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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite 2018

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Happy Classics to you all. It's that time of year again where we switch tarmac for cobbles. In half an hour, the riders will be off for the start of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. 

After many riders began their seasons in Australia or the Middle East, today will be a bit of a shock to the system. It is brass monkeys (really cold) out there with the temperatures dipping below zero this morning. 

There are lots of big Classics names are in attendance today with Greg Van Avermaet, Philippe Gilbert, Mat Hayman, Michael Matthews, Oliver Naesen, Sep Vanmarcke among the starters today. Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff are not here this weekend, with the latter racing out in Abu Dhabi. 

You can peruse the full start list here and pick your favourites for the win.

This year's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad route has een given a bit of a shake-up with the Muur van Geraardsbergen the penultimate climb of the day. It is the Molenberg with 56km to go that Gilbert believes will be key.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is not the only racing going on today. We've also got the stage 4 time trial in Abu Dhabi, which is well underway. Nikias Arndt has the fastest time at the moment with an hour before the final riders set off. 

The last few of the teams have been through the 't kuipke velodrome in Gent and the neutral start is in a little over five minutes. Today's presentation has had a slightly different feel with the women's teams being presented to the crowd along with the men for the first time. The two start lines are next to each other too. It is a good step forward for the women's race, which often started on the other side of town to the men's event.

I will keep you posted on the progress of the women's race too and you can take a look at the start list here

The men's peloton is on their way and picking their way through the neutral start.

There are 13 climbs, or hellingen, today - including three ascents of the Leberg. The climbs are: the Leberg, Den Ast, Katteberg, Leberg (2), Kokkerelle, Wolvenberg, Molenberg, Leberg (3), Berendries, Valkenberg, Tenbosse, Muur van Geraardsbergen, Bosberg.

The women's race is now underway as the men close in on kilometre zero. It is a seven-kilometre neutral zone for both pelotons with the actual start in Merelbeke. 

Here is a shot from our very own Josh Evans, who is in Belgium today. It might be toe-numbingly cold, but there is sunshine out there. 

It has been a fast start to today's racing and eight riders have broken clear of the bunch. They are: Marco Mathis, Michael Van Staeyen, Kenneth Van Bilsen, Brian van Goethem, Edward Planckaert, Michael Svendgaard, Dries De Bondt and Ludwig De Winter.

Alexejs Saramotins and Tim Ariesen have jumped across the gap so we now have 10 riders up front. 

Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi Ilnu Zakarin has just rolled down the start ramp and we've got fewer than 30 riders to begin their efforts. Rohan Dennis is the current leader but there are some strong riders still to come, namely Tom Dumoulin who is the next rider to go. 

The advantage of the 10 out front has expanded to two minutes. A quick reminder of who is out there: Marco Mathis, Michael Van Staeyen, Kenneth Van Bilsen, Brian van Goethem, Edward Planckaert, Michael Svendgaard, Dries De Bondt, Ludwig De Winter, Aleksejs Saramotins and Tim Ariesen.

Behind these 10 it is Iljo Keisse pulling for Quick-Step Floors. Here is Keisse at the team presentation a little earlier on. The toy is a nod to Quick-Step's 'wolfpack'

Quick-Step Floors has a very strong team, as always. Gilbert is the big leader for them today but there are several riders who could take out victory today. 

Philippe Gilbert is a former champion at Omloop and is going for his third title, as is Greg Van Avermaet. Three riders have won the race three times and they are all Belgian. They are, Ernest Sterckx, Joseph Bruyère and Peter van Petegem. 

Interestingly, no rider has ever won Omloop and then gone onto win the Tour of Flanders. Van Avermaet was close last year, but didn't stand a chance after he crashed with Peter Sagan and Oliver Naesen as they chased down Philippe Gilbert. Could they have caught Gilbert without the crash? We will never know. 

In the women's race, it has been a quick start too and after 17km we don't yet have a breakaway. 

The gap to the escapees is now three minutes. BMC Racing has sent a man up towards the front to help with the work. Everything under control for now ahead of the first climbs. 

Jens Keukeleire is racing for Lotto-Soudal today. The Belgian had his young son at the start. His son did get off the bike before the riders rolled out this morning...

Lotto Soudal has two leaders with Benoot and Wellens. The latter is not a Classics regular but has been in sterling form so far this season. while Benoot has been training at altitude recently so we wait to see how he is going.

Out in Abu Dhabi, Rohan Dennis has taken victory in the time trial and moved himself into the overall lead. We'll have a report, results and a gallery from there very soon. 

After an average speed of 41.5kph over the first hour of racing, the 10 leaders have a gap of 4:50 over the peloton.

Not long now until the first climb of the Leberg, Before that, though, is a 2km stretch of cobbles, the first of this cobbles season. 

For results and the report from today's Abu Dhabi stage, click here

It really is a cold day out there and Niki Terpstra explained to Belgian television channel Sporza that he's taken to spreading vaseline on his face to try and protect it from the cold. Needs must and all of that. 

Today's profile in a stem-sized chunk, courtesy of Team Sky.

The leaders have hit the first climb of the day the Leberg, while the peloton behind is tackling the cobbles of the Haaghoek.

Sep Vanmarcke finished on the podium at last year's race. This is what he had to say at the start today. 

The gap is still hanging just below the five-minute mark for the leaders. After the Leberg there are 30 kilometres before the next climb of the day. 

In the women's race Keira McVity had a go off the front of the bunch. She was only able to get 10 seconds before she was brought back in. Still no breakaway.

A look at today's finish line. Who will be crossing here first?

A mechanical for Vanmarcke on the Leberg. He'll be hoping that is the only one of the day. 

In the women's race, it remains together, but the high pace is doing some damage and on the Jagerij cobbles there are some riders in trouble. 

Chantal Blaak is showing off her rainbow jersey today. The world champion has twice finished second here and is part of a very strong Boels Dolmans team today. 

The latest time check has the leaders with a four-minute advantage over the peloton. 

The peloton clearly thought that four minutes was not enough and they have eased up a little to allow the break to go back out to five minutes.

Astana has a number of in-form riders with them at Omloop, with Magnus Cort and Alexey Lutsenko here off the back of a brilliant Tour of Oman. However, they have a cloud hanging over them after their team manager Alexandre Vinokourov confirmed that their team is in financial trouble. Read the full story here

The women's race is really breaking into pieces with a larger elite group out front and two or three more smaller groups now trailing behind. 

After a quick start to the day, the riders are passing through the feed zone to have a spot of lunch. Cold hands will make collecting things a little difficult so let's hope they get through there ok. 

87km remaining from 196km

Having taken to the front right at the start of the day, Keisse is still pulling for Quick-Step. Team Sky has come forward to lend a hand though, along with a couple of other teams. 

Bahrain-Merida is another team up near the front. They're riding for Sonny Colbrelli today who had a really strong Classics campaign in 2017. 

the pace is really high in the bunch and Giacomo Nizzolo riders has come down after a collision with one of the Wanty riders. He lets out a rather loud curse word and stands in someones drive as he tries to collect himself. He seems ok though. 

As I write, there is another crash as the peloton bunches up on a corner. This time it is one of the Lotto Soudal riders and one of the Sunweb riders. 

81km remaining from 196km

The leading group has split into two with Mathis, Ariesen and Van Staeyen getting dropped ahead of the second ascent of the Leberg. 

It's almost like the build-up to a sprint finish as the peloton drives on. Position on these climbs is hugely important because you can lose a lot of time if you're in the wrong place. 

Greg Van Avermaet has won this race twice in the past two years and he has big expectations of today's edition. 

News from Trek-Segafredo is that Nizzolo has abandoned after that crash. Hopefully it is nothing too serious. Not a great start to the Classics for the team. 

There is 25k to go in the women's race and there is a group up the road with an advantage of 45 seconds. Will bring you a list of names as soon as I can. 

Meanwhile, in the men's race, some of he dropped riders are being brought back into the peloton. AG2R La Mondiale putting in a stint in the front as the gap has leveled out at just over two minutes. Plenty of riders struggling ogg the back of the bunch now. 

Philippe Gilbert went on a short attack a few kilometres ago. He didn't get too far but he has certainly forced the pace. 

72km remaining from 196km

69km remaining from 196km

67km remaining from 196km

Michael Matthews is racing today, although the Australian says that he's working for teammate Edward Theuns today. He had this to say at the start. 

Another push by Philippe Gilbert, he's getting impatient. He is well marked but each move does some damage behind. The bunch splits briefly but Sky pulls it back together. 

64km remaining from 196km

Kung closes the gap for BMC but the peloton is strung out now and it's losing riders all the time. 1:30 is the latest time check for the breakaway. 

Over in the women's race, the leaders have been brought back for the Geerardsbergen. This is going to be a blistering finale. 

We're almost into the last 60 kilometres and there is no respite for the riders from here to the finish. The leaders are onto the Wolvenberg, which will be quickly followed by a cobbled section. 

Another crash in the bunch and it looks like one of the Bora-Hansgrohe riders is down just before the Wolvenberg. 

One rider to keep an eye on today is cyclo-cross world champion Wout van Aert. He's riding his first concerted Classics campaign this year. 

Up front, Van Goetham has been distanced by his break companions. He's trying to chance but the peloton is closing in behind. 

It won't surprise you to know that Quick-Step Floors is pulling the peloton still. They've been relentless all day, but can they finish it off? The gap is just 1:10 now. 

59km remaining from 196km

Kung is joined by several riders but the peloton is not too far behind. It doesn't look like he's snapped the elastic just yet. 

56km remaining from 196km

We saw Stybar on the attack a little earlier on. Stybar has no experience with the old Ronde van Vlaanderen final which features in the 2018 edition of the Omloop. He was still dominating cyclo-cross.

Van Goethem has been brought back to the peloton now, leaving just five riders from the original 10 that went on the attack this morning. 

53km remaining from 196km

And Van Avermaet has gone on the attack, wih Stybar in his wheel. 

One of the Vital Concept riders is there too, it looks like it might be Bryan Coquard. 

Van Avermaet went as the peloton closed in on the top of the Molenberg. The peloton still looks to be about 40 riders though. 

51km remaining from 196km

A group of six riders have gone off the front. In there are Stybar, Juul Jensen, Dillier, Kung, Rast and a rider from Katusha-Alpecin. 

Their gap is just a handful of seconds for now. 

Another small group has set off in chase of them. 

That second group is strong with Naesen, Matthews, Demare and what looks like Tim Wellens. 

47km remaining from 196km

Dillier attacks and nobody appears to be chasing. Stybar throws his arm up in frustration before a chase is mounted. 

There is just over 10 seconds between the main peloton and the second group on the road, which is 26 seconds behind the leaders. 

44km remaining from 196km

That chasing group has been all but brought back but Tim Wellens isn't having any of it and goes on the attack with Stybar and one of the LottoNL riders. 

42km remaining from 196km

Over in the women's race, Christina Siggaard has taken the victory ahead of Alexis Ryan. 

Saramotins not giving up just yet, he is joined by Alexis Gougeard and they have a small gap on the bunch. 

The gap to our two leaders is just 11 seconds. Saramotins' chance of holding onto this for too much longer is slim but he's giving his teammates a big of a break back in the peloton. 

Bahrain-Merida pulling hard now and it looks like they've got this pair now. 

The leaders are caught on Barendries and Tim Wellens goes for it now. He's been very active today. 

Van Avermaet has set off in chase of Wellens and easily passes him. 

Van Avermaet has been so strong this February. He told me earlier this month that he thinks he can hold it all the way through to the middle of April. 

36km remaining from 196km

It looks like Colbrelli, Wellens and Benoot are all in there too. Sunweb, Dimension Data and Trek all have representatives there.

Theuns is the Sunweb rider in that leading group. He is the team leader today. 

Benoot has attacked that leading group now. Lotto Soudal are playing their numbers. 

The peloton has come back together behind Benoot and he's about to be brought back in too. 

33km remaining from 196km

That kick from Benoot has dropped his companions and he's alone once again. Thwaites is trying to chase but it's not going anywhere. 

This is how the women's race ended a short while ago

29km remaining from 196km

The Tenbosse is the next climb on the menu and then the riders will face the Muur, which will surely see a vital selection for the finale. The winner could well break clear here. 

26km remaining from 196km

BMC leading the peloton and they can see Benoot just ahead. Eberybody looks relatively calm right now. Benoot glances over his shoulder and continues on. 

Magnus Cort now pushing on the front for Astana. He collects a drink from the side of the road.

25km remaining from 196km

Next up is the Muur. For now, it is the calm before the storm. There are still some 50 or 60 riders in the peloton, but that will change soon. 

After seeing Benoot on the attack, let's hear what he had to say at the start of the day. 

As we prepare for the all-out war that will be the Muur, riders are taking the chance to drop back to the team car to leave some extra layers behind. It's cold out there but nobody wants to be faffing with clothes when the race enters its most important part. 

All the key teams trying to put riders in the front. The roads onto the Muur are twisting and once the riders hit the cobbles there will be little space for passing. 

Speaking to Eurosport, Oliver Naesen says that he hopes his rivals will go early, "but that will kill them for sure." 

19km remaining from 196km

And we've had a crash. Garcia, Claeys and a Sunweb rider have all hit the deck. That's their day done. 

The riders are into Geraardsbergen and the climb is not too far away. 

FDJ moces to the front with Demare as we pass through town. 

As we start to climb, the pace really starts to ramp up and BMC now pushes on. 

This climb happens in a couple of stages with the last rise to the chapel a brutal ride. 

Drucker has pulled out a small gap on the peloton. He carries on but it's not  serious attack. Astana is chasing behind. 

Drucker has been caught and Vanmarcke attacks with Van Avermaet following. 

This is a serious move from Vanmarcke and Van Avermaet can't hold onto his wheel. 

There's a good 10-15 seconds between Vanmarcke and the chasers and Stybar now digs deep and passes Van Avermaet. 

We're over the top and the peloton has been decimated by Vanmarcke's attack. Only around 10 riders behind as Stybar bridges the gap to Vanmarcke. 

Van Aert is in that chasing group, which is a huge effort from him. 

15km remaining from 196km

Astana is putting in a big shift behind and they're closing down this Vanmarcke/Stybar attack. 

Astana has several riders in that chasing group, including the quick finisher Michael Valgren. 

They also have Lutsenko and Gatto in there, both quick finishers under these conditions. 

11km remaining from 196km

Naesen, Vanmarck and Van Avermaet have now gone off the front of the leading group on the Bosberg. 

A shot of the main bunch shows Benoot in there. Lotto Soudal have really missed out after all that work earlier on. The Van Avermaet group is caught but Naesen goes on the attack once again. 

Naesen is brought back and he flicks the elbow to try and make the Astana riders work. They have three riders in this move. 

10km remaining from 196km

It looks like this group has settled in to try and pull out this gap. They've got plenty of time to attack each other so why not make sure they keep this chasing group behind. Arnaud Demare is leading the chase as Yves Lampaert drops back. 

8km remaining from 196km

While it is small, that gap is holding very steady. It's all back together out front for now as Naesen pushes the pace again. 

Trentin is keeping his nose very clean in this leading group. He's one of the favourites if he can make it to the line in this group. Colbrelli will be tough to beat too. 

This is such an interesting group. Guys like Van Aert, Oss,Stybar and Vanmarcke will have to attack if they hope to win while there are plenty in there who will fancy their chances in a sprint. 

Despite the concerted chase behind, the second group has not been able to make any inroads into the leaders. The gap remains over 30 seconds with just four kilometres to go. 

One of the Astana riders attacks and it's Valgren

Valgren is barely out of the saddle before he is caught by his companions. 

It looks like we're playing cat and mouse now. Vanmarcke looks over his shoulder waiting for the nest move to happen. That little moment has lost them a few seconds to the chasers but they're safe for now. 

2km remaining from 196km

Stybar follows, as does Van Aert.

Valgren attacks again now

Trentin leading the chase but it's not a serious effort as he looks behind at the others to help. Is this the move?

Vanmarcke attacks now but Valgren has a good gap

The bunch is now almost upon them as they try to chase Valgren down. 

It looks like Valgren will have this

He shakes his head. He can't believe it. Valgren has won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Wisniowski comes second and Vanmarcke takes third. 

Astana would have been kicking themselves if they hadn't been able to use their numbers. They had three riders in that group. Perfect move by Valgren, relying on the chasers not getting their act together quickly enough. 

There will be a lot of head scratching in Belgium after that with Vanmarcke their best placed rider. They had some serious talent in that group but they waited a few seconds too long when Valgren attacked. 

Valgren had this to say after his victory.

This is how it ended after the peloton caught the chasers in that final stretch. 

If you missed the result of the women's race earlier on, you can take a look at how things finished here

This was the moment that Valgren crossed the line.

Siggaard took her win from a bunch sprint and was in tears after crossing the line. This is by far the biggest win of her career so far. 

You can re-live today's action with our report, here

"One guy caught me from Sky, second or third, it’s all right. It doesn’t matter from those two places if you don’t win but you’re still on the podium," Sep Vanmarcke said after the finish.

If you missed the Abu Dhabi Tour result earlier today then I won't spoil it for you but you can catch up on all the action from the time trial here

The top three on the podium a little earlier on. Vanmarcke is the only one of the three to have been on the podium in the cobbled Classics before. Valgren has, of course, finished second at Amstel Gold before.

There has been a whole lot of racing today and Romain Bardet got his first win of the season at the Classic de l'Ardeche. You can find the full results here

Don't forget it is Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne tomorrow and we will have full live coverage of that too. This is what the map looks like for tomorrow's offering. 

That is it from our live coverage today. Tune in at 11:15 CET tomorrow for live coverage of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. 

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