Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage from the 2014 Tour of Flanders.
We're in Belgium once again for the second major Monument of the season. The good, the bad, the ugly of professional cycling are all here for what is one of the most eagerly anticipated one day races on the calendar. The roll out is in less than 30 minutes, the official start around 45 minutes away, and already there's tension and excitement in the air.
The riders have already started filtering through the main cobbled streets towards the sign in.
If you've not been to Flanders before it's a great experience, perhaps the best start to a race in the world. The riders and team buses are held around 200m from the main square and in a pen. It doesn't sound too glamorous and it's not, but it gives fans - and us journalists - great access to the riders.
The peloton then filter down, through the crowds, a wall of noise to match the Paterberg, towards the main square where they're greeted by a huge stage and even bigger crowds.
The biggest cheer of the day rings out and you know who it's for, Tom Boonen of course. The three-time winner waves to the crowd, plays down his chances - as he has all week - and then joins the rest of the peloton.
He crashed out last year, but won the race in 2012 and on two other occasions so he knows how to win here.
Bradley Wiggins is next up. Hands on hips as he shares a few words with the crowd over the loud speaker. He's a bit of a wildcard for today's action. The British press are certainly playing up his chances for this and Roubaix but he was drafted into the race at the last minute due to an injury to Ian Stannard. He's raced here before though, so he at least knows the roads. Can he handle the aggressive racing style and does he have the distance in his legs? They're the two big questions for today. Most likely is that he'll look to support Geraint Thomas, who has been flying this spring.
Less than ten minutes until the peloton roll out and begin the 2014 Tour of Flanders. Sagan whistles through the crowd, surrounded by his Cannondale henchmen, and signs on. Not try and go too far into the realms of total hyperbole but this could be career defining day for Sagan.
Have they saved the best until last? Cancellara hasn't signed on yet but the 2013 winner has left the Trek Factory team bus. Devolder has already signed on, the two-time winner, and Belgian national champion, is a good bet for the win today. He's looked strong in recent races and if the main favourites are watching each other then he can jump up the road and take advantage. Again.
It's almost a full house on the start line. One man not here is Pat McQuaid. He was on the startline of the race last year. The crowds are huge though, fans of all ages trying to catch a glimpse of their favourite riders. Most of the support here of course is for the Omega Pharma team though, with a number of fans trying to get Boonen's signature.
Looking over the crowds there are quite a few umbrellas out there. We’ll try and get a full weather report later this morning but rain had been expected for today’s race.
The Women's race also takes place today. I'll try and bring you a few updates as and when. It's the third round of the world cup and we caught up with Tiffany Cromwell before the race. You can read the story on the Specialized-lululemon rider and team here.
But the men are off! There's neutralized zone that they should cover within the next 15 minutes or so but after that the flag will drop and the official start of the race will begin. And to think, we almost did live coverage from De Panne last week...
Cancellara did sign on by the way, in case you were worried about that.
One rider that didn't make the sign in was Heinrich Haussler. The Australian pulled out of the race yesterday due to illness. He'll look to bounce back later in the spring but Sylvain Chavanel will lead the IAM Cycling team today.
Light drizzle on the riders at the moment, but temperatures are a respectable 13 degrees. They'll be happy with that but they'll want to roads to dry up before they hit the cobbles.
When asked about his chances this morning, Wiggins said, "You never know in the Tour of Flanders. It's always full of surprises."
You've probably noticed that we've ramped up our video coverage in recent weeks, and if you're just waking up, here's a short video on the top 10 riders to watch in this year's Tour of Flanders. If we'd gone to 11, then we'd have included Devolder. We (I) missed Nuyens off our list in 2011 and look what happened there, so we're just trying to cover all our bases.
Nico Mattan is up early and has popped onto Twitter. His prediction for today: 1 Vanmarcke 2 Sagan 3 Cancellara.
Who do you think will win today. Let me know on Twitter.
The bunch are rolling along at the moment, about 2km from the official start to the race. Expect attacks from the gun as teams try and throw riders into the early break.
Official: The 2014 Tour of Flanders has begun.
And the attacks begin straight away. First it's Lampre trying to send a rider up the road. There's a moment of hesitation and then more riders try and bridge to the move.
An outsider for today is Lampre's Filippo Pozzato. He's struggled for results and form so far this year but was second to Boonen in 2012. We caught up with him at the start.
"My first Flanders was in 2003. I’d fallen in San Remo shortly before that and I had stitches everywhere and I shouldn’t have ridden, but they made me ride all the same. The emotions you feel when you arrive in the square to sign on in the morning, well it’s just something that no other race gives you."
"I’d done 5th at Het Volk the month before. I was up there with Johan [Museeuw], [Paolo] Bettini and [Frank] Vandenbroucke. They were all up there, fuck. Flanders is a race that gives you something particular when you ride it. When you’re on the muri with all those people, it’s special. Not so much because of the size of the crowds but because of the warmth and the passion that they have. That’s the beauty of this race and this land."
We asked him about the route. The first section is flat, with no climbs an no real or clear obstacles for the peloton. It just drains their legs for the later action.
When asked about the opening 100km, Pippo said, “It’s boring,” he laughed. “It’s boring because nothing happens. The only part of Flanders I don’t like is that bit, actually, but it’s part of the race. Flanders is Flanders and everybody’s nervous, everybody wants to go in the break. Teams don’t want to work so they want to send someone in the break, but everyone is the same. All the big teams want to put a rider up there so they don’t have to pull later, but everyone is the same. It’s like at the Worlds when there’s a Spaniard in a break there has to be an Italian too. Every team has the exact same instructions, but they can’t all go in a break.”
The move from Pozzato's teammate has been brought back and now we have Movistart's Alex Dowsett on the attack.
Having left Brugge, the peloton are heading South. They'll hit Ooskamp soon, before continuing towards Izegem, where the US Development team are based, then it's Kortrijk, where a number of the teams are based during the cobbled classics.
The move from Dowsett has been brought back so after 9km of racing the peloton is together. It's only a matter of time before the right move goes clear though and the main favourites give it the nod and sit up.
The course has changed this year, and we'll run through the new-look route later this morning but here's what Pozzato had to say about route changes in general. Remember, he was second in the race in 2012, the year when they changed the route last time. Here's what he said about the 2012 changes.
“I think it became a lot more spectacular for the public when they changed the route two years ago because they get to see the riders go past three times on the Kwaremont. It’s great for us, too, because it’s like entering a stadium and so that’s really beautiful.
“They said that taking the Muur from the race would change the race completely but that wasn’t true because in the end it was me, Boonen and Ballan in front, the three strongest guys. So I think it’s always the riders who make the difference, and if we can do something to make this sport more beautiful for the public, then we should do it.
We can’t stay too attached to traditions or we risk getting stuck in the past. Clearly, Flanders is an historic race, San Remo is an historic race, but we have to look for solutions to make them more spectacular too. I’m in favour of things like that, it’s only right that things progress. Obviously you don’t want to turn everything upside down, but I like the new Flanders with the circuits on the Kwaremont because it offers something new to the public. I mean, my father and my friends who came to see the race stood there because it was a great place to see the race and the whole spectacle go past three times. You see how the race develops.
Before the action hots up, take a chance to look at this retro gallery of famous Flanders race images. It's stacked with photos from the 80s, 90s, and 00s.
238km remaining from 259km
The race is still together after 21km of racing but we have our first rider to abandon with Luke Durbridge, who impressed in De Panne, crashing out.
Back to the race and we have two pro bikes that have been analysed by tech tzar James Huang. He's already had look at the bike Taylor Phinney will be riding in his first Flanders (it's here) but here's Huang's report on Peter Sagan's bike.
Richard Blanckensee @richblanckensee 3m
@dnlbenson Van Avermaert from Devolder and Boonen - Levefre chopper stint was to divert attention
In case you missed it, here's video proof of what you can do in life when you're Patrick Lefevere. If only we could afford the music rights to Ride Of The Valkyries....or Budgie the Little Helicopter.
It's still together in the main field. A few little digs off the front so far but nothing is sticking.
We do have so many great videos on our Youtube channel though, and you subscribe, for free, right here.
Here's one of our inCycle videos on the 'Legends of the Tour of Flanders'.
219km remaining from 259km
Almost 40km into the race and there's still no break from the peloton. The rain is still falling and Boonen is near the front of the peloton at the moment. For the second time in a row he comes into the race with Peter Sagan ahead of him in terms of the race favourites.
"There can always be a surprise winner," Sagan told Cyclingnews at the start.
"Who? I don’t know. I want to see the last time up the Kwaremont and Paterberg, then we can see who is the surprise. We can speak for two days about it, but in the race it’s always different. This new course is harder than last year and there’s not much time to recover between the climbs."
"I like the Kwaremont and Paterberg because it’s the final and I know the climbs very well. The Koppenberg is also good but there’s more of a problem to be in front there. If someone puts their foot down in front of you, it can be hard to get by. "
It looks like a persistent attacks have worked and we now have a group of leaders. Phinney is in there for BMC. Will the likes of Cannonale and Omega let that one go? Paolini is also there.
Aleksejs Saramotins is trying to bridge over the leaders and it looks like there are 10 riders up the road already. They have a gap close to 20 seconds so this is the first moment of real action in the race.
Both Kreders are in the lead move, Impey as well but the realisation that Phinney and Paolini have made the jump could spark the peloton into action.
That might in fact be Palini in the break. We're just waiting on confirmation over race radio.
Durbridge is on his way to hospital for a check up. He was sitting up when we say him leave the race though. We'll bring you more as soon as we have it.
There have been a few crashes this morning but as far as we know Durbridge is the only rider out so far.
The leaders have quickly pushed out their advantage to four minutes.
IAM Cycling's Martin Elmiger is out. Another victim from the early crashes that have plagued the race.
A run down of who is in the break:
Stig Broeckx (Lotto Belisol), Davide Appolonio (AG2R), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge), Raymond Kreder (Garmin-Sharp),Wesley Kreder (Wanty Group), Alexander Kuchynski (Katusha), Andrea Palini (Lampre Merida), Taylor Phinney (BMC), James Vanlandschoot (Wanty Group), Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Romain Zingle (Cofidis)
That's a strong break for the race. It's an indication of what BMC are trying to do in terms of anticipate the moves later from Omega, Cannondale and Trek. Lampre, Katusha, and Lotto, who had a good race here last year. Also have a man in the move.
A rider that stands out is Kuchynski. He's been on the attack in this race before, during his Liquigas days, and he's finished second in Gent-Wevelgem before. Not a bad rider for Katusha to throw up the road for later.
Omega Pharma Quick-Step, Sky, Cannondale and Trek have all decided to hold off and save their powder for later in the race.
199km remaining from 259km
60km into the race and the leaders have 5'08. There are reports that Sep Vanmarcke was another rider to fall early on. He's still in the race though.
We caught up with Phinney before the start of the race. The American rider his taking part in his first Tour of Flanders and here's what he had to say about the team's game plan for the race:
"We’re 100 percent for Greg, and I’m just excited to be part of the team and I hope I can be up there like I was at Het Nieuwsblad."
"I’d like to make the selections in the finale. The last couple of years we’ve seen a pretty good group come in with 40-50k to go. The second time we do Kwaremont is where the race starts. Il’l try to figure prominently there and I’ll try to be on the offensive but it’s one thing to do say that, it’s another thing to do it."
"It’s a bit strange that it’s my first Tour of Flanders but they’re all roads that we know. We race Harelbeke, Het Niew, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and Eneco on these roads, so I’m definitely familiar with the parcours although maybe not as much as someone who grew up here."
Now Garmin have lost a rider and it's former Paris-Roubaix winner Vansummeren. He was also involved in the earlier crashes. That's a big blow for the American team.
Reports that a woman crossed the street in front of the race and that's what took out Vansummeren, and that's the crash that took down Vanmarcke.
Just a shade under 200km remaining and the break's advantage is back down to around four minutes.
The first of the 17 climbs today comes just after the feedzone with the peloton taking on the Oude Kwaremont. It will be a critical point in the race as it's the first chance for a selection to be made. It's vital that the contenders are near the front and stay out of trouble. The phrase is often used, but although you can't win the race at that point, you can certainly lose it. Expect the peloton to be racing full gas into the base of the climb.
Kortekeer is the next climb. It has a smooth surface and shouldn't cause too much trouble for the riders who stayed near the front. The next two climbs - the Eikenberg and Wolvenberg - could be a different matter though and could see the peloton split. The second of those climbs has pitches of around 17 per cent so it's a possible chance for teams to throw riders up the road for later in the race.
The peloton come off that climb and there are two cobbled sections, the first of which is over 2km in length. If you've been dropped on the first set of climbs it's going to be tough getting back to the bunch at this point.
The Leberg at around 160km has a section of cobbles on the approach and it's possible that Omega will be setting the pace at this point in order to test their rivals. They have arguably the strongest team here in terms of depth and they'll be looking to isolate Cancellara and Sagan.
The Valkenberg is next but it's quite an isolated climb so even if riders are in trouble at this poinit they should be able to make contact with the peloton. A lot may depend on the wind direction though as cross winds could destroy the field over the top of that climb.
Appollonio has punctured so the lead group is down to 10 riders.
170km remaining from 259km
170km to go and the leaders have 6'08 over the peloton.
The Kaperij and Kanarieberg both come between the 180-190km mark. There's a feedzone stuck in the middle and it's an ideal place for riders to quit the race if they've done their work or simply don't have the legs. After that the real action starts. The break should still be clear by this point but after this point ever single climb could have a major affect on the outcome of the race.
Just inside the final 60km the peloton will climb the Kwaremont for the second time but this time they'll take on the Paterberg straight after. It's another chance for riders to attack. It's a short climb but has sections at the top over 20 per cent. It's where Cancellara rode away from Sagan last year and although the winning attack won't be made this far out, there should be a major selection. For the domestiques it's about leading your man into the foot of that climb in the best possible position - in the first five riders. Any further back and you're taking a gamble.
By now the main contenders will have perhaps one or two teammates with them. If you're Boonen you might have more but the Koppenberg, Steenbeekdries, and the Taaienberg - where winning moves have gone clear before - are huddled together in the space of 10km. The first of those climbs, has a stretch of cobbles at over 20 percent.
In the race, Paolini has had a mechanical problem, and Cancellara has dropped back to the team car with radio problems. Thomas is near the front of the peloton and it looks like he was in the earlier crashes too.
The run up to the Kruisberg may see few riders make it back to the leaders but it's anyone's guess as to how many riders will still be in contention before the final climb of the Kwaremont and the Paterberg.
The leaders still have 6 minutes over the peloton but here's a gallery of images from the start.
Stybar has a mechanical now and has to slow down and wait for his team car.
A quick fix for the Omega rider and he's already chasing back through the team cars. It's a chance for the bunch to spread out over the wide double lane roads but the climbs will soon be upon then. 157km go to.
And the leaders have now hit the Oude Kwaremont for the first time. All together in one long line.
It's the two Wanty riders setting the pace, Kreder is bringing up the rear of the break.
The 10 leaders have 5'18 on the peloton as the road flattens and then rises again. The peloton take a tough left-hander and the back of the bunch come to a standstill. This is where positioning is so important. It's Omega on the front at the moment. They know when it's time to hit the front.
Boonen is up there, with Paolini, Wiggins and Thomas.
There's a lone Androni rider on the front as well. Savio will be pleased. As Boonen grabs a drink and relaxes on the bars but back near the rear of the field riders are sprinting to stay in contention.
Cancellara has pushed a man to the front of the bunch as well as the peloton close in on the first climb of the race.
And they've hit it. Trek, Garmin, Androni all have men on the front as Omega drift back slightly and save their strength.
The pace isn't high so once Boonen made sure he was out of trouble he took his men off the front.
They're back on the front again though and the pace is lifted straight away. Puccio has a flat and he'll have to wait for the Team Sky car to come.
Already a few riders are being distanced at the back of the bunch as the peloton swing left and back onto the flat, straight roads. The Paterberg is next.
There's no drop in pace though straight away and with 146km to go the gap is at 5'07.
Reports in that Dowsett has climbed off.
Sky though are moving up towards the front of the field. They'll have Knaven in the car and he knows these climbs as good as anyone.
As there's a mechanical for Hoogerland, who is now back and chasing through the team cars.
As Phinney drifts to the back of the break as they take the second climib of the day, the Kortekeer.
Impey had to stop for a mechanical as well but he's back with the break now. Breschel is calling for the team car. It looks like he's snapped his chain.
Omega are driving the field but FDJ are also near the front, perhaps working for Demare today. Can the Frenchman handle the distance and the climbs today?
Hoogerland has only just made contact with the back of the field, as Trek put a man on the front to help Omega with the pace setting. No sign from Sagan and his Cannondale teammates yet.
Wiggins is still near the front, making his mark on the race for Team Sky. He has Thomas close by and the British team will be hoping that the Welsh rider hasn't damaged himself too badly from the crash.
The peloton crest the top of the second climb, and are 4'33 down on the bunch with 136km to go.
A problem for Farrar at the back of the bunch but he's been given a push and he's back chasing. The bunch are strung out though as they hit another section of flat open roads.
Now they sit up and it allows for more riders to chase back and make contact. Omega are stretching the field on the flat sections, they're not allowing any let up as they want to keep their position ahead of the next climb. Hushovd is now waiting for the BMC team car.
A front wheel change as up ahead Phinney takes a turn on the front of the break.
And Phinney leads the break onto the Eikenberg.
A fast right hand corner for the peloton but they then sit up and look back to see who has made it. Omega are trying to make the race hard even at these early stages. Phinney is still on the front of the break as we see Sagan about 30 riders back in the bunch.
Trek lead us onto the Eikenberg and Hushovd is making contact with the bunch, Breschel has a new bike and is with him.
This just in from our team in the press room:
A witness told VTM that an older woman tried to cross the street and Vansummeren was unable to avoid a collision. Both Vansummeren and the woman were driven to the hospital. The woman seemed unconscious. The latest information came from Sporza where a doctor would have informed them that the woman is still alive but in critical condition.
The break have crested the Wolvenberg and the lead is at 4'16 with 125km to go.
Impey take the middle of the road, along the cobbles as Palini swings out and moves into the gutter. He then runs out of road and swings back into line.
And there's a crash for Jurgen Roelandts and he's on the ground. He was briefly on his feet but then dropped back down again. He looks out to me. He was on the podium last year.
That's a massive blow for Lotto and their hopes for today. Can Tony Gallopin step up?
It's still Omega on the front and the gap to the break is at 3'59.
Sagan is being ushered closer to the front by his Cannondale teammates. That's the first time we've really seen him today.
No footage of Roelandts but it looked like his day is over. We had made this video of his race bike for today.
As Peter Sagan pulls over for what looks like a planned bike change. He's now moving up back through the peloton. There has been a split though up ahead.
The bunch are on the long Kerkgate section of cobbles, it's over 2km in length. Lars Boom is at the back of the bunch and riding in the gutter. If you've just tuned in it looks like Roelandts, third last year, has crashed out of the race.
Correction: it was a wheel change for Sagan, not a full bike change.
BMC have moved Van Avermaet up towards the front as Van Emden has a wheel change too.
A swift left-hander for the field with the Molenberg coming up. It's Trek who push their way to the front, Cancellara's teammates taking over from Omega for the first real time in the race.
But it's an Omega rider who leads onto the climb. It's Boonen who is on the front and he has a little gap.
A climb where he does attack a lot and then he eases off and looks back to see who has followed.
A couple of riders have made it to him and Maarten Tjallingii has used it as a chance to attack. The cross-winds have picked up but the move has been brought back but Tjallingii has gone again.
Some problems for Langeveld who needs pacing back to the peloton.
113km remaining from 259km
The peloton are back together as up ahead the break hold onto a lead of 3'35 with 113km to go.
David Millar has brought Langeveld back to the rear of the bunch as the leaders hit the Paddestraat
But there's a big crash in the bunch with 112km to go.
And Devolder is one of the riders down.
He's up on his bike and has a teammate with him. Three Netapp riders are down, two from Cannondale. Sagan is safe.
And Omega are on the front so Devolder is going to need to make a big effort to come back.
Devolder is back on the bike and wants his team car. He gets a bit of a draft from a moto as the bunch hit the Paddestraat.
Omega have total control on the front of the bunch with most of the squad lined out on the front. There are splits all over the road due to that crash that took down Devolder.
And there's another rider down.
I think they hit a fan by the side of the road. It looks like a Trek rider.
It's Yaroslav Popovych. He's not getting up and that's two Trek riders who have crashes out. Devolder is still chasing but it looks like the race is over for Popovych.
That's another blow for Cancellara as Stijn Vandenbergh sets the pace at the front of the peloton and Tinkoff and Sky have moved close to the head of the action. There's a long stretch of flat roads before another cobbled section but Devolder needs to make contact soon.
Devolder is in the second main group on the road. He should make it back to though, the gap si around 100m with 103km to go.
Demol, Devolder's DS drives alongside and shouts out 'Dont panic'. It would have been great if he'd added 'we've got to keep our composure' but alas, no.
And now Tony Gallopin is down. He's crashed. Lotto are having a nightmare. The Frenchman is back up and riding but Sergeant will have his head in his hands.
Three Sky riders and Pozzato were in the Devolder group by the way.
Tony Gallopin is back with the team car and has a teammate waiting for him as up ahead the pace slows. 100km to go, the break at 3'12.
A quick wheel change for Offredo with a teammate helping him out. And now a crash for Sky.
It's Rasch who is on the ground.
He fell just as Devolder's group were making contact with the peloton as the break tackle another section of flat cobbles. Phinney on the front.
Offredo had made contact with the peloton too.
Zingle now sets the pace on the front of the peloton. The gap to the bunch is still over three minutes with 97km to go.
The break now hit the Leberg.
As the peloton hit their next section of cobbles. It's Omega on the front with Boonen and Terpstra still tucked in.
To watch a video on the top 10 favourites for today, click here.
As the bunch hit the climb and Omega to continue to set the pace and try and weaken the field. It's still a peloton of more than 100 riders as Hinault is dropped from the bunch. So make that around 99 riders.
The Frenchman had been ill with stomach problems so that's the end of the race for him.
Chavanel is still in the mix as Boasson Hagen and Luke Rowe drift towards the front of the peloton.
Ellen van Dijk is on the attack in the women's race. Cyclingnews' Sadhbh O'Shea spoke to her ahead of the race. You can read the story, right here.
Elia Favilli who fell earlier is back with the Lampre car to pick up bottles and food for his teammates as Cancellara is asking for a new helmet. He's not fallen though.
The Valkenberg is next on the menu.
A sheepish looking Devolder is near the back of the field with a couple of teammates. He needs to move up. As Cancellara stops for a natural break.
Impey leads the break onto the climb, the gap at 3'02. On this section the fans are behind barries, something that will be debated long after today's race.
Peter Sagan is being brought back to the bunch after a comfort break as Cancellara starts to make is way back through the team cars.
The main field are on a long descent section and the pace is still fairly relaxed as Knees sits on the front for Team Sky.
Sagan on the left hand side with four of his teammates around him.
82km remaining from 259km
82km to go and the gap is at 2'36.
Trek are the first team to start winding up the pace as they take a tight corner before the next sector of cobbles.
80k to go and there are just six riders left in the break. The peloton are at 2'28.
Impey sets the pace on the next climb, the Kaperij and it's meant that Van Landschoot is now struggling.
A gaggle of FDJ riders near the front now with Sky, Omega also close by. Pozzato and Boonen are riding near each other.
An AG2R rider, Gaudin has attacked through a feedzone. He' alone and clear the field.
Terpstra has taken a quick comfort break, another sign that the pace of the peloton is still fairly relaxed.
And Dillier has crashes. The BMC rider is up again though as another one of his teammates attacks.
The pace is starting to hot up with a few little digs off the front of the peloton. All the big favourites are sitting tight at the moment as there is still over 70km to go.
Trentin and Quinziato have started to go clear with 70km to and Eisel is trying to cover the move.
That's an important move for those three times. Trek will have to counter this. BMC in the driving seat with two riders up the road. The gap to the break is now at 1'26.
It's all unfolding on the Kanarieberg. Eisel is still to do a turn on the front as he recovers from chasing Trentin and Quinziato down.
And there's another crash. Into a lamp post. Katusha rider, one from Netapp, and a Lotto rider all down. One from FDJ too.
Isaichev is the Katusha rider and he's not moving at the moment.
Phinney is still driving the break, perhaps he doesn't know that he has a man chasing.
And it's all forced Cannodale to work for the first real time in the race. Tinkoff are also at the front and helping the chase. Cancellara moves up, along with Boonen.
Devolder is still near the back of the bunch and he's calling for the team car again. He looks hurt to be fair.
The second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont is coming up. Will Omega launch another rider up the road? They have the numbers for it.
And thre's another crash with a Wanty rider and an MTN rider down. It's the German Reimer.
Paolini was back at the team car and is now making his way back towards the front of the peloton.
62km remaining from 259km
Trek have now joined the chase along with Cannondale because the Eisel group is over a minute clear. The Oude Kwaremont is around 8km away.
It's Tinkoff who take things up just before the climb. 56km to go, the bunch are 1'17 behind the six leaders.
Giant Shimano have moved Degenkolb near the front now too. So all the favourites are getting ready for the climb. Thomas is there too.
It's Sky and BMC who hog the front and Kenneth Van Bilsen attacks.
He's made it up to the Trentin group in no time at all. On the climb it's Impey who sets the pace for the four leaders, two more riders have been dropped from the original break.
Just Phinney, Impey and Broeckx are left. and Eisel is losing ground.
The peloton are on the climb and the entire race is coming back together.
Trentin is looking good though as they're on the climb now. Chavanel is there, Sagan, Cancellara, Boom, Boonen.
And Trentin is now alone.
Cannondale are leading the field at the moment, Thomas looks good, as Quinziato and Eisel are back with the bunch.
Jens Keukeleire has made it up to Trentin as they get over the top of the climb. That's a good move from the Orica rider as they begin the winding descent towards the Paterberg.
Trentin and Jens Keukeleire have picked up two riders from the initial break but it's still Phinney, Impey and Broeckx who lead the race.
More riders are moving to the Trentin group but the peloton are closing.
And there's another crash. Devolder is down. Tinkoff rides have four riders involved.
Two BMC riders also down. As Phinney and Broeckx start to drop Impey on the Paterberg.
The Lotto rider has cracked as the peloton hit the climb.
Phinney is alone with Impey now chasing. The peloton are on the climb, Thomas in fourth wheel. Degenkolb also up there.
Wiggins in the front group but starting to struggle.
50km to go and it's a real war of attrition. Devolder is back up and chasing. He's almost back with the peloton.
Hushovd has gone backwards though.
The three leaders are over the climb and back together. Next up, the Koppenberg and the leaders have just 39 seconds with 48km to go.
There's been a major split due to that crash and the Paterberg with around 30 riders left.
Marcus Burghardt has jumped off the front for BMC. They'be been the most active team in the race so far. As Omega mass on the front of the peloton. They still have Boonen and Terpstra in contention. Sagan is there, Degenkolb too, Stybar, Thomas, Vanmarcke as well.
The second chase group has Sky and BMC on the front. No sign of Van Avermaet or Pozzato yet.
More riders are coming back to the bunch but that would have been a huge effort at this stage in the race. The leaders are close to the foot of the Koppenberg. Here we go.
The bunch are at 25 seconds and are about to hit the climb.
Impey leads the race and has a bit of a gap.
Omega on the front and Boonen near the front.
The break are insight as Boonen tests his rivals.
Four Omega riders on the front with Sagan and Cancellara looking at each other. Stybar marking them.
Omega turning the screw. Pozzato, Degenkolb still in the mix but Van Avermaet has lost a bit of ground.
Terpstra and Boonen made the difference there and only Imply is clear of the bunch. There's been another selection. Devolder is still on the climb but he's not giving up.
The Belgian champion is a long way back and now Terpstra makes a move on the descent and Cancellara has to answer the move.
43km remaining from 259km
Omega have the numbers at present but more riders may come back to the lead group. Impey has been brought back.
It looks like Cancellara is out of teammates as he takes on a drink. The pace has slowed a bit.
The pace is back up and a Tinkoff rider is looking to pull clear but Omega are chasing him down. Sky still have a couple of riders in the mix but Omega will dictate the action for a while yet.
Gatto is in the second group. He's trying to chase back but it's a really tough ask.
Sagan and Cancellara are both on their own and Omega know it. The Gatto group is at 9 seconds.
Steenbeekdries isn't a huge climb but at this stage in the race it's still going to hurt.
Stijn Vandenbergh is drilling it on the front of the main field though. It's going to be so hard to either come back or attack at this point. It's caused a split with Boasson Hagen and a Giant rider clear with Vandenbergh.
The Taaienberg is next up with 37km to go and Van Avermaet is trying to chase the Boonen group it seems. Groups are all over the road.
Boasson Hagen hits the Taaienberg and Van Avermaet is clear of the Boonen group.
And Vandenbergh has cracked and this is crucial as Omega are on the back foot for the first time today.
Boasson Hagen and Dries Devenyns are clear. Can Van Avermaet catch them?
It doesnt look like he can but we still have two riders clear with Dries Devenyns and Boasson Hagen having a 14 second gap on the bunch.
Omega need to react as they have the numbers numbers. They have the numbers in this split too and they start the chase.
There are less than a dozen riders in the Boonen group. Will Van Avermaet live to regret that attack? Degenkolb is stil in the group.
The two leaders have just 9 seconds.
There are four-five riders from Omega in the second group on the road, including Terpstra, Boonen and Stybar.
And the two leaders are sitting up. There's a Belkin rider there. It looks like Vanmarcke.
Omega have to get rid of Sagan and Degenkolb. Leukmans is also in this group. Van Avermaet too. Boonen is taking a turn as well. Sagan is just sitting in and waiting.
Gatto is at 40 seconds with a big chase group. Thomas is not in the lead group. He's in the Gatto group with Pozzato.
Dries Devenyns has now gone clear. But Omega shut the door straight away.
And Van Avermaet goes again. This is his second attack.
The lead group: Cancellara (Trek), Sagan (Cannondale), Boonen, Stybar, Terpstra, and Vandenbergh (OPQS), Boasson Hagen (Sky), Devenyns and Degenkolb (Giant), Van Avermaet (BMC), Leukemans (Wanty), Vanmarcke (Belkin) and Minard (AG2R)
Sagan move to the front but Boonen keeps him in check.
Vandenbergh is now with Van Avermaet. The Omega rider will not take a single turn.
Minard is now jumping clear and now Leukmans. Sagan is looking around for a reaction but it's too soon for him to play his cards.
Onto the Kruisberg and Sagan leads the chase. Degenkolb on his wheel.
Boasson Hagen is starting to struggle as up ahead Van Avermaet does all the work. Sagan increases the pace and Vanmarcke is now on his wheel.
Boasson hagen and Degenkolb are starting to fade.
The two leaders still have 26 seconds.
Degenkolb is still within touching distance but with Cancellara on the front it could be all over for the German.
Degenkolb and Boasson Hagen are back now with Van Avermaet and his Omega shadow at 22 seconds.
And wioth 26km to go Vanmarcke has attacked with Degenkolb going with him.
The next climb is coming up soon. The gap between the two groups is 26 seconds. Vanmarcke has been brought back.
As Sagan takes on a drink.
Vanmarcke goes again with a big move but it's Terpstra and Leukmans and now Vanmarcke together. Sagan at the back with Boonen.
It's touch and go but everyone in the race is on their knees suffering.
The Terpstra move has been shut down.
Leukmans is attacking again though.
The Oude Kwaremont is close.
Can Van Avermaet drop Vandenbergh? That's the big question at the moment.
The gap is out to 29 seconds now.
Minard has gone again. Boonen then marks an attack from Giant Shimano.
Minard has been closed down so it's the leading pair, then Leukmans, and then the Boonen, Cancellara, Sagan group.
Will Omega settle for this? Vandenbergh was struggling on the last climb, so surely they won't be too comfortable.
Finally Vandenbergh takes a short turn. And Paolini has made it to the Boonen group. That's a huge move.
It's coming back together. Pozzato, Thomas, Gatto all coming back into the race possibly.
And there's an attack from Paolini with 19km to go.
Cannondale have the numbers again.
Paolini has been brought back by the foot of the climb.
18km remaining from 259km
And Cannondale are setting the pace with Pozzato in second wheel. Thomas is also there. The climb is about to start.
Vanmarcke is close to the front as well.
Onto the climb for the two leaders.
Can Van Avermaet go clear? It's a massive ask with the bunch at 24 seconds.
Leukmans is at 23 seconds, the Boonen field at 38.
Cancellara is there, Sagan too but are Omega struggling. Wiggins is there too.
Kristoff is leading the bunch now.
It looks like Boonen has been dropped.
And Cancellara and Vanmarcke are clear with 16.9km to go. Omega have blown up.
Cancellara leads with Van Avermaet 22 seconds clear. Vanmarcke is on Cancellara's wheel. For now.
Sagan is leading the chase with Stybar, Terpstra and Bossan Hagen in the mix.
Over the top and Van Avermaet is still clear with Vandenbergh. Cancellara and Vanmarcke are at 13 seconds. Sagan's group at 25 seconds.
Will Vandenbergh start to ride? Surely he cant just wait for Cancellara and Vanmarcke to come over. But it's all coming back togther with Boonen and Degenkolb catching the Sagan group. The Paterberg is the last climb. We could still have a big sprint too.
The two leaders have 12 seconds on Cancellara and Vanmarcke.
Into the final 15km of racing. Vandenbergh and Van Avermaet have 12 seconds on Cancellara and Vanmarcke.
Onto the final climb.
Cancellara and Vanmarcke can see the leaders.
And Vanmarcke has attacked.
Cancellara can respond but Van Avermaet has clear and alone.
They catch Vandenbergh and the lone leader has just 10 seconds. Can he hold on with 12km to go?
Now the gap is down to 9 seconds as they take the descent before the run-in to the finish.
It's now just 7 seconds with 11.5km to go. Van Avermaet hsa given it everything.
He's looking back and can see them coming as Thomas attacks the third group and Boonen tries to take him back. And now Sagan has gone with 10km to go.
Van Avermaet has been caught.
So we now have four leaders on the road. Is that Kirstoff coming over to the leaders as well?
It is Kristoff. The Milan-San Remo rider is on his way.
The four leaders are wokring well though but they need to keep Kristoff at bay.
The Katusha rider is at 8 seconds.
Panic has set in. Terpstra has attacked from the bunch but it looks like these four riders will decide the race. Kristoff is at 11 seconds.
I think the Katusha rider is starting to sit up and wait for Terpstra. These four now have 20 seconds with 8.5km to go. Vandenbergh isnt' taking any turns though.
And Kristoff has joined forces with Terpstra. The gap is 26 seconds with 7.5km to go though.
There's another group with Boonen, Thomas, Leukmans and Langeveld out on the road.
As Cancellara and Vanmarcke trade turns. If it comes down to a sprint it could be very, very close.
The four leaders now have 33 seconds.
Into the final 5km of racing. It's surely one from these four leaders. Vandenbergh, Cancellara, Vanmarcke and Van Avermaet.
Now just 4km to go.
And Vandenbergh attacks. Van Avermaet takes him back.
And these two are clear again.
jsut 2.9km and Vanmarcke has to chase. It's coming back together. Has Cancellara out smarted Vanmarcke again?
All together and now Cancellara makes a little move but it's not enough.
1.8km and the gap is 24 seconds.
They're all watching each other.
Cancellara is on the front.
1km to and they swerve out all over the road and Vandenbergh goes.
He's brought back and we're into the final 500.
Van Avermaet is on the front.
300 to go.
Cancellara at the back and he opens up.
And Cancellara takes the win in the sprint.
The defending champion comes out on top in the four man sprint.
He got the jump on his rivals and beat Van Avermaet into second. Vanmarcke has to settle for third.
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing
2 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
3 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
4 Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team
5 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha
6 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team
7 Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team
8 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky
9 Björn Leukemans (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert
10 Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Garmin Sharp
Perhaps he wasn't the strongest but he used his experience and his tactics were spot on. Faultless, simply, in the way that he made one major move on the Paterberg, did the required work, made Vanmarcke bring him back to the leaders, and then had the best sprint after a gruelling race.
What great race though. You can find our report, results and images, right here. Thanks for joining us today.
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