Hello and welcome to our live coverage from the 2015 Scheldeprijs.
We're here in Antwerp for the start of the race, which should be underway in just over 15 minutes from now. The majority of the field have signed on with a couple of outstanding teams still to make their way from the buses.
Three time winner and defending champion Marcel Kittel is not at the race this year, still feeling the effects of a virus he's had for a number of weeks. The German was ill after the Tour Down Under and struggled through the Tour of Qatar. He's not found his feet yet this season but he's not the only previous winner missing from today.
Mark Cavendish is another non-starter. He's also won this race three times - but not in a row like Kittel - and hasn't made the trip for today's sprinter-friendly race.
Griepel, who looked so strong in last weekend's Tour of Flanders is another non-starter today but despite three noticeable absentees the race still packs a punch when it comes to top level sprinters.
Before we talk about the contenders for victory today, the riders are now lining up on the start line, the roll out taking place in less than ten minutes from now.
Tour of Flanders winner Alexender Kristoff is on the startline. The Norwegian claimed his second monument at the weekend end and has been in red-hot form since the opening race of the season in Qatar. If the race ends in a bunch sprint today he's a serious contender for victory once again. In Jacopo Guarnieri he has his top-level leadout man with him.
Elia Viviani, who made the podium behind Cavendish and Kristoff in Kuurne, back in February also returns. The Team Sky rider will be backed by Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins, with Fenn and Eisel acting as possible leadout men.
And Peter Sagan is here too. The Tinkoff-Saxo leader is in pretty decent form, and finished fourth last weekend in Flanders. Just one win under his belt this season and he would dearly like to add this race to his palmares. He has a strong looking team behind him too with the experienced Matteo Tosatto and youngster Christopher Juul Jensen on the Russian roster.
Danny van Poppel, Edward Theuns, Matthew Goss and Tyler Farrar are also on the start list and with blue skies overhead the race is about to get underway.
It's an important race for MTN, given the likelihood that they'll struggle for results in Paris-Roubaix. The team haven't produced a result yet in Belgium but in Farrar they have a rider who has won (2010) here and been on the podium as recently as last year. It will be interesting to see what Goss' role is for today as well, with the Australian on the comeback trail after a recent injury.
The official start has been made and the riders are off.
Just away from this race we have more incredible on-board race footage from last weekend's Tour of Flanders. The video is right here.
Already attacks from the front of the peloton in the early stages. Both Lotto Soudal and and Topsport are in the thick of the action as they try and catapult men up the road as they try to build the early break.
Within the peloton we can pick out a few more contenders for the win today with Andrea Guardini, Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) near the front. The Irishman missed De Panne last week but is back for today's race. I may be wrong but I think he's the only rider on Bora who has won so far this year - picking up the final stage at the Tour of Qatar.
A few more moves from the front of the bunch but at the moment nothing is able to stick as teams volley off a few more rounds off attacks.
After briefly heading north the race will swing east as we head towards Loenhout. The race typically sees a break form in the first hour of racing and despite the bunch together, there are still attacks.
189km remaining from 200km
Bodnar has attacked and gone solo off the front. The Tinkoff rider has a small gap on the peloton but he'll be hoping that number of riders bridge up to him in the next few minutes. We've raced 11km.
Still Bodnar with a small gap on the peloton. Away from Belgian and the Tinkoff rider's captain Alberto Contador has been previewing the Giro d'Italia time trial stage. You can read about that here.
19km remaining from 200km
Around 20km of racing covered and we've had a crash in the peloton with Cofidis' Louis Verhelst on the ground. He has had to be taken to hospital due to his injuries. We'll bring you more once we have it.
No joy for Bodnar, who has been caught by the peloton. Just under 30km of the race covered and we've still not seen our break form.
You can of course find the most up to date start list for the race, right here but as yet there's still no break from the bunch with the peloton having covered 30km of the race.
Seven. We have seven riders off the front and with a lead approaching 45 seconds. 31km raced and that could be the break of the day.
The riders in the break are as follows: Laurens De Vreese (Astana), Frederik Backaert (Wanty), Kenneth Van Bilsen (Cofidis), Matteo Busato (Southeast), Vincent Jérôme (Europcar), Huub Duyn (Roompot), and Tanner Putt (UHC).
The seven riders continue to work well together and there doesn't look to be a lot of resistance from the main field at this stage.
156km remaining from 200km
That hard work is paying off and the gap to the peloton is now out to 4'25 with 156km to go.
Away from the race once more and we have an exclusive interview with American grand tour rider Tejay van Garderen. You can read the full story with BMC's leader, right here.
Marc Sergeant has meanwhile been talking to Sporza, telling them that Griepel didn't race today because he hadn't recovered from his efforts at the Tour of Flanders. The German national champion was on the attack several times in the race and played a pivotal role in Lotto Soudal's race tactics.
150km remaining from 200km
50km into the race and the gap has reached an amicably stable 4:30.
Approaching Hoogstraten and the peloton have jumped into life, shaving a minute off the break's lead.
Stybar, a possible contender for Roubaix this weekend, has also talked to Sporza at the start this morning. The Etixx rider has tipped Renshaw and Trentin for the win today. Both riders are capable of a result here and will get their chance in the absence of Mark Cavendish.
The bunch are still kicking on and they've reduced the lead still further. Down to 2:30 after 60km of action.
125km remaining from 200km
125km remaining and we have a seven man break of Laurens De Vreese (Astana), Frederik Backaert (Wanty), Kenneth Van Bilsen (Cofidis), Matteo Busato (Southeast), Vincent Jérôme (Europcar), Huub Duyn (Roompot), and Tanner Putt (UHC) with a 2:30 gap over the peloton with a number of the sprinters' teams on the front setting the pace.
Katusha and Etixx are both near the front of the field for now, monitoring the situation rather than orchestrating a full-blown chase of the break.
It's Androni and Tinkoff who are actually on the front of the peloton and leading the chase. The Italian team have one or two options for later in the race while Tinkoff will be thinking about setting up Sagan for the sprint finish.
116km remaining from 200km
The lead is still holding at around 2:30 as a few riders from the break drop back to the team cars for instructions and some food.
Despite the absence of so many top-level sprinters, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) insisted that he was at Scheldeprijs purely as preparation for Paris-Roubaix. “I feel ok, normal. I am here to do this race to keep my condition before Paris-Roubaix,” Sagan said at the start in Antwerp.
The Slovak was succinct when asked about his travails in the finale of the Tour of Flanders, when he was distanced by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) in the finishing straight and crossed the line in fourth place. “It was my legs. I had bad legs,” he said.
Sagan also told Cyclingnews that he was unsure how the absence of Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen would alter the complexion of Paris-Roubaix at the weekend. “We’ll see. Team Sky have a stronger team than they had a year ago and they showed on Sunday that they can control a race,2 he said. “I think it could change something in the finale, not having Boonen and Cancellara, but every race is different anyway.”
In absence of Mark Cavendish, the Etixx – Quick-Step team is putting its money on two of their other fast men, as Matteo Trentin told Cyclingnews at the start line in sunny Antwerp. “Today it’s for me or Renshaw. We’ll see during the race what we’ll do. I feel good. I recovered well from the Tour of Flanders. The race didn’t cost too much energy because after my crash at the Koppenberg I used the rest of the race as training.”
105km remaining from 200km
With just over 100km remaining, the break remains 2:30 clear.
The peloton has been stopped by a level crossing.
They are quickly away and are now grabbing their musettes in the feed zone.
It is still the Katusha team on the front of the peloton, leading the chase. They have some help from Tinkoff-Saxo and MTN.
The break has split into two groups but quickly comes back together. Their gap is up to 3:15 after the level crossing.
One day before Scheldeprijs, the Lotto-Soudal team removed their sprinter André Greipel from their selection.
Scheldeprijs organizer Piet De Smet was furious, being quoted as saying that it was always the same with the Belgian team.
He also added that Greipel didn’t like the race and probably just put his name on the start list to get rid of their requests.
At the start line in Antwerp Lotto-Soudal’s Marc Sergeant said that wasn’t the case.
“André Greipel is a man of his word. In the past he didn’t like the finish, especially when it was wet. Now he wanted to do it. The weather was ok too. He just didn’t recover well from the Ronde van Vlaanderen and wasn’t ready. I believe Cavendish isn’t ready either, and so is Marcel Kittel.”
It seems the split in the peloton was caused by three of the riders stopping for a natural break.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was in demand on the start line of Scheldeprijs, his first race since winning the Tour of Flanders last Sunday.
The Norwegian has recovered well from his exploits at the weekend and is hoping that he can add a fifth victory in two weeks to his palmarès.
“We had a party in the evening but now we’ve had two days to recover so hopefully it’s enough. We will see today but the main goal is on Sunday. I will try to do a good result but if it doesn’t happen then maybe I can do it on Sunday,” he told Cyclingnews as he waited to sign on.
“If it’s not for the victory then we won’t take any risks. If it’s a win, it’s a win, it’s still a big race here. I did De Panne before where there was also a risk so for sure we will try to do a good result here.”
Despite his superb form, Kristoff played down his chances at Paris-Roubaix this weekend. “I’ve never felt so good in Roubaix, so it is difficult,” he said. “I had a ninth place and I hope to improve on that, then we will see how far I can come up.”
90km remaining from 200km
The peloton is eating into the breakaway's lead after finishing lunch. The gap is down to 2:30. The sprinters' teams will no doubt play cat and mouse with the break, not wanting to catch it too far from the finish, to stop other attacks forming.
Even if there is little pave in today's race, many riders are testing their Paris-Roubaix bikes today.
We spotted Peter Sagan's all black Specialized bike at the start.
Check out our full photo gallery from the start by clicking here.
Who is your favourite for today's expected sprint finish?
Last year's winner Marcel Kittel is not riding Scheldeprijs due to his on-going virus problem.
However the German team has included cyclo-cross rider Lars van der Haar in tis team. He is beginning his road season after taking a break following the long winter cross campaign.
80km remaining from 200km
The gap is now below 2:00, with Androni Giocattoli also helping with the chase to give their sprinter Francesco Chicchi a shot at victory.
Talented young US rider Tanner Putt (UnitedHealthcare) is in the break today.
Read more about him in this interview by Laura Weislo by clicking here.
It's a warm sunny day in Belgium and so riders are dropping back to team cars for more bidons and to talk tactics.
70km remaining from 200km
The riders pass more tractors, lined up along the roadside. Belgian farmers are protesting at most of the spring races this year, without causing any delays or problems for the riders.
Matteo Trentin (Etixx-Quickstep) stops for a quick bike change.
65km remaining from 200km
Tinkoff-Saxo and Southeast riders are also at the front to help with the chase.
The race is a game of chess at the moment, with the break and the peloton carefully controlling their riding.
Kristoff, Tinkoff-Saxo and Team Sky are on the front now, as the riders get a brief taste of some cobbles in Broekstraat.They will soon pass through the finish area for the first time and the front is the best place to avoid any crashes.
Cyclo-cross specialist Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin) was welcomed by fellow cyclo-cross lover Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – Quick-Step) at the start line in Antwerp.
Van der Haar makes his debut in the WorldTour team of Giant-Alpecin. Due to the absence of Marcel Kittel, the 23 year-old Dutchman was a last minute addition to the team.
“We still have two fast men with Ramon Sinkeldam and Nikias Arndt. I think it’ll be Ramon. He’s feeling good. I’ll be the worst man in the team. I’ve only been on the bike for less than four weeks. I’m not strong enough yet. I’ll try to do my work early on. We need to try to get someone in the breakaway,” Van der Haar said.
That didn’t work out but Katusha and Tinkoff-Saxo seem confident enough to do the hard work in the peloton right now.
The break passes through the finish in Schoten with 49km left to race.
Johan Van Summeren stops for a front wheel change, as the peloton gets to see the finish.
The sprinters know that the final 500m curve slightly to the left, making the line along the barriers the shortest way to the finish.
@Lotto_Soudal Wed, 8th Apr 2015 15:04:06
Sep Vanmarcke just bridged back up to the back of the peloton.
He had a bad day in the Ronde van Vlaanderen last Sunday. Afterwards he talked about a failure. Right now he’s spotted at the back of the peloton. At the start he seemed to have left the disappointment behind him.
“I was a little too far back in the peloton and probably waited too long to bridge up to the front. I was focused but maybe not thinking enough about what was going on. I don’t want it to happen again. It was a big lesson I learned. I’m looking forward to next Sunday. I’m well recovered. Today is just a preparation for Sunday,” Vanmarcke said at the start in Antwerp.
Any trip to Flanders for the Classics has to include a visit to the Flanders museum.
Ben Delaney of our sister site Bikeradar.com captured this great photo gallery. Click here to step into the museum.
We have an attack from the peloton, with Martin Mortensen (Cult Energy Pro Cycling) jumping clear alone.
However the peloton is no mood to let him get away, as Katusha dominate the head of the peloton.
35km remaining from 200km
The peloton is back into the outskirts of Schoten, twisting through the Belgian streets.
The warm weather has attracted a huge crowd at the finish, with the beer flowing in the bars and the frites and mayo being eaten for a late lunch.
Putt leads the breakaway of seven through the finish. 33km left to race.
The peloton comes through 56 seconds down on the break.
@wjohngalloway Wed, 8th Apr 2015 15:24:17
The attackers have upped their pace, trying to surprise the peloton and quickly gain some extra time.
25km remaining from 200km
The speed is high but the gap is falling. The break is just 25 seconds ahead now.
On the Broekstraat cobbles, De Vreese ups the pace, as Katusha lead the chase behind.
Kristoff is clearly keen to add Scheldeprijs to his run of Classic wins.
The riders are on the banks of the Schelde river, with the peloton lined out as it chases the break.
A mechanical for Nikias Ardnt. He was the Giant-Alpecin sprinter today but it will not be easy for him to get back up to the front.
Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) does a big turn on the front. He is riding for sprinter Barry Markus today.
Ardnt gets back on but is last in the long lined-out peloton.
16km remaining from 200km
The bell rings for the peloton. The peloton is letting them hang off the front.
The peloton can see the riders, just 40 seconds up the road.
@LottoJumbo_road Wed, 8th Apr 2015 15:46:21
Wow! Yet another inflatable arch has collapsed. Fortunately some spectators manage to hold it up and the riders pass underneath.
However the team cars are too tall to pass underneath. Fortunately most have found a side road to avoid the problem.
10km remaining from 200km
The peloton is squeezed into one lane of the road, lining out the riders.
@LottoJumbo_road Wed, 8th Apr 2015 15:52:46
8km remaining from 200km
The Broekstraat cobbled sectors is always a key moment and Team Sky has hit the front of the peloton.
Team Sky is riding for sprinter Elia Viviani.
up front the break has exploded, with De Vreese going clear alone.
Behind Bradley Wiggins has sat up to avoid any crashes.
Upfront Astana is riding for Andrea Guardini. Can he win today?
Sagan is riding on the front, perhaps he is not the protected sprinter today.
4km remaining from 200km
Etixx is also gathering on the front.
Katusha is lining up behind Etixx.
3km remaining from 200km
Renshaw looks set to lead out Trentin in the sprint.
Here come Giant-Alpecin but Kausha seems to have left it too late.
1km remaining from 200km
A big part of the peloton has gone down but the sprint goes on.
There are 20 riders up front.
Kristoff lead it out but had the speed to win yet again.
There were only a few riders in the front group, everyone else was blocked by the crash.
Several riders are still down. It was a big crash.
The crash seemed to start when a Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana rider clashed.
Lots of riders then hit them at speed.
Tyler Farrar (MTN) finished ninth in the sprint.
The crash victims include Elia Viviani (Team Sky) and Tom Van Asbroeck (LototNL-Jumbo).
Kristoff has now made a unique hat trick of wins: De Panne, Tour of Flanders, Scheldeprijs. Can he also win Paris-Roubaix on Sunday?
The crash happened as several sprinters pushed with their shoulders for the best position.
Kristoff started his sprint early but had the speed to hold off Theuns and Hutarovich.
Thanks for joining us for live coverage from Scheldeprijs.
We will have a full race reports, a photo gallery, news and interviews from the race very soon on Cyclingnews.
Join us on Sunday for full live coverage from Paris-Roubaix. We will have complete coverage of what happens on the pave during the Hell of the North.
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