Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of this year's Scheldeprijs race.
The sun is shinning yet again in Belgium as the riders line-up for the start of the ace in Antwerp.
Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) wears number one after winning in 2012 and 2013. He's keen to complete a hat-trick today. He tweeted this morning:
"Scheldeprijs today! I'm excited and looking forward to it. Looks like a nice day in the sun. See you at the start!"
The race start lists includes most of the big-name Classics riders who rode the Tour of Flanders and who will ride Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
Check out the full start list here.
The 200km route for the race includes a 152km loop of northern Flanders, before three laps of a 16.4km finishing circuit. The finish line is in Schoten.
The riders have now left the centre of Antwerp and are heading to the official race start for the drop of the flag.
Who is your favourite to win today? There are some of the sports best sprinters in action plus the Classics stars.
Before the start of the race, the 1947 winner Rene Mertens was remembered with a minutes silence after recently passing away.
The real action is about to begin.
We immediately have three attackers: Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R), Mattia Pozzo (Neri Sottoli) and Daniel Summerhill (UnitedHealthcare) .
The trio gained a few seconds but were quickly brought back. Other riders are trying to get away.
After a hectic opening 14km of racing, there are now six riders on the attack: Fedi, Gruzdev, Bazzana, Rowe, Ghyselinck and Balykin. They have a lead of 1:20 on the peloton.
The six now have a lead of 2:00. It appears to be the break of the day.
Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar) tried to go across to the break but is struggling to close the gap to the six.
Engoulvent has given hope of catching the break. The six now lead the peloton by close to four minutes.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) is in action today, preferring to race than train at home.
"It's good to race again and get the body running," he told Sporza TV before the start.
Sunday's race was different to last year and was harder on the body. Mentally I'm fresh and so well see what happens."
"Everyone is different and I've always chosen to do this race. Tomorrow we'll study the cobbles of Northern France and hold a press conference. Sunday will come fast."
165km remaining from 200km
The break's lead has now reached five minutes.
Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) could be the first rider to ever win three consecutive editions of Scheldeprijs but he denied he's under pressure to win again.
"I heard that and I hope we can make it. It's a nice goal but we don't want to put ourselves under pressure. We're here for the win and we want to win but we'll have to see how it works out. It's us against the rest and I hope it works out," he told Sporza TV before the start.
"This is the highlight for me. After this I'll take a small break and then look to the other races. But the Scheldeprijs is the highpoint of my spring."
155km remaining from 200km
The peloton is refusing to let the break gain more than five minutes, sparking an average speed of 45km/h for the first hour or racing.
One rider not in action at Scheldeprijs is Zedenek Stybar. The cyclo-cross world champion is an outside favourite for Paris-Roubaix but according to his Twitter feed he opted to go for 160km training ride before hitting the sofa to watch the Scheldeprijs on television.
The Belkin and Ag2r-La Mondiale teams are leading the chase. Belkin has Theo Bos for the sprint.
The six breakaways are working smoothly together but the peloton is keeping them under control.
The gaps has fallen below four minutes with 120km left to race.
The Belkin team has a trio of sprinters in its squad for Scheldeprijs. Theo Bos is perhaps the fastest of the three but Markus Barry and Moreno Hofland are also fast.
Can they work together to beat Marcel Kittel and Giant-Shimano?
The break has lost close to two minutes but there's a logical explanation: They were stopped at a level crossing. The peloton will also be stopped and so the break will regain its four-minute lead.
During the delay, the peloton was held back just before the level crossing.
All the riders are back up to speed and the break of six riders is working smoothly together.
85km remaining from 200km
The peloton is rolling along at a steady pace, with many of the big names enjoying a chat in the warm, dry conditions.
FDJ.fr is also doing its share of the work on the front of the peloton. The boys is blue are protecting Arnaud Demare's interests. He is a real contender for the sprint finish.
Jurgen Roelandts isn't riding Scheldeprijs. The Lotto Belisol rider crashed out of Flanders at the weekend but on the eve of the race we talked to his mechanic about his Ridley Fenix Classic race bike.
It’s a must watch video for all of you who like looking at top-end road bikes.
Check it out here.
Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) is riding today but he dismissed reports in Gazzetta dello Sport that he might ride the Giro d'Italia.
Read the full story here.
Belkin and Giant-Shimano is also helping the chase at the head of the peloton. There is little chance for the breakaway today.
Ahead of the Tour of Flanders Cyclingnews also dropped by the Cannondale hotel on the outskirts of Kortrijk in Belgium to talk to a team mechanic about the Slovak’s bike for the spring campaign.
Check out the special video here.
Both Theo Bos (Belkin) and Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) are at the back of the peloton after dropping back to their team cars.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) is also in action today. It'll be interesting to see if he has a go in the expected sprint finish. He's sat quietly in the peloton for now.
72km remaining from 200km
The gap to the break is 2:20 now.
69km remaining from 200km
The leaders are about to hit the next set of cobbles and their lead is at 2'17. Before they get there they have a climb to get over.
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There's a bit of action back in the bunch with Belkin jumping to the head of affairs and starting to set the pace. FDJ are paying close attention to this though and all of a sudden the pace jumps up.
That move has had an instant impact with the gap now down to 1'52. It's all FDJ on the front with the odd Belkin and Giant Shimano rider in the mix. At the back of the field Bos is coming back after a quick comfort break.
The pace has eased a little bit in the bunch but the gap continues to come down, it's now at 1'37.
The leaders have responded, slightly, and draw out another ten seconds on the bunch.
Almost into the final 50km of racing and the peloton have allowed the leaders to push the gap back out to 2'14.
The break comes over the finishline for the first time. Blue skies and little wind, so the perfect race conditions for this time of year.
45km remaining from 200km
45km remaining and the gap has drifted out to 2;35.
40km remaining from 200km
The peloton hits a section of pave but the chase remains steady. However the tension and speed is rising.
The race is powering alongside a canal. The break still has 2:30 on the peloton but the chase is becoming far more serious.
The race is close to Schoten and so begin the three finishing circuits.
Here comes the peloton, with riders santching bidons from their soigneur near the finish.
The gap is 2:25.
Garmin-Sharp has also placed two riders on the front to help the chase. Tyler Farrar is the US team's protected sprinter today.
While signing on at the start this morning the riders were able to take a glance at the Scheldeprijs' winner’s trophy.
It's a golden sculpture shaped in the logo of the race, designed with 690 brilliants and worth between 15 000 and 20 000 euro. Quite the way to point out that Antwerp is the capitol of the diamond world.
A laughing Tyler Farrar told Cyclingnews at the start he regretted winning in 2010. “I won in the wrong year. I only received a medal,” Farrar said.
Bradley Wiggins put on a show on the podium, calling the trophy ‘the most ugly thing he ever saw’, and raising a big scare for the host on the podium when he took hold of the trophy and tested its durability. Fabian Cancellara wondered how to share the trophy with the team-mates.
The green Belkin jerseys are also starting to gather near the front of the peloton.This is going to be a fast and furious finish.
Veteran Alessandro Petacchi will be doing the sprint for Omega Pharma-Quick-Step.
Before the start Tom Boonen made ti clear he had no ambitions of victory.
"Depending on how the race goes of course but in a typical bunch sprint I'm not going to mix it. Those days are over," Boonen said.
23km remaining from 200km
The lead of the break has edged below 2:00.
Arnaud Démare is the French hope for a win at the Scheldeprijs. The fast rider from the FDJ.fr team finished as runner-up in Gent-Wevelgem behind John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano).
“It’s different here. It’s flat but windy so there’s a chance of crosswinds. Our goal is to be well positioned,” Démare told Cyclingnews at the start this morning.
According to team manager Marc Madiot his sprinter prefers a long and well led-out sprint and not the tumultuous sprint that concluded Gent-Wevelgem. Démare was confident he would be well led out.
“We have a strong team. We’ll try to set up our train with Delage, Bonnet, Offredo and Boucher.”
20km remaining from 200km
The gap is down to 1:40 as the riders approach the finish area yet again.
The riders have just crossed the cobbles of the Broekstraat once again.
Though the Trek Factory Racing have a cobbles specialist in Fabian Cancellara, it’s all for Danny van Poppel today.
“It’s the first time that I come here and I really am the dedicated sprinter. I think I have to do my own thing. Fabian is here to prepare Paris-Roubaix. Maybe they will lead me out, we’ll see," he said.
"It’s very dangerous with all those corners. It’ll be a bunch sprint. Hopefully I can do a top-5. I feel good in the team. I get my chance to sprint whereas last year I had to prove myself more.”
Several big-name Classics riders will ride for their lesser-known teammates today. Sep Vanmarcke has been seen doing several turns on the front for the Belkin team.
Luke Rowe leads the break through the finish with the crowd cheering and the bell ringing. One 16.4km lap to go!
Tension is already high in the peloton, with two riders pushing each other in a fight for a wheel.
At the line, the gap is just 1:30.
After a series of corners, the peloton is lined out in one, very long, line.
FDJ.fr is leading the pursuit of the break, with three riders on the front.
Tom Van Asbroeck is the sprinter for Topsport Vlaanderen – Baloise.
“I’m certainly not slow but there’s always luck needed too with the positioning,” Van Asbroeck told Cyclingnews at the start.
“There’s no Cavendish and Greipel so our chances are better. The level is not low but for example at the Ronde it was even higher. In a sprint I should do well. My tactic? If the train for someone like Kristoff is passing by I’ll hop on it. I’ve beaten him before. I’ve never beaten Kittel so maybe today,” a smiling Van Asbroeck said.
The break is putting up a fight but it is difficult to see how they can escape the peloton. The gap is 1:10 with 11km to go.
Luke Rowe has a dig, accelerating on the front but the six are back together. Behind Tom Boonen is on the front, leading the chase for OPQS.
Sagan is at the back of bunch and seems to be doing some speed work.
The break is on the Broekstraat section of pave.
7km remaining from 200km
The gap is down to 45 seconds. This could be close.
Upfront Luke Rowe attacks again and gets a gap.
But his attack will do little to help the break stay away.
OPQS is still leading the chase and can now see the breakaway just ahead of them.
Rowe can ride a good pursuit but seems to be tired. The five riders behind him are also not giving up.
4km remaining from 200km
The peloton is 25 seconds behind.
Ag2r and Giant-Shimano are now leading the chase.
Rowe is caught and now Fedi (Neri Sottoli) tries a solo attack.
But the peloton is virtually onto them.
3km remaining from 200km
The peloton has caught the break. It's time for a big bunch, high speed sprint.
2km remaining from 200km
OPQS and Giant-Shimano are leading the peloton.
Lotto Belisol and Belkin are also getting involved.
Here comes Giant-Shimano!
1km remaining from 200km
There's a fight for Kittel's wheel.
Steegmans leads out Petacchi.
But Kittel hit the front at the right moment and won it by several bike lengths.
Kittel held up three fingers to celebrate his third consecutive Scheldeprijs.
Kittel blew past Petacchi when he opened his sprint. Farrar tried to follow him but didn't have the speed.
However it secured Farrar second place. Danny van Poppel (Trek Factory Racing) was third, Petacchi fourth and Sam Bennett (NetApp-Endura) was fifth.
Tyler Farrar admitted there was little he could do against Kittel. However that's another excellent result for the Garmin-Sharp rider.
Thanks for joining us for our live coverage of the Scheldeprijs race.
We'll have a full report, results, interviews and a photo gallery on Cyclingnews.com very soon.
Join us on Sunday for full blow by blow coverage of Paris-Roubaix. It's going to be a great Sunday in Hell.
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