Hello! Sandwiched between Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders in this most unusual of seasons, we continue down the cobbled Classics campaign with Scheldeprijs. However, this is itself a most unusual Scheldeprijs - there are no cobbles and it's now more of a Kermesse than a Classic.
Gone is the windswept early passage into the Netherlands, due to coronavirus restrictions, and gone are the cobblestones of Broekstraat, due to roadworks. What we're left with, at Flanders' oldest race, is 10 laps of a 17.3km circuit around Schoten, just north of Antwerp. It's usually used twice at the very end of the race, but this time it's the whole race.
It's known as one for the sprinters, and that's even more the case this year.
The riders have all signed on under a cloak of light grey skies above Schoten. The start of the race is coming up in around 10 minutes.
As expected, the start list dominated by sprinters. We have Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), who surely start as favourites given the relatively undemanding nature of the parcours. Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) is another pure sprinter while the fastmen who cross over into Classics riders include the UAE Team Emirates duo of Alexander Kristoff and Jasper Philippsen.
And of course there's Mark Cavendish... more on him soon.
This is the scene as the riders gather on the start line
And they're off!
The riders roll out for the first of their 10 laps of this circuit.
Cavendish is here, having hinted that Gent-Wevelgem might have been the last race of his career. Will this be the final bow? We'll have to wait and see, but he sounded like someone who'd come to terms with not racing into 2021. Cavendish spoke at the start just before, and we'll have something on that on the way very shortly.
#SP20 The kermesse-style edition is now underway from Antwerp. 10 laps of 17.4km to race. Let’s have some fun! pic.twitter.com/6ACYwrlTgiOctober 14, 2020
Here's a closer look at our 17.3km circuit, with its 12 corners. They're going anti-clockwise.
Two riders have clipped off the front in the early exchanges, and that could be our main breakaway. We'll bring you the names in a second.
The two breakaway hopefuls are Nathan van Hooydonck and Elmar Reinders (Riwal Securitas). However, they haven't been let go just yet, and the peloton is strung out into one long line.
🏁 La course est lancée ! #SP20#AllezTotalDirectEnergie⚡ pic.twitter.com/wpBF8pFBYWOctober 14, 2020
Kristoff reveals he's Plan B for UAE - Philippsen is Plan A
"This race is like the championship for sprinters. I'm glad I won it in the past," says the 2015 winner. "Today it's for our Belgian guy, Jasper. I want to use the race to keep my legs spinning. If Jasper isn't there I'll sprint."
One lap down
A fast start at almost 50km/h sees a lap ticked off in no time. Van Hooydonck and Reinders are still just out in front of the bunch and it hasn't settled at all yet.
It's all back together again on the second lap.
Casper Pedersen (Sunweb) crashes. He won Paris-Tours at the weekend.
Renewed breakaway attempts have led to a group of eight clipping off the front, including... Cavendish
Casper Pedersen abandons. That leaves Sunweb with Cees Bol, and Alberto Dainese as a back-up. Pedersen is due to ride Flanders on Sunday.
The riders in the breakaway are:
Mark Cavendish (Bahrain McLaren)
Michael Schär (CCC Team)
Chris Juul-Jensen (Mitchelton-Scott)
Travis McCabe (Israel-StartUp Nation)
Lewis Askey (Groupama-FDJ)
Dmitriy Gruzdev (Astana)
Luc Wirtgen (Bingoal-WB)
Piotr Havik (Riwal Securitas)
The break have opened up a minute. We're on the third of the 10 laps now.
A reminder that we also have live coverage of stage 11 of the Giro d'Italia happening right now. Join Daniel Benson to find out what kettle he's just bought and what happens on the expected bunch sprint in Rimini
Another blow for Sunweb, as Dainese, who was also apparently caught up in that Pedersen crash, abandons.
The breakaway aren't being allowed much more than a minute here, as Bennett's Deceuninck-QuickStep teammates take control of the peloton.
🇧🇪 #SP20@michaelschaer is in today’s 8-rider breakaway. They current have a 1’05” lead over the peloton after the first hour of racing. pic.twitter.com/PJFTYGIticOctober 14, 2020
I may not have sold it very well so far, but if you want to watch this race, here's how you can do so.
3/10 laps done
The gap between the eight breakaway riders and the peloton stands at 1:15 as they head onto lap 4.
Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) abandons
Not quite sure what the matter is with the Gent-Wevelgem winner but it's not ideal new ahead of Flanders.
"I don't have a desire to stop," Cavendish said this morning. "I don't want to stop. I love this sport. I give my life to this sport and I'd like to continue riding my bike."
The Manxman explained what we reported yesterday, that there were rumours at Gent-Wevelgem that Scheldeprijs and Flanders would be cancelled, thus ending his season. He has no contract for next year but appears keen to find one. His full thoughts on the way shortly.
Here is Cavendish out there in the break, for the second race in a row
We're inside the last 100km now as we near the end of lap 4.
My colleague Brecht Decaluwé has an update on Mads Pedersen, who is fine and has apparently withdrawn as a precaution ahead of Flanders.
"There are always stupid crashes in the Scheldeprijs," he said.
The gap to the breakaway has come down to just less than a minute now.
As promised, here's the story on Cavendish, with the full quotes.
5/10 laps remaining
As we reach the end of the fifth lap and the half-way point in the race, here's a recap of the situation. Eight riders, including Mark Cavendish, are in a breakaway that's around 50 seconds ahead of the main peloton, where a number of sprinters are poised.
For those of you really late to the table, we've got five more laps of a 17.3km circuit around Schoten that's forming the entire parcours for this edition of Scheldeprijs. We can't go over the border for the usual Dutch crosswinds, and the cobblestone sector that usually features on the finishing circuit - normally done just twice - is gone due to road works. So it's more of a Kermesse than a Classic, with Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) the heavy favourites.
We've mentioned a few possible contenders in Bennett, Ewan, Kristoff, Philippsen, Bol, Ackermann, but I'll mention a few more...
Chris Lawless (Ineos Grenadiers), Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic), Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), Hugo Hofstetter (Israel StartUp Nation), Andre Greipel (Israel StartUp Nation), Christophe Laporte (Cofidis), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain McLaren), Niccolo Bonifazio (Total Direct Energie), Max Walscheid (NTT), Danny van Poppel (Circus-Wanty), Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott), Jakub Mareczko (CCC).
#SP20 @Mads__Pedersen has withdrawn from the race after feeling some slight discomfort in his hamstring. With the Team, he decided it was better to rest ahead of the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/drJCRWowxjOctober 14, 2020
73km to go
The eight riders are coming towards the end of the fifth lap and they've taken their lead back out to 1:25.
Gruzdev leads the break across the line, with four laps of the 17.3km circuit remaining.
Zdenek Stybar leads the peloton to the line, 1:25 in arrears. He's a lone QuickStep rider up there for now. They'll start to form a proper train after a couple more laps.
Alpecin-Fenix, UAE Team Emirates, Lotto Soudal, and B&B are all also prominent in sending riders up for turns at the head of the peloton.
Bennett still has a gilet and arm warmers on as he rides at the back of the bunch. It's been a fast race but not really a stressful one so far. The Irishman has just been named in QuickStep's Vuelta line-up, so that's a Grand Tour double for the first time in his career.
65km to go
The gap is coming down again now. It ducks back below the one-minute mark.
Classy! Bravo Belgian cycling fans pic.twitter.com/doeFVS7pXyOctober 14, 2020
Our top story today comes from the Giro d'Italia, where an anonymous rider has revealed to us details of crowded hotel buffets and of a general feeling of unease.
Meanwhile, stage 11 of the Giro is just 15km away from its conclusion, so if you want to follow live coverage of that one (in a new tab, obviously), here's the link.
Back in the Scheldeprijs and the break continue to lose ground. It's a solid chase with a lot of different teams getting involved, but 45 seconds with 57km to go feels stingy.
A Bennett win today would make it five in a row for Deceunick-QuickStep, after Fabio Jakobsen won the past two editions and Marcel Kittel - a five-time winner - the two before that. Kittel is obviously retired now and Jakobsen is unable to make it a hattrick given he's still recovering from that horrible crash at the Tour de Pologne. Here's the latest on the Dutchman's progress.
3/10 laps remaining
The eight breakaway riders hit the line again, and the peloton do the same just 36 seconds later.
Along with QuickStep, Lotto, and Bora, the bright yellow jersey of Tarteletto-Isorex stands out in the chasing force at the head of the bunch. They're apparently working for local lad Michael Van Staeyen, who's riding his 12th Scheldeprijs! His best result was 8th from 2015.
The gap has nudged back out to 45 seconds.
40km to go
It's a pretty steady situation out there, with the breakaway rotating 45 seconds in front of a peloton where it's the same names trading turns to keep things under control.
Owain Doull drops off the back of the peloton. Ineos are working for Lawless, who has finished third in the past two editions.
2/10 laps remaining
The breakaway cross the finish line for the third-to-last time. They're all still together but they're only 35 seconds ahead now.
Cavendish dropped from the breakaway
The pace is lifted up front as they start the ninth lap. Cavendish doesn't seem too bothered about trying to stay up there, and drifts back to the bunch as TV and neutral service motos lend him some applause.
A reminder that Cavendish spoke about his future ahead of the race
So the breakaway is down to seven and they have 33 seconds in hand with 33km to go.
Meanwhile in Italy...
Cavendish also gets a pat on the back from former teammate Guillaume Van Keirsbulck as he slots back into the bunch. Have we seen the last of him? Time will tell.
25km to go
Up front, Juul-Jensen, Havik, Schar, Gruzdev, McCabe, Askey, Wirtgen have upped the tempo and increased the urgency. They were always going to hold a little in reserve for the last 30km and now they have to open the taps. Unfortunately for them, the peloton have been hugely attentive and have matched their tempo all day. The gap stands at 35 seconds as the peloton raise their tempo in response.
It's Donavan Grondin for Arkea and he hits the deck really hard. Fortunately he's back on his feet.
Arkea have a number of riders up towards the front of the bunch but their sprinter Bouhanni was at the back alongside Grondin.
20km to go
20 seconds is the gap now with just over one lap to go.
Total Direct Energie hit the front now as the shape of the peloton changes from one-rider representatives controlling the break to full team trains being set up for positioning ahead of the final lap.
The seven riders come to the finishing straight for the penultimate time and the young Brit, who's here on a one-off call-up from Groupama-FDJ's Continental team to the WorldTour squad, takes a flyer.
1/10 laps remaining
With the gap at 20 seconds, and one 17.3km lap to go, Askey feels he can't hang around. Havik is the rider who sets off in pursuit and joins him.
And now Havik launches a huge acceleration to drop Askey.
Deceuninck-QuickStep set up en masse at the head of the peloton, with Trek-Segafredo also prominent. Trek have lost Pedersen but still have Theuns and Stuyven.
Hakiv has opened up a big gap here as Askey, seemingly paying for his efforts, fights to stay on the back of the rest of the breakaway group.
QuickStep fade as Bora take it up with Brughardt. They're on the left, with Total through the middle and Trek on the right.
14km to go
Askey is dropped and now caught by the peloton.
Havik is holding off the peloton for now, at 20 seconds. He has a good 10 seconds on his former breakaway companions.
12km to go
Schar, Juul-Jensen, McCabe, Gruzdev and Wirtgen are now caught by the peloton.
Havik continues to put his heart and soul into this but his lead has dipped to 15 seconds.
B&B hit the front after the catch, working for Coquard.
10km to go
The gap to the lone leader Piotr Havik (Riwal Securitas) is now 11 seconds.
A reminder of the map with 9km to go. We're going clockwise and we're just under half-way round.
Pain is written all over Havik's face as he buries his head into his bars. The peloton are right upon him though and the catch is imminent.
8km to go
Havik is caught and that's the end of the breakaway. Now for the sprint set-up.
QuickStep come to the front but pull off now, as they look around at each other.
QuickStep get themselves organised again on the left, with Trek still over on the right. Bora are down the middle.
A reminder of the contenders we ran through a little earlier
Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep, Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), Jasper Philippsen (UAE Team Emirates), Cees Bol (Sunweb), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Chris Lawless (Ineos Grenadiers), Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic), Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), Hugo Hofstetter (Israel StartUp Nation), Andre Greipel (Israel StartUp Nation), Christophe Laporte (Cofidis), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain McLaren), Niccolo Bonifazio (Total Direct Energie), Max Walscheid (NTT), Danny van Poppel (Circus-Wanty), Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott), Jakub Mareczko (CCC).
Total come to the fore once more, and now Lotto and UAE move up as the urgency increased with 6km to go.
5km to go
Arkea are looking good again now, and even Topsport are mixing it up there.
We're still heading along the river and we're about to take that right-hander you can see on the map.
Big acceleration ahead of the corner.
Lampaert launches a mini sprint to ensure QuickStep are first through that bend, and now they head into town. The Belgian team have the nose.
3km to go and now UAE punch their way to the front
Stybar's done a load of work controlling the break but now he's posted to the front again as QuickStep lead again with four.
2km to go
QuickStep continue to lead through that next bend and it's pretty much straight to the finish now
QuickStep lose numbers now and Bora take it up with 1.2km to go
Trains are running out of gas and it’s getting messy now. Alpecin have number and Lotto take it up now with 900m to go!
Alpecin hit the front now, but UAE come through now with Kristoff to lead out Philippsen
Ewan hits the front though! And there’s a big crash
Ewan wins it!
Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) wins the 2020 Scheldeprijs
The Australian hit the line first ahead of an angry Ackermann, with Coquard or Bonifazio third.
That was a messy sprint made even more messy by that crash. A rider from Riwal Securitas hit the deck really hard in the middle of the road. He's still down and does not look in a good way. He's receiving medical attention. Ivan Cortina crashed into him but is back on his feet now.
Replays show the crash happened as Ackermann moved out to launch his sprint. In scenes reminiscent of the Jungels-Higuita crash at the Tour, his back wheel cuts across the Riwal rider's front wheel and he hits the deck with his head taking a big impact.
1 Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto Soudal
2 Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
3 Niccolò Bonifazio (Ita) Total Direct Energie
4 Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept
5 Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
6 Jasper Philipsen (Bel) UAE Team Emirates
7 Amaury Capiot (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise
8 Arvid De Kleijn (Ned) Riwal Readynez
9 Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck-Quickstep
10 Itamar Einhorn (Isr) Israel Start-Up Nation
A fine win expands Caleb Ewan's palmarès yet further. It was a messy one, but he anticipated the Kristoff-Philippsen lead-out and got the jump and a few bike lengths. In truth he made it look simple.
Hearing that Ackermann has been disqualified for that incident I mentioned.
You can see the replay in this clip
Really bad from Ackermann en route to his second place. DQ surely... Ewan untouchable at #Scheldeprijs #SP20 pic.twitter.com/RN3z9n8vvZOctober 14, 2020
Awaiting confirmation of whether Ackermann has been relegated to the back of the bunch or full-on disqualified. Either way, he's been sent away from the podium, so we now have Bonifazio in second place and Coquard in third.
New top 10
1 Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto Soudal
2 Niccolò Bonifazio (Ita) Total Direct Energie
3 Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept
4 Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
5 Jasper Philipsen (Bel) UAE Team Emirates
6 Amaury Capiot (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise
7 Arvid De Kleijn (Ned) Riwal Readynez
8 Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck-Quickstep
9 Itamar Einhorn (Isr) Israel Start-Up Nation
10 Romain Cardis (Fra) Total Direct Energie
August Jensen is the rider who crashed hard on his head in the incident that has seen Ackermann disqualified. We have no update on his condition for now but we hope for the best as it looked very worrying indeed. That was clear from the fact that Ackermann's teammate Rudiger Selig stopped in the home straight, turned round, and ran back to tend to the stricken rider.
The end of the road? Cavendish pocketed his race number on the run-in there...
Is het dan toch de laatste koers van Mark Cavendish? De Brit haalt het nummerplaatje van zijn fiets in de laatste kilometers van de Scheldeprijs pic.twitter.com/cAWdOlY5J9October 14, 2020
Here's our report page, with results and photos
Let's hear from Ewan
"It’s a really big race, especially for sprinters, and it’s the first time that I’ve done this race. I wanted to come here, and we were really motivated, and it’s really important for the team to have a big win in Belgium and I’m happy that I could deliver that for them. I’m super happy with this win.
"For me [the final kilometre] wasn’t too bad because I was up near the front the whole time, and my team did a super good job. I was up near the front and away from all the trouble - and I saw when I was just watching on the TV that crash in the last part - so, I just wanted to be up near the front, out of trouble, and that is what the team did for me.
"It’s one of the biggest sprint Classics there is and I haven’t won a Classic of this level in Belgium before, so this is super nice. It’s important for me, to be honest, I think it’s more important for the team. We haven’t had a win in a Classic at this level for a long time, so they are going to be really happy. It’s my first time here and now my first win, so I’m super happy to have this on my palmarès now."
Jensen, thankfully, appears to be largely ok. Norwegian publication VG have spoken to the Riwal director Michael Skelde, who says: "It was a crash at high speed, and of course it looks ugly. But all in all, it will go well with him, even if he has to take a couple of days to recover.
"It does not seem that anything is broken, and we could talk to him and get in touch with him. Thank God it's not more serious. It will go well with him."
What a ride by @CalebEwan ! The Australian writes the 108th Scheldeprijs to his name with a strong sprint victory in Schoten 💥 🏆 #SP20 pic.twitter.com/krsw9W6n1yOctober 14, 2020
Ackermann's relegation hasn't gone down well at Bora...
"This was clearly miss-judged from the jury," says director Steffen Radochla. "Pascal found a hole and launched his sprint without touching any rider. Unfortunately, one guy touched his back wheel then and took a fall. But this was a racing incident we see quite often. From my view this is simply the wrong decision. It’s a pity for Pascal but also for all the other guys as they did a really good job today in the finale."
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