Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage from the Tour of Flanders.
The Tour of Flanders – Ronde van Vlaanderen – Vlaanderens mooiste – whatever you call it, it is here! We are expecting an especially interesting race today, with a new course and several hot favourites.
And they'e off!
Big crowds in Brugge to watch the neutralized start.
We have sunshine today, and lots of it. Fairly cool though.
They are finally out of the narrow city streets, which were lined with fans.
The race this year will exclude the Muur van Geraardsbergen, a very controversial move. We will have our finish in Oudenaarde instead of Meerbeeke, where the race has ended since 1973.
The field is of course still all bunched together awaiting the "real" start.
Any second now the racing will start. How long until we have our first escapee?
Now the race is officially open!
And a NetApp rider is the first to charge away!
It is Andre Schulze.
He is not getting away. Nor is anyone else, although there are lots of attempts.
A Katusha rider is the next to go,or at least to try.
The Katusha rider was Isiachev, but he has been caught again.
The race ends with three laps of a closing circuit which inludes the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg.
We start out today with 90 flat kilometers before the fun starts: the Nokereberg, Taaienberg, Eikenberg, Molenberg, Rekelberg, Berendries and Valkenberg climbs. And then comes that circuit course with more climbs!
Who is the top favourite here? Tom Boonen, who else? The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider is absolutely on fire this year, leading the pro ranks this season with seven wins, including Gent-Wevelgem and the E3 Prijs.
It's hard to believe but he only had two wins in the entire 2011 season.
Many are called, but few are chosen...... lots of riders trying to get away, but with no success so far.
Forgot to say earlier, this is Susan starting things off. Dan will be along later.
Ordinarily one would say that Fabian Cancellara is the other top favourite here today, but...... Yes, he won Strade Bianchi in impressive fashion, but...... Seems to be a pattern here.
We don't want to say the RadioShack-Nissan rider is struggling this year, but....... Or perhaps he is simply a victim of his own success?
The peloton has learned that it must not allow Cancellara to take off alone on one of his patented breakaways. If he gets away, the rest of them may as well pack up and go home.
He is a marked man now, and the field will do its best to send someone with him. Just look at Milan-San Remo and what happened there.
The same applies of course to Boonen. Both he and Cancellara will be marked today, and so we have the chance that someone else entirely might take the win.
A group of riders has established a very small gap. It includes Tyler Farrar of Garmin, who could be dangerous.
240km remaining from 256km
It is actually 15 riders and here they are: Anders Lund (SAX), Gert Dockx (LTB), Manuel Belletti (ALM), Pello Bilbao (EUS), David Boucher (FDJ), Vladimir Isaychev (KAT), Massimo Graziato (LAM), Pablo Lastras (MOV), Maarten Tjallingii (RAB), Tyler Farrar (GRM), Sven Vandousselaere (TSV), Baptiste Planckaert (LAN), Tom Veelers (ARG), Andreas Schillinger (APP), Daniel Schorn (APP)
The race was first held in May 1913, with 27 riders (and five support cars). The next year had only 47 riders. It was not run again until 1919, due to World War I.
For many years the race was held on the same day as Milan-San Remo, which is why only one non-Belgian rider won until the date was changed in 1949.
230km remaining from 256km
The escape group now has 29 seconds. Not a huge gap, one must say.
And here the list of riders in tehe group, with "real" team names instead of those confusing abbreviations:
Anders Lund (Team Saxo Bank), Gert Dockx (Lotto-Belisol), Manuel Belletti (AG2R-La Mondiale), Pello Bilbao (Euskaltel-Euskadi), David Boucher (FDJ-Big Mat), Vladimir Isaychev (Katusha Team), Massimo Graziato (Lampre-ISD), Pablo Lastras (Movistar), Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda), Sven Vandousselaere (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator), Baptiste Planckaert (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony), Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano), Andreas Schillinger (Team NetApp), Daniel Schorn (Team NetApp)
225km remaining from 256km
Well, well, perhaps this group will actually do something. The gap is nearly a minute now.
The only team with two riders in the break is NetApp. The German ProConti team is really mixing it up with the big boys this year. They dominated the recent Settimana Internazionale and have gotten a number of impressive wildcard invitations, including to the Giro d'Italia.
Four riders have won the race three times: Fiorenzi Magni, Achiel Buysse, Eric Leman and Johan Museeuw. Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder have the chance to join that elite circle.
They are two of only six riders to have won this race two years in a row. Boonen did it in 2005 and 2006, Devolder in 2008 and 2009.
225km remaining from 256km
225km to go and a gap of 2:24.
Boonen or Cancellara? Our Barry Ryan took a look at the duels between the two over the years. Read about it here.
Not at all surprisingly, Belgian riders have won this race more than riders of any other nationality, 67 times. Italy has 10 wins, the Netherlands 9, France 3, Germany 2, Switzerland 2, and the UK and Denmark 1 each.
3:05 now. Have we noticed that there are no RadioShack or Omega Pharma-Quick Step riders in the break?
Remember Team Sky? They aren't sending big names like Cavendish or Wiggins, but how about Eisel, Flecha and Boasson Hagen? The British team has had a low-key build-up to this race, but don't forget about them!
They are really zipping along here, covering 48.7km in the first hour.
Ten riders have won both Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the same year. The most recent to accomplish that have the opportunity to do so again this year: Tom Boonen (2005) and Fabian Cancellara (2010).
47km remaining from 256km
The gap is growing again, now up to 3:42. Seems to be the group of the day - or at least the group of the early part of the day.
Michele Bartoli won here in 1996. He has the fondest memories of the Muur van Geraardsbergen and is sorry to see it gone. By the way, he too sees today as a race between Boonen and Cancellara.
The gap keeps on going up, now at 4:20.
Philippe Gilbert – wait a minute, that name sounds vaguely familiar. By this time last year he already had three wins before finishing ninth in this race before exploding into greatness in the Flemish Classics.
This year? “It’s just difficult to know where I am now and what I can do," Gilbert said.
Looks like it will be a while before there is any real action in the race. Right now the field is just content to let the field go, and there is still a ways to go before the climbs start.
Can you imagine throwing nails on a road where a major bike race is taking place? Of course not. Sadly, not everyone thinks like we do. Someone wants to protest the change in route by endangering the riders's life and limb. Hard to believe.
190km remaining from 256km
190km still to go and the gap is at 4:55. We still have 40km to go before the first "helling", though.
Fabian Cancellara is riding a pretty nifty Trek Domane today. Of course Cyclingnews took a look at it!
It's hard to remember that Peter Sagan is still only 22 years old. But don't make the mistake of counting him out of today's race! He says he is ready to take on Boonen.
22 years old – yikes, how good will he be when he grows up?
“I coulda been a contender!” Oh wait, that is something else. But who are the contenders here today? Other than Cancellara and virtually all of Omega Pharma-QuickStep? Fortunately for us, Dan Benson considered that very question right here.
175km remaining from 256km
The gap is at 5:40 and Omega Pharma-QuickStep has now sent four riders to the head of the field to lead the chase.
We have a new team in the race today. Or at least, a team with a new name. Project 1t4i has become Argos-Shimano.
That's it for me at the moment. Here's Dan, to take you up into those lovely climbs!
Susan again: Omega Pharma-QuickStep has pulled out of the lead work. Who will take over?
Garmin-Barracuda has taken on the responsibility. With a little help from Rabobank and Astana.
165km remaining from 256km
The chase work -- by whomever -- seems to be working. The gap has fallen for the first time and is now down to five minutes.
Here is Dan now. Really. This time for sure!
Dan here, taking over from Susan
Just a quick correction from earlier. Daniel Schorn is Austrian. And not German.
@angryasian Sun, 1st Apr 2012 11:25:11
Here's our startline gallery from this morning. Flanders is perhaps the best race start in the world. The crowds are huge and in an age of modern sportsmen being so removed from fans it's great to see them get so close to the public, and from talking to the riders at the start there's a real sense of genuine excitement.
148km remaining from 256km
Our break, consisting of Anders Lund (Team Saxo Bank), Gert Dockx (Lotto-Belisol), Manuel Belletti (AG2R-La Mondiale), Pello Bilbao (Euskaltel-Euskadi), David Boucher (FDJ-Big Mat), Vladimir Isaychev (Katusha Team), Massimo Graziato (Lampre-ISD), Pablo Lastras (Movistar), Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda), Sven Vandousselaere (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator), Baptiste Planckaert (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony), Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano), Andreas Schillinger (Team NetApp), Daniel Schorn (Team NetApp) has a lead of 5:31, with 148km left to race
Lund and Dockx have been in a number of breaks this spring but right now they're being chased down by a GreenEdge led bunch. The peloton have just gone through the feedzone.
Easy race for QuickStep so far. Garmin are keeping tabs on the chase but not assisting GreenEdge.
@Vaughters Sun, 1st Apr 2012 11:27:35
And the break have hit the first climb of the day, the Taainberg. The two Netapp riders hit the front and set the pace. From there we've got another 15 climbs to go.
After somehow managing to fly under the radar in the build-up to his second place finish at Flanders last year, Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is on everybody’s list of favourites this time around, even if he was adamant that Tom Boonen is his team’s leader.
The French champion was reluctant to saw where he might go on the offensive this afternoon. “We have a lot of possibilities,” he said. “I hope chance smiles on us. The Tour of Flanders is a great race.”
@mitrutdocan Sun, 1st Apr 2012 10:47:14
Grey skies, little if any wind at the moment.
The gap has dropped as the bunch race towards the first climb, it's down to 4:44
A crash near the back of the field on the climb but nothing serious. Boom on the front, taking some revenge for his crash on this very same climb in Omloop. Garmin, with Bauer, are also near the front.
Cancellara ran wide on the corner coming into the climb but he recovered well enough.
@_Pigeons_ Sun, 1st Apr 2012 11:42:44
Onto the Eikenberg now for the 15 leaders. Farrar is sitting tight near the back of the group. He's finished in the top ten here before, on a different course, but he's one of the biggest danger men present. It gives Garmin no pressure to chase and therefore save their legs for later in the race. Once we get onto the finishing circuits we should expect the likes of Omega and Liquigas to really take charge of the race.
GreenEdge's Goss was dropped a few minutes ago in a small group but it looks like he's back on now.
Fabian Cancellara lines up as the man most likely to break Flemish hearts by denying one of the home favourites victory, but he was careful to pay tribute his hosts at the start in Bruges.
139km remaining from 256km
And Quickstep send two men to the front. The bunch are back on fairly wide and exposed roads. These are best places to move up but it does take risks. It's a lot harder to move up position on the climbs.
Vacansoleil have now positioned their riders on the front of the bunch. Can Devolder pull off a real shock and take the race? He's a two-time winner after all.
And Flecha has a flat rear tyre and has to wait for a car.
No teammate with him.
Goss still isn't back with the bunch yet, he's chasing hard.
@Plastic_Peloton Sun, 1st Apr 2012 11:40:29
I feel your pain.
There's another crash at the back of the bunch, Koren hits the deck but he's swiftly back up.
Interesting, Terpstra has a problem with a wheel and a teammate stops and helps. That's a sign that the Dutchman is a protected rider today.
Flecha has made it back to the bunch, but he's right at the back for now. The bunch hit a 800m stretch of cobbles, and they're all strung out. Lastras has a small gap on the riders in the break but it's just a few meters.
Tuft sets the pace in his Canadian national kit. While Devolder is hanging near the back. Already. Vanmarcke takes a new bike.
@_Pigeons_ Sun, 1st Apr 2012 12:05:36
One of the man leading the way in the peloton on the Eikenberg was Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM). Last year the Belgian finished seventh and this year he’s got a lot of ambition to improve on that result as he said at the start in Bruges. “The form is good so without bad luck that should work out, top-5 should be possible. Chavanel, Boonen and Cancellara are the favorites. Whethere I will anticipate or follow depends on the sensations during the race but especially Chavanel will not break away without me,” Leukemans said.
@Vaughters Sun, 1st Apr 2012 12:08:16
Konovalovas has a flat but is being paced back by his team car. Europcar - they've had a poor start to the season - are on the front now.
Lund leads on the Molemberg with Veelers very quickly taking over for the Argos-Shimano team. Back in the bunch, Gilbert is on the front, Bennati on his left.
Tankink has crashed and there's a split in the fielf. And another crash and a Shack rider comes down. The bunch are now on the Molenberg. Rabo, with Boom then Breschel, Cancelara has a flat.
Boom is riding well, Eisel is also near the front and looking comfortable.
Boom's pace has caused a split. He's away with a number of riders including Hayman.
Cancellara has to stop again and adjust his bike.
@inrng Sun, 1st Apr 2012 12:17:00
@thek2 Sun, 1st Apr 2012 12:03:39
It wouldn't be a Belgian race without Cancellara having some form of mechanical trouble.
Farrar takes a pull on the front of the break, their advantage 4:02
Matthew Hayman (Sky), Tomas Vaitkus (Greenedge), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Aliaksandr Kyuschinski (Katusha), Alexandre Pichot (Europacar) are some of the riders in the second group on road.
The six riders in the counter-attack are Matthew Hayman (Sky), Tomas Vaitkus (Greenedge), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Aliaksandr Kyuschinski (Katusha), Alexandre Pichot (Europacar) and Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil-DCM).
That's a pretty strong group.
Devolder has been caught off the back of the bunch, to pace too high at the moment.
110km remaining from 256km
Sagan is back with his team car. It looks like a problem with his bike. Either that or bad legs.
QuickStep put three men - including Chavanel on the front - they're trying to make it as hard as possible for Cancellara to move up and for Devolder to come back.
The peloton begin the Rekelberg, not the toughest climb on the course but the pace remains high. The break are on the Berendries.
@_Pigeons_ Sun, 1st Apr 2012 12:36:18
The Hayman group have come back and the Australian is with Boasson Hagen, Stannard, and Flecha. Eisel is there too.
Gilbert makes another cameo on the front of the bunch as well.
106km remaining from 256km
106km left and the gap is 3:22
Barry Ryan may or may not have placed 40$K of CN funds on Devolder last night.
Hayman has another slight gap on the field.
While home hopes rest of Tom Boonen, his former QuickStep teammate Filippo Pozzato reckons that the Belgian is not quite at the same level as he has been in the past.
“I think that the number one favourite is Cancellara. It might seem strange for me to say it, but in my opinion Boonen isn’t as strong in other years. Everything’s going well for him because he’s still fast in the sprint. He’s certainly very strong, of course, but there were other years when he’s been stronger.”
Always a shrewd analyst, Pozzato expects that Cancellara and Omega Pharma-QuickStep would share the burden of controlling the race according to the circumstances. He hinted that Farnese Vini-Selle Italia will have more of a watching brief until the finale.
“I think that QuickStep is the strongest team of all so they’ll have the biggest responsibility as a team. Cancellara is the strongest rider of all, so he’ll have the biggest individual responsibility. We have to be see how they play the cards and try and make as few mistakes as possible to try and beat them.”
Like many, Pozzato feels the new finale will be significant harder than the previous finish in Meerbeke, and he also noted that the atmosphere would be even more intense on the race’s two principal climbs.
“I think it’s definitely a lot harder, and it will be more spectacular too. When you think of all the people who will be there on the Kwaremont and Paterberg, it’s going to be like being in a stadium. It’s going to be harder than other years, because here if you make a mistake you’ll pay for it dearly later on. All those climbs in the finale will become every tougher, so you just have to try to make zero mistakes and have super legs.”
100km remaining from 256km
Sagan has a new bike. No fall, it seems like a mechanical problem. He doesn't have a single teammate waiting for him though.
The break are on the Valkenberg and there are few tired legs out there no longer taking any turns. The bunch have eased off slightly, well aware of the tough section they have coming up. Once over the Valkenberg, there's roughly a 20km gap until the Kwaremont.
@_Pigeons_ Sun, 1st Apr 2012 12:54:48
Another group has slipped clear of the field, as up ahead Lastras has a bike change.
O'Grady and Hayman both present but the bunch isn't letting this one go and it's coming back together.
@_Pigeons_ Sun, 1st Apr 2012 12:58:41
92km remaining from 256km
Hushovd and Bennati try and go clear but they're brought back. Sutton takes a chance and goes on the other side of the road. He gets a gap but he's on his own.
More bike problems for Lastras, who has to stop and change again. The Spaniard is coming back though.
There's an Euskaltel car in the middle of the field. A lot of riders arent too happy. Not the best bit of driving we've seen, although I really cant talk. The car finally has enough room to come through and go around the bunch. Phew.
Netapp are giving it a go with their car now. They're probably car that's couldn't move up to the break earlier in the race and this is their only chance.
Astana take over on the front of the bunch as we head towards the Kwaremont. Cancellara is at the back, perhaps another problem with his bike or a puncture. He's coming back though.
@jshanley Sun, 1st Apr 2012 13:05:33
None of the cycling ones.
Team bosses can complain about safety and radios all they want, but really, some of them drive like idiots.
81km remaining from 256km
81km left and the gap is 2:40
Maes brings Boonen back to the bunch. Not sure what the problem was there for the former world champion.
Katusha, Astana, Rabobank all pressing on the front of the bunch, trying to get the best position before we hit the Kwaremont. Watch where Klier goes, he knows these road so well. Teammates call him Satnav.
77km remaining from 256km
Our Topsport rider in the break has popped as we hit the Kwaremont for the first time today. The bunch are 1:47 behind. Farrar sets the pace.
Half the bunch come to a complete standstill on the climb, with Boom just rejoining after a flat.
Hayman leads them on the climb. Breschel, Van summeren, Hagen and Ballan all near the front.
Boonen is following Cancellara about 20 riders back, Pippo on Boonen's wheel.
It's everyman for himself in the peloton as they fight for position on the climb.
Cancellara orders a man to the front and moves up with him. Gilbert is also here.
74km remaining from 256km
74km to go and the gap to the break is 1:34
Farrar let Lund take a pull but he's back on the front of the break again as we close in on the top of the Kwaremont.
The bunch now at the foot of the Paterberg.
The favourites have all moved a bit closer to the front, Pippo, Cancellara, Breschel, Boonen all there.
And an attack from Marcato.
Devolder again right at the back of the bunch and almost falling over another rider.
There are maybe 60 riders left in the peloton after those two climbs with BMC taking the race by the scruff of the neck now.
A Sky car has broken down on the cobbles and gets a push.
69km remaining from 256km
69km to go and the gap is 1:15. Marcato is back with the bunch it seems.
The Koppenberg is next. We'll see who really wants to win the race in the next few kms. Back with the cars and there's a massive jam after the Sky car broken down.
Freire is also near the front of the bunch. Surely today's race is too hard for the Spaniard?
Gilbert on the front with Hincapie and Ballan, BMC are at least showing their faces on the front . So far Omega have turned away from doing too much work on the front.
The break is now on the Koppenberg.
Lund and Lastras share the pace but they're really grinding away. Lund looks over and gets out of the saddle and there are some gaps appearing in the lead group again.
Three BMC riders spread out along the front of the bunch as they get to the climb. Again it looks like Breschel is on the front as well.
Cancellara is on Gilbert's wheel. Boonen a little further back.
And there's an attack. Chavanel attacking over the top just as the pace slowed and Bennati was straight on his wheel. The battle begins.
61km remaining from 256km
Cancellara has crashed.
He has teammates around him but it doesn't look good. He's come down in the feed zone. He sitting up but it looks like his race is over.
Now he's lying down again.
The bunch are now on the next climb but we'll bring you more on Cancellara as we get it.
It's certainly the end of the race for the RadioShack man. Up ahead and QuickStep move up to the front of the bunch with BMC. Steegmans take over.
This changes the race entirely. Boonen and his men will have to control the race a lot more from now on.
Hayman, Tankink and Vansummeren surge forward but they're brought back.
59km remaining from 256km
59km to go and the gap is 1:44.
Hushovd sets the pace on the front of the bunch but he can't do anything when Europcar attack and riders come over the top. The bunch are picking up riders from the break. Vellers the latest one.
Passing live over to Barry Ryan now.
55km remaining from 256km
A shade under 10km to the next helling, the Kruisberg, and the pace is really beginning to pick up ahead of the grand finale. Thomas Voeckler is the Europcar rider off the front of the main peloton, but he'll hardly last long alone out there.
Voeckler is duly swept up, and it's Thor Hushovd setting the pace on the front, with Omega Pharma-QuickStep's Chavanel and Steegmans keeping a close eye on proceedings. With Cancellara out of the picture, it will be fascinating to see who steps up to go toe to toe with Omega Pharma.
The remnants of the break have 51 seconds in hand over the main group, but the gap is beginning to ebb away in spite of Tyler Farrar's best efforts.
Christian Knees is now trying to string things out in the main group. Sky have been quite active today, even before Cancellara's crash, with Hayman particularly impressive.
It's still a little stop-start in the main peloton, however. No team seems particularly keen to expend too much energy ahead of the daunting finale. Remember there are six hellingen inside the final 46km of racing.
It's still a little stop-start in the main peloton, however. No team seems particularly keen to expend too much energy ahead of the daunting finale. Remember there are six hellingen inside the final 46km of racing.
Assan Basayev (Astana) shoots off the front of the main peloton and Anthony Geslin (FDJ-BigMat) comes across for company as they approach the Kruisberg. 42 seconds the gap to the break.
Signs of life from Philippe Gilbert as the Kruisberg begins. He's led the chase across to Bassayev and Geslin, bringing Bjorn Leukemans with him.
Voeckler, Oscar Gatto and Yaroslav Popovych have also come across with Gilbert and Leukemans. An interesting chase group is forming on the Kruisberg, with no representation from Omega Pharma-QuickStep.
Leukemans forces the pace on the Kruisberg, helping his group make come to within touching distance of the break, but the main peloton is breathing down their necks. It looks as though it will all come back together ahead of the second ascension of the Kwaremont.
Meanwhile, Matti Breschel (Rabobank) looked in difficulty at the back of the peloton on the Kruisberg.
45km remaining from 256km
A lull in proceedings in the main peloton with 45km to go. All the remaining favourites are together in a group of about 50 riders, while David Boucher (FDJ-BigMat) has slipped clear alone, 10 seconds in front.
Matti Breschel looks to have recovered as Maarten Tjallingii sets the pace on the front of the peloton for Rabobank.
Nasty looking crash for Sebastien Langeveld (GreenEdge). He tried to move up along the side of the peloton by riding on the pavement and a fan stepped out in front of him. He lost a wheel and hit the ground hard.
Langeveld is sitting up at the roadside, but his challenge and probably his race are over.
40km remaining from 256km
David Boucher's rally peters out with 40km to go, and he accepts the congratulations of his teammate Frederic Guesdon as he is assumed back into the peloton. It's all back together at the foot of the Oude Kwaremont.
Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) hits the front on the Kwaremont. The race starts here. It's a long, steady effort from the Belgian, but it's lining things out. Ballan, Boonen and Pozzato are next in line behind him.
Chavanel comes over the top of Vanmarcke closer tot the top of the Kwaremont, and Peter Sagan is promptly onto his wheel.
Chavanel now sets the pace on the Kwaremont, with Sagan on his wheel. Ballan is looking very comfortable in third, and Boonen and Pozzato are similarly untroubled just behind. Further back, the pace is beginning to tell.
Chavanel's pressing has brought around 20 riders clear. This is the first major selection of the race. Vansummeren, Gatto and Luca Paolini are also up there.
36km remaining from 256km
Paolini looks to get clear of that select group ahead of the Paterberg, and he brings Flecha and Pichot clear with him. The trio has 6 seconds over a group of around 20 riders as they approach the base of the climb.
Flecha hits the front as the Paterberg begins, but the real drama is behind, as there is a crash in the main group. Vansummeren hit the barrieres and a number of riders were caught up including Sagan and Breschel. Boonen, Terpstra, Chavanel and Pozzato avoided the fall and are leading the pursuit of the leaders.
Boonen, Vanmarcke, Pozzato, Ballan, Chavanel, Terpstra and Sagan have joined the leaders in front. An 11-man group on the front with three Omega Pharma-QuickStep riders and Fabian Cancellara out of the race. It's the ideal situation for Patrick Lefevere's men.
Susan Westemeyer will take over live all the way to the finish in Oudenaarde.
Susan back again. I am just as happy to have missed all those crashes and hope we don't have any more from here on. Ok, guys?
To recap, we have about 11 riders in a lead group. Edvald Boasson Hagen and Oscar Gatto are chasing, but not looking lucky at the moment.
Another big field is giving furious chase, but frankly, we suspect that our winner will come out of the lead group, which contains most if not all of the remaining favourites.
27km remaining from 256km
It looks like our group is: Tosatto, Ballan, Boonen, Chavanel, Terpstra, Flecha, Guarnieri, Paolini, Sagan, Vanmarcke, and Jerome.
The latter has now taken off and has a small lead.
It looks as if he has 10 seconds on the Boonen group, with EBH and Gatto at 40 seconds.
Nope, EBH/Gatto have been absorbed by the chasing field.
They are getting close enough to make Boonen nervous.
Jerome is pulling away, with 17 seconds on the Boonen group, the field at 45 seconds.
Terpstra tries to jump from the Boonen gropu, takes Chavanel and a few others with him.
The group looks to be coming back together.
Jerome slurps down a power gel, to give him the extra energy to get away.
Must be working, he now has 20 seconds.
The lead group is: Matteo Tosatto (Team Saxo Bank), Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), Jacopo Guarnieri (Astana), Luca Paolini (Team Katusha), Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) and Vincent Jerome (Team Europcar)
They have a 13 second gap to leader Jerome. The Sky-led field its at 33 seconds.
Boonen sends Terpstra up the road. Boonen really does not what to come to the finish line with all these people around him, he wants his teammates to help dump them all.
Terpstra, who just won Dwars Door Vlaanderen, has caught Jerome, and the rest of the group is not far away.
The chase group has now caught the Boonen group. Marcus Burghardt of BMC leads the chase of the two leaders now.
19km remaining from 256km
Burghardt is now nearly to the two leaders, with the field a few seconds behind him.
We are approaching the Kwaremont again.
2200m long, with 1500m cobbles, and a few really steep sections.
Ballan leaps into the lead and bounces his way up the cobbles.
Ballan is building up a nice little lead.
Pozzatto and Boonen aren't happy with this development and take off in chase.
17km remaining from 256km
Some major gaps developing. Pozzato and Boonen have now caught Ballan.
Wouldn't that be a dream finale, with those three sprinting for the win?
A group of 10-15 are now 14 seconds behind the trio. Luca Paolini jumps to try to catch them.
Paolini is really driving along and is now only 7 seconds back. But using up a lot of power along the way...
Ballan, Boonen and Pozzato are working well togehter on this narrow lane.
More cobblestones: the paterberg!
Again, Ballan leads the way.
Up they go, it is really steep right here.
Is Boonen falling back?
No, he is with the other two again as they leave the cobbles.
13km to go. Sagan has jumped from the chasing field, but may have left it too late.
Paolini has been caught, and Sagan is now at 21 seconds.
Gallopin drops out of the chase group with a mechanical. RadioShack-Nissan is really having no luck today.
The three leaders are stll working well together, but keeping a wary eye on each other as well.
Popovych leads the small chasing group, and they will get Sagan soon.
The gap is now 25 seconds. We think Sagan can forget it.
Sagan is dogged, though, must one say.
9km remaining from 256km
Nine km and now 28 seconds.
The three leaders are all taking turns with the lead work, doing perfect tradeoffs.
Who is the better sprinter, Ballan or Boonen?
Ordinarily one would pick Boonen, but he had some problems on that last climb. Will he be missing that last little bit he needs to win a sprint?
Sagan gives up and falls back into the field.
7km remaining from 256km
With 7km and 40 seconds, we think the three leaders will be the podium.
The gap is now 52 seconds!
Anther potential disadvantage for Boonen is that he is up against two Italians. Would they have a motivation to work together against him?
Ballan is leading and looks back to Pozzato to take over, which he does.
4km remaining from 256km
Four km to go, and the gap is 1:03.
Will one jump? Or will it cme to a sprint?
With 3km, Ballan tries to go. The others were right there with him, though.
These three know each other so well, they have a pretty good idea of what each will do.
Ballan goes again, and Boonen closes the hole, with Pozzato behind him, but letting the Belgian do the work.
Two km to go now.
Both Boonen and Ballan have won this race, of course But not on this course, of course.
Pozzato leads, and slows thigns down. So Ballan jumps immediately. All go with him under the last km marker.
Cat-and-mouse games now. Slow riding...
500 meters. who will open?
Ballan still ahead, then boonen, then Pozzato.
Ballan opens, but Boonen powers his way past.
It is too obvious to Ballan that he has no chance and he hangs back.
Boonen takes it!
Pozzato stayed with him to take second, with Ballan third.
Is Boonen the Phil Gilbert of 2012?
All nice and fancy, our top three:
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma - Quickstep
2 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Farnese Vini - Selle Italia
3 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing
Yet another win for Omega Pharma-QuickStep. They are really dominating things this year. Incredible.
Greg Van Avermaet won the sprint of the field.
Boonen now becomes only the fourth man ever to win this race three times. The last to do so was Johan Museeuw.
The field finished 38 seconds back. As we said, Van Avermaet was fourth and Sagan was fifth. That will not make the Liquigas rider happy.
Looks like three Omega Pharma-QuickStep riders in the top ten: Boonen, Terpstra and Chavanel. How muh more dominant can you be?
This most recent victory moves Boonen to the head of the UCI WorldTour rankings. Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge) drops to second.
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma - Quickstep
2 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Farnese Vini - Selle Italia 0:00:00
3 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing 0:00:01
4 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing 0:00:38
5 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:38
6 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma - Quickstep 0:00:38
7 Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha 0:00:38
8 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar 0:00:38
9 Matti Breschel (Den) Rabobank 0:00:38
10 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma - Quickstep 0:00:38
That's it! What could have been more exciting?
We hope that none of the crashed riders were seriously injured, and hope they all get well again soon.
Join us again next week for Paris-Roubaix. And thanks for reading along!
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