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The peloton is gathering in Terneuzen for what promises to be a memorable edition of Scheldeprijs. Rain, snow, hail and - above all - wind have been forecast, and there is a strong chance that the bunch could be shattered into echelons in the exposed opening section before the race crosses from the Netherlands into Belgium. Scheldeprijs is traditionally the sprinters' classic, but the fast men will have to work harder than ever to earn the right to contest victory in Schoten this afternoon. 

Snow was general all over Belgium yesterday, and there were even concerns about the viability of holding the race. Those worries centred largely on the availability of the Dutch police to accompany the peloton in the opening kilometres after the start in Terneuzen, and race director Scott Sunderland earlier confirmed the event would go ahead. "We had to wait and see, but we just received confirmation that our 109th Scheldeprijs has been given the green light. We are allowed to start as planned and the race will follow the planned route," Sunderland told the Belga news agency.

While Scheldeprijs goes ahead, Groupama-FDJ will not be on the start line. The French squad announced this morning that they have pulled out of the race after a team member tested positive for COVID-19. French champion Arnaud Démare was among the contenders for victory this afternoon. Stephen Farrand has more here.

Nacer Bouhanni is also a non-starter today, his Arkea-Samsic squad has announced. Bouhanni has been subjected to odious racial abuse in the days since Cholet Pays de Loire, and in an interview with L'Equipe on Tuesday, he outlined some of the prejudice he has faced over the past twenty-five years. "Following recent events, Nacer Bouhanni isn't at the full capacity needed to take the start of Scheldeprijs," his team said on Twitter.

Bouhanni had already been extremely reluctant to take the start of La Roue Tourangelle on Sunday after a week of constant racist abuse on social media following his clash with Jake Stewart at Cholet Pays de Loire. Arkea-Samsic manager Emmanuel Hubert persuaded him to ride, and Bouhanni took second in the sprint behind Arnaud Demare, but he has decided not to participate today. A full two days after Bouhanni had highlighted the issue, the UCI finally deigned to condemn the racist abuse in a statement this morning. 

Scheldeprijs gets underway at 12.45 local time. Having been spared a team presentation due to the miserable conditions, the riders are now beginning to emerge from their team buses and head for the start line.

Despite the absence of Bouhanni, Démare and 2020 winner Caleb Ewan, there is, as ever, a long list of sprint talent in the field at Scheldeprijs. Sam Bennett lines up as the favourite in a Deceuninck-QuickStep squad that also includes three-time winner Mark Cavendish. Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Elia Viviani (Cofidis), Cees Bol (DSM), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka Assos), Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-KTM) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) are all among the contenders – but the wind conditions this year mean that a bunch sprint is not even remotely guaranteed.

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With victory at the Tour of Flanders, E3 Harelbeke, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Brugge-De Panne, Deceuninck-QuickStep's spring is already a resounding success, but they can finish their cobbled Classics campaign on a high here. Bennett and Cavendish give them two sprint options, while the squad also includes Michael Mørkøv, Shane Archbold, Florian Sénéchal, Bert Van Lerberghe and Iljo Keisse.

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There is a tailwind in these opening kilometres, which means that the pace is very high but there is, as yet, no scope for creating echelons. There are plenty of changes in direction ahead, mind, so it would be a surprise if this peloton makes it to the finishing circuit around Schoten intact.

A dark grey sky that could have been lifted straight from a Jacques Brel song hangs low over the Scheldeprijs peloton, but the anticipated rain and hail has yet to materialise. 

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Lotto Soudal and Deceuninck-QuickStep are present in numbers at the head of the race and they are piling on the pressure in a bid to open a gap for the front group.

The peloton has broken up into three echelons, each separated by 10 seconds or so. The initial split may have been caused by a crash, but the gaps could be padded out by the wind conditions.

Four riders have abandoned following the crash that contributed to the split: Frederik Frison (Lotto Soudal), Ward Vanhoof (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Florian Maitre (Total Direct Energie) and Kristoffer Halvorsen (Uno-X Pro Cycling).

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There are 50km remaining in the inaugural women's Scheldeprijs. The peloton broke up early on in the wind but there has been a regrouping of sorts since. 

Local favourite Michael Van Staeyen won't reach Schoten. The EvoPro Racing rider has been forced to abandon after his earlier crash.

Bora-Hansgrohe are also contributing to the pace-making in the front group, which is around 20 seconds clear of the second group on the road.

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Meanwhile, three more riders have abandoned: Matteo Pelucchi (Qhubeka Assos) and the DSM duo of Niklas Markl and Martin Salmon.

In the women's race, Daniek Hengeveld (GT Krush Tunap) has escaped alone and she has a lead of half a minute over the peloton with 44km to go. 

Two-time Scheldeprijs winner Fabio Jakobsen is set to make his return to racing at the Tour of Turkey, which gets underway on Sunday. The Dutchman suffered serious injuries in his horrific crash at last year's Tour de Pologne, but Deceuninck-QuickStep doctor Yvan Vanmol revealed the news on the Vals Plat podcast earlier this week. Jakobsen is due to hold a press conference tomorrow to confirm the news. Read more here.

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There are 34km remaining in the women's race, where lone escapee Daniek Hengeveld carries a lead of just under a minute into the final two laps of the finishing circuit.

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The peloton stretches out into a long line once again. None of the cracks in the line have widened into gaps just yet, but the tension, like the pace, is high.

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An elite group of 13 riders is in front, with a lead of 15 seconds or so over the first chasers. The leaders are: Brent Van Moer (Lotto Soudal), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Michael Schwarzmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Marcus Burghardt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Michael Mørkøv (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Norman Vahtra (Israel Start-Up Nation), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Max Walscheid (Qhubeka-Assos), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), Jonas Rickaert (Alpecin-Fenix) and Clément Russo (Arkéa-Samsic).

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Into the final 6km in the women's race, where the stage looks set for a bunch finish as Hengeveld is about to be caught by the peloton.

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The second group already appeared to be losing ground on the baker's dozen out in front, and now Tim Merlier and Alexander Kristoff have crashed in this second group. They are quickly back on their bikes, but their chances of seeing the front of the race again are severely diminished. 

Lorena Wiebes (DSM) has won the inaugural women's edition of Scheldeprijs, beating Emma Norsgaard (Movistar) and Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Travel & Service) in a bunch finish in Schoten.

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It appears that neither Merlier nor Kristoff succeeded in making it back to the sqecond group after their earlier crash, and they are thus likely now in the third group on the road, 1:45 down on the leaders.

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The beginning of live television pictures helps to clarify some of the earlier information that emerged from the race. It's worth noting that Nils Politt is among the 13-man leading group, meaning that Bora-Hansgrohe have four men in this move, which is still 22 seconds clear of the chasers and now 1:56 ahead of the bunch.

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The front two groups merge, meaning that Bora-Hanstgrohe and Deceuninck-QuickStep each have five riders at the head of the race. This group is some 1:56 clear of the peloton. 

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After the exposed roads in Zeeland, there is rather more foliage to offer shelter on this part of the course. The rain has thus far held off, but the wind has helped to break up this race and eliminate many sprinters from contention long before the finish. Cofidis lead the peloton, now some 2:15 down on the 30 leaders. It looks to be all over for Viviani, Kristoff, Merlier and Degenkolb.

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Both race radio and the on-screen graphics missed another rider in this front group, and a fast finisher to boot: Marc Sarreau is up here with his AG2R-Citroen teammate Stan Dewulf. 

Bora-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-QuickStep seem happy to find common cause and tee up a sprint duel between Pascal Ackermann and Sam Bennett in Schoten. Deceuninck-QuickStep set the pace over the cobbles at Sint Jobsesteenweg, with a lead of 2:06 over the Cofidis-paced peloton.

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Beyond Bennett and Ackermann, there are plenty of established sprinters in this group. Nizzolo, Philipsen, Bol, Sarreau, Van Poppel and, of course, Bennett's teammate Cavendish all carry a turn of pace. 

Florian Senechal leads the front group over the cobbles at Broekstraat for the first time. They will traverse this 750m sector three more times, and this might serve to shake loose some of the fast men closer to the finish. 

Eduard-Michel Grosu (Delko) attacks from the peloton after the cobbled sector, but the Romanian certainly isn't going to make up a two-minute gap on the 30 leaders by himself.

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As the rear of the race reaches the finish line on Churchillaan for the first time, several riders avail of the opportunity to climb aboard their team buses. 

UAE Team Emirates finally begin to ride at the head of the peloton, 2:16 down on the leaders, but it's surely too late to bring Kristoff back into contention. The Norwegian had made the second group (now merged with the first) when the race split up, but suffered the misfortune of crashing out of it in the company of Tim Merlier. 

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Mark Cavendish is a three-time winner of this race and he has come close to victory on a couple of occasions this season, but Sam Bennett will surely be Deceuninckl-QuickStep's anointed one in the likely event of a sprint finish. It will be interesting to see what role Cavendish plays in teeing up the sprint, given that Michael Mørkøv will surely be Bennett's last man. 

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UAE Team Emirates lead a reduced peloton of beaten men through the finish line, still 2:05 down on the break. Two laps of their fruitless chase remain.

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A reminder of the men in this front group, where Deceuninck-QuickStep and Bora-Hansgrohe have five riders apiece: Brent Van Moer (Lotto Soudal), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Michael Schwarzmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Rüdiger Selig (Bora-Hansgrohe), Marcus Burghardt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Florian Sénéchal (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Bert Van Lerberghe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Michael Mørkøv (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Max Walscheid (Qhubeka-Assos), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), Jonas Rickaert (Alpecin-Fenix), Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix), Clément Russo (Arkéa-Samsic), Marc Sarreau (AG2R-Citroën), Stan Dewulf (AG2R-Citroën), Gleb Brussenskiy (Astana Premier Tech), Jonas Koch (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Norman Vahtra (Israel Start-Up Nation), Cees Bol (DSM), Luca Mozzato (B&B Hotels-KTM), Evaldas Siskevicius (Delko), Dries Van Gestel (Total Direct Energie), Jan-Willem Van Schip (Beat Cycling), Luuc Bugter (Beat Cycling), Piotr Havik (Beat Cycling) and Soren Waerenskjold (Uno-X Pro Cycling).

Other sprinters to watch in this group include Marc Sarreau and Danny van Poppel. It remains to be seen, however, who will try to deny the fast men here. Brent Van Moer, for instance, is Lotto Soudal's lone representative and not noted for his finishing speed.

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Burghardt has matched Senechal's work rate, and the German comes through once again. They have one more crossing of the cobbles at Broekstraat still to come. A few drops of rain are beginning to fall, but a full-blown shower might hold off until after the race finishes. 

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The precipitation has not held off after all... Sleet is beginning to fall heavily over the finishing circuit. There will be plenty of riders in that chasing peloton silently wishing they had climbed off when they came past the team buses with a lap to go.

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Burghardt takes over as they come off the cobbles for the final time. Still no attack from the break, though De Moer is now visible towards the head of this group.

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Cavendish is sitting on Sam Bennett's wheel for the time being, and they are both tucked in behind Van Lerberghe and Morkov. Bora-Hansgrohe, meanwhile, are queued up behind the Deceuninck-QuickStep delegation.

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Deceuninck-QuickStep's sprint delegation are now starting to make their way up through the group, with Bora-Hansgrohe following them. Senechal and Burghardt, meanwhile, continue to find common cause at the front. 

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