert is getting closer and closer.
Valverde and Evans together at 36 seconds.
4km remaining from 258km
Gilbert moving furiously along, still has 22 seconds.
Vino will have to drop Kolobnev if he wants to win, the Katusha rider is the better sprinter.
Gilbert falling further back, now over 30 seconds.
2km remaining from 258km
The two leaders are preparing for the final climb up to the finish line.
It is up to the two in front now. Gilbert over 40 seconds back.
Last km for the two in front.
Vino moves into the lead work.
No moves yet.....
Evans and Valverde catch Gilbert at the Flamme Rouge. Vino gives gas and moves away from Kolobnev.
Vino pulls away and will pull it off!
After over six and a half hours, Alexander Vinokourov of Team Astana takes his second win in this race.
Kolobnev takes second. The three chasers may be caught by a Schleck-led group before the finish line.
No, they weren't caught. Gilbert tried to pull away for third, but Valverde went around him for the final podium place. Evans and Gilbert fourth and fifth in some order.
The winner gets a big hug from Alberto Contador.
An emotional win for a controversial winner. It is by far the biggest win for Vinkokourov after his return from his doping suspension.
Vinokourov said he wasn't sure he would have the strength to make it to the end, and thanked his whole team for their support today.
Valverde seems to have crashed today, he just showed a nasty cut on his right shoulder.
Fourth place went to Gilbert and fifth to Evans.
Andy Schleck led the peloton across the finish line only three seconds later.
That's it for the Spring Classics! Another exciting race, another exciting Spring season. Thanks for reading along. Hope you have enjoyed it as much as we have.
1. Alexander Vinokourov (Astana)
2. Alexander Kolobnev (Katusha)
3. Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
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