Live coverage of the 2017 Tour of Flanders.
The day of days has arrived. The start in Antwerp is new, but the Muur is back (albeit in the wrong place) and the Ronde is still the Ronde. The 2017 Tour of Flanders gets underway at 10.30am local time with the neutralised start, with the peloton set to reach kilometre zero at 10.45. 260.8 kilometres and 18 climbs separate them from the finish in Oudenaarde.
The Muur is back, albeit in the wrong place, while the vicious Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg finale remains in place for the sixth successive year. The running order of climbs is as follows:
Oude Kwaremont (115 km)
Kortekeer (126 km), Eikenberg (133 km)
Wolvenberg (136 km)
Leberg (145 km)
Berendries (149 km)
Tenbosse (154 km)
Muur van Geraardsbergen (165 km)
Pottelberg (183 km)
Kanarieberg (189 km)
Oude Kwaremont (205 km)
Paterberg (209 km)
Koppenberg (215 km)
Steenbeekdries (220 km)
Taaienberg (223 km)
Kruisberg (233 km)
Oude Kwaremont (243 km)
Paterberg (247 km).
There are also five additional cobbled sectors:
Lippenhovestraat (84 km)
Paddestraat (86 km)
Holleweg (136 km)
Haaghoek (142 km)
Antwerp is bathed in pleasant spring sunshine this morning and the temperature is a manageable 11 degrees, which will rise 16 degrees in Oudenaarde come the afternoon.
The teams have been riding one by one to the signing-on podium, and the loudest cheer of the morning has just reverberated around Antwerp's Grote Markt as a certain Mr. Boonen reports for duty...
I have been reliably informed that Tom Boonen received a "full Icelandic clap from the crowd." Sounds painful but it won't stop him from riding today in his final Tour of Flanders. This will news to many, but Boonen is retiring after Paris-Roubaix next week. Meanwhile, his teammate Philippe Gilbert speaks to Michel Wuyts on the rostrum. "We've got a very strong team. It's great to be here at the start. These races don't lie."
Boonen speaks: "I woke up thinking it was Monday. Then I saw Gilbert next to me. That was a bit of a bummer. The race is still ahead of me."
As well as the raucous cheers for Boonen, there was, apparently, a smattering of boos for Niki Terpstra, which seems to be a willful misreading of the Gent-Wevelgem contretemps with Peter Sagan last week. I can't imagine Terpstra or Quick-Step are overly concerned...
The world champion Sagan duly arrives at the podium with the Bora-Hansgrohe team and is his usual glib, pre-race self. "It's hard to predict the future. Many people want me to finish on the podium, so I'll try," Sagan says. The crowd cheers.
Sagan's Bora-Hansgrohe team are the last to sign on, and the riders begin to assemble on the start line, though there are still some television interviews for the home favourite Boonen and the man the home crowds expect to carry their hopes this afternoon, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC).
The peloton rolls out slowly from Antwerp's Scheldekaaien for the neutralised start of the 101st edition of the Tour of Flanders.
The consensus seems to be that there are three five-star (or three-star, depending on which Flemish newspapers rating system you prefer) contenders for this Tour of Flanders: Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan and Philippe Gilbert.
Van Avermaet shook off his fear of events with his Olympic gold medal last summer, and his clinical victories at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem are further proof of his progression - in years past, he could have contrived to find a way to squander winning hands in those races. And yet, the Ronde is the Ronde... As good as Van Avermaet has been this spring, he will be judged on how he fares today and/or next Sunday at Paris-Roubaix.
This day a year ago, Marc Madiot was quoted in L'Equipe saying that Peter Sagan "doesn't need to win in order to exist." The last two weekends have proven the point. Sagan was outfoxed by Michal Kwiatkowski at Milan-San Remo and he threw away his own chances at Gent-Wevelgem to scupper those of Niki Terpstra, but the world champion dominated the headlines after each race, and much of the reporting afterwards was sympathetic - if not fawning - towards him. Win or lose, it looks a sound investment for Bora.
A propos of Sagan, the world champion is one of many to have stopped to answer a call of nature before the bunch reaches kilometre zero. As soon as the flag drops, we can expect a flurry of attacks. The early break at Flanders is part of the raison d'etre of some of the wildcard teams...
Over at Quick-Step, Philippe Gilbert seems the man most likely, though a team with Boonen, Terpstra, Matteo Trentin and Zdenek Stybar is not short on options. Gilbert at this Ronde puts one in mind of Zinedine Zidane at the 2006 World Cup. After cutting an at times glum figure when deployed out of position on a team of galacticos at BMC, Gilbert has been reanimated in national colours this spring - though he will hope this particular World Cup final ends more happily than Zizou's in 2006.
260km remaining from 260km
The flag drops and immediately a group of six riders featuring Mark McNally (Wanty-Gobert) punches its way off the front. It would be a surprise is the first move stuck, but the sextet has opened a small gap.
256km remaining from 260km
Mark McNally (Wanty-Gobert), Oliviero Troia (UAE Emirates), Julien Duval (AG2R La Mondiale), Stef Van Zummeren (Veranda's Willems Crelan), Michael Goolaerts (Veranda's Willems Crelan) and Julien Morice (Direct Energie) have a lead of 24 seconds over the peloton, but there are still more riders trying to bridge across from the main peloton.
254km remaining from 260km
Edward Planckaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and André Looij (Roompot) are attempting to forge across. The bunch, meanwhile, has fanned out across the road and seems happy to grant these escapees their freedom. The gap to the peloton is 1:10.
252km remaining from 260km
1:43 the gap now, with the peloton content to amble along through these early kilometres.
250km remaining from 260km
We now have eight riders at the front, as Edward Planckaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Andre Looij (Roompot) have caught the leaders. 2:30 the gap to the peloton.
247km remaining from 260km
Planckaert and Looij are chasing the leaders, but they are some 50 seconds back. The main peloton, meanwhile, is 4:30 behind.
245km remaining from 260km
UCI inspectors had their ipads out this morning, and reportedly scanned the bikes of every rider in the Tour of Flanders peloton before the start.
241km remaining from 260km
A few years back, Filippo Pozzato sat down with Cyclingnews and talked us through the various key points of the Tour of Flanders. The first 100 kilometres are stressful, right? "Nah," Pozzato said. "They're just boring." The Italian is among the riders slumbering in the main peloton as the break's gap nudges beyond six minutes. It usually takes far longer for the day's early break to establish itself at the Ronde, but this has been a relatively painless, straightforward opening to proceedings.
240km remaining from 260km
And then there were eight. Planckaert and Looij make it across to the break, which is now 7:10 clear of the peloton.
Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac), so impressive in the Ronde in 2014 and 2016, has had a trying campaign thus far. The Belgian was hampered by illness at E3 Harelbeke last week, and was cautious about his prospects at the start in Antwerp. "I don't know if I'm healthy. The podium is possible when I feel good," Vanmarcke said. "I need to stay away from the action for the first 200 kilometres. It's up to me then in the final 50 kilometres."
237km remaining from 260km
BMC, Quick-Step and Sky all have riders towards the front of the peloton, but no one team has picked up the reins of leading the chase just yet. 7:10 the gap.
Team Sky have made little impact on the cobbles thus far this spring, but Luke Rowe was bullish about his prospects at the start. "I was fifth last year and I hope to do better today," he said. He agreed that Sagan, Van Avermaet and Gilbert were the favourites. "Those three are very strong, but the Classics are unpredictable. You have to race your own race."
230km remaining from 260km
A reminder of our eight leaders: Mark McNally (Wanty-Gobert), Oliviero Troia (UAE Emirates), Julien Duval (AG2R La Mondiale), Stef Van Zummeren (Veranda's Willems Crelan), Michael Goolaerts (Veranda's Willems Crelan), Julien Morice (Direct Energie), Edward Planckaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and André Looij (Roompot). They have a gap of 7:30 over the peloton.
227km remaining from 260km
As the race trundles towards Zogge, hometown of Olympic champion Gouden Greg, the break's lead stretches out above nine minutes.
224km remaining from 260km
Manuel Quinziato sits near the front of the bunch for BMC, but they remain content to allow the leading octet their head. The gap edges north of ten minutes, and now stands at 10:30. Peter Sagan avails of the relaxed pace to drop back to his team car and divest himself of some additional clothing.
221km remaining from 260km
The break's lead hits 11 minutes, and this landmark nudges the peloton into action. BMC have stretched things out and are looking to prevent this gap from extending further.
Peter Sagan came under fire during the week for what seemed an utterly unnecessary body check of Maxime Vantomme (WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect) during Gent-Wevelgem. The Slovak's apology during his press conference yesterday wasn't exactly at the profuse end of the spectrum. "For sure I didn't do the body check, or whatever you call it, on purpose," Sagan he said. "I think in that moment I wanted to go in the front, and my lever from the bike got stuck under the saddle of another rider and then after I lost my balance and went onto the left side, but it was not on purpose. What can I say? I'm sorry if I did something wrong, but there are worse things in the group happening." Sadhbh O'Shea has all of Sagan's pre-Ronde thoughts here.
215km remaining from 260km
The slight injection of urgency in the main peloton has made no inroads into the advantage of the eight leaders thus far. 11:15 the gap as the race reaches the village of Donk.
Plenty of cheers in Berlare for local boy Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale), who was so impressive at E3 Harelbeke last week. It will be interesting to see how he copes with the extra distance in the Ronde this afternoon.
Our escapees covered 42.7 kilometres in the opening hour of racing - the peloton rather less. 11 minutes the gap as Bora-Hansgrohe begin to lend a hand to BMC at the head of the bunch.
207km remaining from 260km
In Belgium, they've been counting Tom Boonen's final days as a professional since the turn of the year. Tommeke has just eight days (well, seven a bit) and three races (two and a bit) left before retirement. He hasn't really been a force at the Tour of Flanders since he won it for the third time in 2012, and Paris-Roubaix seems more tailored to his talents at this juncture in his career, but the boy from Balen is determined to make an impression in his final Ronde. Patrick Fletcher has the full story here.
203km remaining from 260km
It is now six years since the Tour of Flanders swapped the Muur-Bosberg finale for the current climax over the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. That 2011 Ronde was one of the most thrilling in recent memory, with a seemingly unbeatable Fabian Cancellara crumbling on the Muur, before fighting back to power the winning break clear on the run-in to Meerbeke, where Nick Nuyens lived up to his sniper moniker by snatching a surprise win. Five years into the new course, it's fair to say we haven't had the anything like the same number of twists. The strongest man has won each year, and only in 2014, did an inventive rider (Van Avermaet) truly threaten to upset the pre-race favourite (Cancellara).
196km remaining from 260km
The break trundles through Erpe, still with a lead of 11 minutes over the peloton.
190km remaining from 260km
The Muur is back on the Ronde route this year, albeit some 95 kilometres from the finish, and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) does not believe it will prove an especially pivotal moment in the race. "I think it's nice to have the Muur back in the parcours, but I don't think that it will really have a decisive factor," Van Avermaet said. "It takes us a little bit out of the way. The parcours from the Muur to Oudenaarde is not really attractive. It's too early to go for sure, where are you going to go?" Read the full story here.
184km remaining from 260km
The break's advantage has dropped slightly, to 10:40. The increase in pace in the peloton is due, no doubt, to the warnings crackling through radio earpieces about the Ronde's first section of cobbles at Lippenhovestraat in a little under 10 kilometres. The Paddestraat follows immediately afterwards.
178km remaining from 260km
Manuel Quinziato (BMC) and Andreas Schillinger (Bora-Hansgrohe) swap turns at the head of the bunch to keep the break's lead under control at around 10:30. The race, very understandably, has yet to ignite.
Jens Keukeleire, second at Gent-Wevelgem last week, is a notable absentee from the Orica-Scott team today. The Belgian has opted out due to illness, with an eye to Paris-Roubaix next week. "It’s definitely a sad loss for us. Jens made the decision so that he can recover for Roubaix," his teammate Luke Durbridge said at the start. "We’ll miss his experience, he was also in great form with his Gent-Wevelgem second place. It’s a bit of a shame but we have to do what we have to do."
Durbridge has been very impressive indeed on the cobbles this spring, placing fourth at both Dwars door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke, and the Australian seems keen to follow a similar playbook today and get up the road ahead of the finale. "I have to make the right move and try to go early. I think that if I wait for the last time or even second last time up the Kwaremont then when the big guys like Sagan and Van Avermaet move then it might be too late. If I go out front they can come to me and then we can race," he said. "It’s a new course for a lot of it but I think once you go up the Kwaremont for the first time there’s just a relentless amount of climbing and then it should calm down a bit after the Muur but I really think after the first time up the Kwaremont there isn’t really much time to recover. I think, as you’ve seen before, with 80 or 90 kilometres to go the race could be over so we have to be ready for this."
171km remaining from 260km
After two hours of racing, the average speed drops slightly to 40.9kph. The break is safely through the first two sections of cobbles and maintains a lead of more than ten minutes over the peloton.
A crash for Daniel Oss (BMC), but seemingly without consequence. The Italian quickly remounts and rejoins the peloton. And as he does so, why not catch up on Oss' top tips for tackling the Tour of Flanders. Regrettably, he doesn't sign off by playing an air guitar and telling us to 'stay rock,' but it's worth a watch for the insight nonetheless.
168km remaining from 260km
The peloton's deficit drops inside ten minutes as they negotiate the first cobbles of the race.
In the Women's Tour of Flanders, meanwhile, the race is over the fourth climb, the Leberg, and all of the main contenders are still together. You can read Sadhbh O'Shea's preview of the race here, Zeb Woodpower's interview with Gracie Elvin here and Lizzie Deignan's pre-race thoughts here.
160km remaining from 260km
In the men's race, the escapees approach Oudenaarde for the first time. We are fifteen kilometres from the first of the day's 18 hellingen,and the first of three ascents of the Oude Kwaremont.
The escapees reach Berchem, still with a lead of 10 minutes over the peloton, but as the race heads towards the Flemish Ardennes, the urgency in the peloton is beginning to ratchet upwards.
A mechanical problem for Johan Le Bon (FDJ) but the Frenchman is swiftly back in the main body of the peloton.
148km remaining from 260km
On the approach to the Kwaremont, the commissaires issue a warning over race radio, having a spotted a number of riders hopping onto the pavement rather than riding along a cobbled stretch of road.
145km remaining from 260km
The eight escapees are on the slopes of the Kwaremont with a lead of 9:55 over the chasing peloton.
Morice leads the break over the top of the Kwaremont. Next on the agenda is the Kortekeer, in ten kilometres' time.
The bunch is still on the approach to the Kwaremont. Cannondale-Drapac are well represented at the front, while Mitch Docker looks around for his Orica-Scott teammate Luke Durbridge.
The speed is high in the peloton on the run-in to the Kwaremont. There's a bottleneck at the left-hand turn before the climb and a few riders are forced to unclip, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) among them. The Norwegian is at the very back of the peloton chasing back on before the Kwaremont even begins. An inauspicious start for Kristoff...
That's an effort Kristoff would rather not have to make. He is at the rear of the bunch and will have to try to move up on the Kwaremont itself. Sky and Cannondale occupy the front positions of the bunch.
Another bottlebeck on the Kwaremont itself, and a number of riders - Kristoff included - are forced to a stop, before setting off again.
Tom Van Asbroeck (Cannondale-Drapac) accelerates off the front of the peloton on the Kwaremont and sets off alone in pursuit of the escapees.
140km remaining from 260km
Van Asbroeck would doubtless have preferred some company, but he presses on alone for the time being. The main peloton comes over the top of the Kwaremont still largely intact.
Juraj Sagan rides on the head of the peloton for his brother Peter, while a delegation of Quick-Step riders lines up behind him. 17 climbs to go...
137km remaining from 260km
The eight leaders are 9:30 clear of the bunch as they pedal towards the Kortekeer. Van Asbroeck is still alone, 9 minutes down on the break.
135km remaining from 260km
Onto the Kortekeer for the eight leaders, who remain 9:25 clear of the peloton.
A rear wheel puncture for Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) who gets a quick change and rejoins the bunch.
Sporza has placed a camera on the dashboard of a number of team cars, and Quick-Step's Tom Steels offer this gem of Flemish plain-speaking as he addresses his charges over the radio: "This is the Tour of Flanders, eh, it’s no joke. Come on, move up."
Van Asbroeck's lone raid comes to an end, and he is swept up by the peloton as the speed shoots upwards again ahead of the Kortekeer.
The bunch is now stretching outwards. Bottlenecks will be less of a problem at this speed, but it's a terrible time to puncture - as Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step) is about to discover. The Belgian has a hard chase ahead of him.
Stop the presses. Carlos Betancur (Movistar) has abandoned the Tour of Flanders.
129km remaining from 260km
Mitchell Docker springs from the peloton on the Kortekeer and opens a small gap.
The eight leaders, meanwhile, are still 8:22 up the road and already tackling the day's third climb, the cobbled Eikenberg.
Over the top of the Kortekeer, Mitchell Docker (Orica-Scott) and Bert De Backer (Sunweb) have slipped clear of the peloton. They are 8 minutes down on the leaders, and 25 seconds ahead of the bunch.
126km remaining from 260km
The leaders are still together over the Eikenberg. Behind, the peloton is on a stretch of smooth, flat road ahead of the climb, hence the frantic jostling for positions at the head of the bunch ahead of the inevitable bottleneck at the base of the Eikenberg.
123km remaining from 260km
Onto the fourth climb, the Wolvenberg, for the eight leaders, who remain eight minutes ahead of the peloton, which is hurtling towards the Eikenberg.
Marco Haller (Katusha-Alpecin) attacks from the peloton on the Eikenberg. The Austrian is trying to bridge across to De Backer and Docker.
122km remaining from 260km
The early break, meanwhile, has safely negotiated the Wolvenberg and is now rattling across the cobbles at Holleweg. The Haaghoek sector follows before the fifth climb, the Leberg.
Two crashes in quick succession at the rear of the peloton on the Eikenberg. Chun Kai Feng (Bahrain-Merida) is involved in both, and his race might be at an end.
120km remaining from 260km
Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac) escapes from the peloton over the top of the Eikenberg. The American is trying to latch up to De Backer and Docker ahead of the Wolvenberg.
116km remaining from 260km
Phinney and Haller are brought back by the peloton on the cobbles at Holleweg. And shortly after he's pegged back, Phinney falls heavily. The American remounts but is holding his head and is pedalling very gingerly.
Morice, Planckaert and the leaders are on the fifth climb, the Leberg, and their lead over the peloton is dropping. 7:33 now the gap, as the bunch hurtles towards the Haaghoek cobbles.
Docker and De Backer also look set to be pegged back by the peloton ahead of Haaghoek.
A mechanical problem for Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal), who makes his way through the convoy of cars behind the bunch with Jens Debusschere for company.
Benoot latches on just as the bunch hits the 2km-long Haaghoek. Cannondale-Drapac set the pace. 7:07 the deficit to the escapees.
110km remaining from 260km
The break are over the Leberg and have now begun the smooth Berendries, the day's sixth climb.
The peloton is a climb behind the break, on the Leberg, where Docker and De Backer's rally off the front is finally brought to heel. 7 minutes the gap to the break.
In the women's race, incidentally, there are a little more than 20 kilometres to go, and an elite group comprising Elisa Longo Borghini, Katarzyna Niewiadoma, Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten has a lead of 30 seconds over the chasers.
108km remaining from 260km
In the men's race, the whittling down process continues as the bunch scorches towards the Berendries. The start may have been relatively sedate, but there has been no let up since the race hit the Kwaremont for the first time. The pace is relentless, and each climb is shaking a few more bodies loose from the rear of the bunch.
106km remaining from 260km
The break's lead is coming inexorably downwards, and stands at 6:35 as the bunch crests the top of the Berendries, with Trek-Segafredo setting the tempo.
Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) lifts himself from the saddle and attacks near the top of the Berendres, but he is quickly brought to heel over the top.
105km remaining from 260km
The escapees are on the smooth climb of the Tenbosse, the 7 helling of the day. It was the third from last climb back in 1998, when Johan Museeuw launched his winning attack - and aimed straight for the rear of a television motorbike that - accidentally, of course - helped to pull him clear of Peter Van Petegem. It's always useful to be the home favourite in a Flemish race...
102km remaining from 260km
A resume of our situation after the Tenbosse (climb 7): The eight leaders are Mark McNally (Wanty-Gobert), Oliviero Troia (UAE Emirates), Julien Duval (AG2R La Mondiale), Stef Van Zummeren (Veranda's Willems Crelan), Michael Goolaerts (Veranda's Willems Crelan), Julien Morice (Direct Energie), Edward Planckaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and André Looij (Roompot), and they have a lead of six minutes over a reduced peloton. Next on the agenda, the mighty Muur van Geraardsbergen.
In the women's race, the four leaders are on the Paterberg with 14 kilometres to go. In the men's race, Tony Martin is chasing back to the peloton after a mechanical problem.
96km remaining from 260km
The breakaway hits Geraardsbergen and begins to tackle the Muur. The last time we were here, six years ago, Fabian Cancellara and Sylvain Chavanel's lead suddenly and dramatically crumbled. This time around, Sky and Quick-Step are forcing the pace in the bunch on the approach to the climb. 5:50 the gap.
Duval and McNally lead the break towards the chapel at the summit of the Muur. Good to have it back, even if it is so far from the finish.
Philippe Gilbert has been surprisingly prominent on the flat approach to the Muur. Are Quick-Step plotting to launch their anticipated early offensive here?
Sky, caught on the back foot at last week's races, are massed on the front at the base of the Muur, eager not to make the same mistakes again.
A mechanical issue for Bernhard Eisel at the base of the Muur, and his race might have come to an end...
Tom Boonen moves to the front on the Muur after exchanging nods with Gilbert... Alexander Kristoff is on Boonen's wheel...
Boonen forces the pace on the Muur and stretches things out in the main peloton, which is now 4:50 down on the break.
91km remaining from 260km
Boonen's bout of forcing has seen a group of around 20 riders open a small gap off the front of the peloton. Boonen, Kristoff and Gilbert are all aboard...
Luke Rowe (Sky) is also part of this group, which has a lead of around twenty seconds over the peloton...
88km remaining from 260km
This Boonen-Gilbert group might be too unwieldy in size for smooth collaboration, but the chase behind hasn't organised itself just yet, as the peloton was fragmented into groups on the Muur and its descent. There are, however, almost 20 kilometres to the next climb, which allows ample time for a regrouping.
As well as Gilbert, Boonen, Kristoff and Rowe, this group contains Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac), Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). The onus will be on BMC and Bora-Hansgrohere to shut this down.
In the women's race, the four leaders have been caught with a shade over a kilometre to go. We look set for a group sprint in Oudenaarde.
Coryn Rivera (Sunweb) wins the Women's Tour of Flanders. A pitch-perfect sprint effort from the American. She sits on the ground in disbelief after crossing the line.
Ellen van Dijk played a pivotal role in chasing back the leaders in the finale to set that up for Rivera.
In the men's race, the 14-man Boonen-Gilbert group is 3:19 down on the leaders and has a lead of around 20 seconds over a splintered peloton.
83km remaining from 260km
Bora-Hansgrohe chase in the main peloton. The Boonen-Gilbert-Rowe group is 3 minutes down on the break, but now 45 seconds clear of the peloton.
The full list of names in this chasing group: Tom Boonen, Philippe Gilbert, Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step), Bryan Coquard, Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Arnaud Démare (FDJ), Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Luke Rowe, Gianni Moscon (Sky), Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Sacha Modolo (UAE Emirates), Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert).
80km remaining from 260km
This is a very interesting situation for Quick-Step... Boonen, Gilbert and Trentin now have a lead of a minute over a disorganised main peloton...
79km remaining from 260km
Ahead of climb 9, the Pottelberg, the break is two minutes clear of the Boonen-Gilbert group, and 3:08 up on the bunch containing Sagan and Van Avermaet. Game well and truly on...
75km remaining from 260km
The Boonen group is on the Pottelberg. The gap to the break is down to just 1:07, and they are 1:15 clear of the Sagan-Van Avermaet peloton.
72km remaining from 260km
Panic stations in the peloton, where BMC have yet to adequately grasp hold of the sitation. They are 1:41 down on the brak, and a shade under one minute down on the chase group, where Gilbert is riding flat out on the front.
70km remaining from 260km
The Boonen group is onto climb ten, the Kanarieberg. They are beginning to pick off the remnants of the day's early break, which is just 23 seconds up the road. Lotto Soudal lead the peloton, which is 1:09 behind the front of the race.
Boonen leads the 14 chasers off the Kanarieberg. The Kwaremont is next on the agenda. Lotto's efforts in the main peloton is reducing their advantage slightly. Boonen et al are 22 seconds down on the leaders, the bunch is 1:08 down.
66km remaining from 260km
Orica-Scott and BMC are performing the bulk of the chasing in the main bunch. They are 48 seconds down on Boonen, Gilbert et al, who have caught the day's early break.
64km remaining from 260km
Despite the presence of Bodnar up front, Bora-Hansgrohe are beginning to contribute to the chase effort in the main peloton. Boonen, Demare et al were working smoothly as a 14-man chasing group. It remains to be seen if expanding to 22 riders will affect their cohesion.
Like Paris-Roubaix and the Worlds last year, Boonen is holding little back in this mid-race escape. Gilbert and Trentin are taking long turns on the front, too. The Quick-Step trio are all in here - and the team still has Stybar and Terpstra in the peloton behind.
Boonen and Gilbert need to hang on out in front until the Kwaremont, from which point the succession of climbs will make it very, very difficult for any team to marshal a chase. Right now, however, on the flat, fast run-in to the Kwaremont, the Orica-Scott-led pursuit is shaving seconds off their lead. 37 seconds the gap.
60km remaining from 260km
Boonen piles on the pressure in the front group with Trentin and Kristoff on his wheel. They are desperate to keep this group honest on the approach to the Kwaremont.
58km remaining from 260km
Quick-Step and Direct Energie are doing the bulk of the pace-setting in this front group on the run-in to the Kwaremont. 35 seconds the gap to Sagan, Van Avermaet et al.
56km remaining from 260km
Boonen leads the break onto the lower slopes of the Oude Kwaremont with a lead of 32 seconds on the bunch.
Gilbert takes over and the front group fragments on the Kwaremont. An impressive show of strength from the Belgian champion.
Gilbert has gone clear alone, but he'll surely need to knock off his effort over the top and wait for company. He has still got 55 kilometres to go...
Gilbert's prodigious accelerations carries him clear of the leading group, and his advantage over the peloton stretches out to 51 seconds.
Vanmarcke leads the chase behind Gilbert at the top of the Kwaremont, with Boonen and Luke Rowe tucked onto his rear wheel.
Gilbert leads over the top of the Kwaremont - he has a big gap, some 22 seconds, but surely the Belgian is going to wait for some company?
After the Kwaremont, Gilbert leads Boonen, Rowe, Kristoff et al by 22 seconds, and the Sagan-Van Avermaet peloton by 56 seconds.
This race has everything. Sep Vanmarcke crashes on the way down the Kwaremont and he brings Luke Rowe down with him. It looks as though both of their races are over. Bodnar was also forced into the ditch but seemed to avoid injury.
51km remaining from 260km
This is a breathless race now. Philippe Gilbert tackles the Paterberg with a lead of 27 seconds over that reduced chasing group. The main peloton, such as it is, trails by 55 seconds.
Just nine riders remain in that chasing group: Boonen, Trentin, Coquard, Chavanel, Moscon Demare, Stuyven, Modolo and Kristoff.
Stuyven was in visible difficulty on the Paterberg, while his teammate Fabio Felline managed to punch his way clear of the peloton.
The next climb on the agenda, meanwhile, is the fearsome Koppenberg, the 13th of the 18 hills on the parcours this afternoon.
47km remaining from 260km
The Boonen chasing group has been caught by what we have been describing as the peloton, but which by this point is essentially a Sagan-Van Avermaet chasing group. Gilbert has a lead of 46 seconds over this expanded group of pursuers as he heads towards the Koppenberg.
45km remaining from 260km
Gilbert has no option but to commit to his solo effort now, but it is very, very ambitious. He begins the Koppenberg with 40 seconds in hand on the Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac). The main chase group is just behind them.
44km remaining from 260km
Van Avermaet and Sagan lead the chasing group on the Koppenberg. Degenkolb, Pozzato, Kristoff and Boonen are also in there - all of the contenders, in short, bar the fallen Vanmarcke and Rowe.
43km remaining from 260km
Next up is the Steenbeekdries, followed in quick succession by the Taaienberg. Gilbert continues to plough his lone furrow out in front, 50 seconds up on Sagan et al.
41km remaining from 260km
Ahead of the cobbles at Mariaborrestraat, Gilbert has 44 seconds on Van Baarle and Felline, and 1 minute on the peloton. After this sector of pave', there are still five climbs to go.
There are around 25 riders in this peloton as they rattle along the 2km-long Mariaborrestraat, 1:11 down on GIlbert.
39km remaining from 260km
Off the Mariaborrestraat, Gilbert swings straight onto the Steenbeekdries. On the old parcours, a move like this had a fighting chance of staying clear. The post-2011 finale is surely a mite too tough, but Gilbert continues and pushes out his lead. 52 seconds to the chasers, and 1:14 to the peloton.
BMC take up the pace-making in the peloton, with Daniel Oss riding on the front as they approach the Steenbeekdries.
37km remaining from 260km
Gilbert shows few signs of flagging as he tackles the Taaienberg to raucous cheers from the fans on the roadside. His lead over the peloton is out to 1:22...
Van Baarle and Felline are sticking gamely to their task, but they are losing ground on Gilbert. 55 seconds the gap. Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) is just a head of the peloton.
Boonen's last time up the Taaienberg is a disastrous one. He stops on the roadside with a mechanical problem and gets a bike change.
The chain seems to jam on the first change bike, and a second one is sent for. Boonen stands shaking his head in the middle of the road. His hopes of victory are over.
While the cameras were tracking Boonen, Sagan forces the pace on the Taaienberg and only Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Van Avermaet can follow.
35km remaining from 260km
Matteo Trentin and Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Gobert) bridge across over the top. This five-man group is 1:13 down on Gilbert...
32km remaining from 260km
Sagan, Van Avermaet, Offredo, Naesen and Trentin catch Felline and Van Baarle. They are 58 seconds down on the lone leader, Gilbert.
30km remaining from 260km
"Philippe Gilbert doesn't seem very fresh," comes the instruction from the Bora-Hansgrohe team car to Peter Sagan, with 30 kilometres and three climbs to go.
28km remaining from 260km
Gilbert begins the climb of the Kruisberg with a lead of 56 seconds over the seven-man Sagan and Van Avermaet group. The main peloton, such as it is, is 1:26 down. Pozzato and Niki Tersptra among the riders in that third group on the road.
Gilbert comes off the cobbles and climbs out of the saddle as he tackles the upper reaches of the Kruisberg.
27km remaining from 260km
Gilbert's advantage is holding firm at around a minute. Sagan and Van Avermaet seem content to hold fire for the final Kwaremont-Paterberg combination.
26km remaining from 260km
It's all or nothing for Gilbert - it has been for some time, really - and he carries a lead of 1:01 into the final of this race. He is eight kilometres from the base of the Oude Kwaremont.
Wilfried Peeters briefs Sporza from the Quick-Step team car. "It's still very far, but it's about being fresh. Staying clear over the Kwaremont is possible," he says. "It's too bad Tom had bad luck on the Taaienberg."
24km remaining from 260km
The seven chasers (six really, given Trentin's policing presence) can't make any inroads into Gilbert's advantage, but so far we haven't seen any histrionics from Sagan, suggesting he#s not unhappy with the level of collaboration. 54 seconds the gap.
23km remaining from 260km
Gilbert is tucked with his arms resting on imaginary Spinaci bars as he powers towards the Oude Kwaremont. 51 seconds his lead.
21km remaining from 260km
Sagan and Van Avermaet seem to be shouldering the bulk of the responsibility for the chase, but one senses they're both waiting to take flight on the Kwaremont. Who will be able to follow? And will Gilbert be able to hold them off?
20km remaining from 260km
20 kilometres, two climbs and 50 seconds. The key figures for Philippe Gilbert. The Kwaremont will reveal an awful lot...
Michael Valgren, Alexey Lutsenko, Filippo Pozzato and Andre Greipel have clipped away from the peloton, but they are 1:31 down on Gilbert.
19km remaining from 260km
Gilbert has 55 seconds in hand on Sagan et al at the base of the 2.2km Oude Kwaremont.
Gilbert taps out a determined rhythm as he begins the Kwaremont. Offredo leads the chase behind.
The uneven sea of cobbles on the Kwaremont are so hard to navigate after 230 kilometres of racing, but Gilbert is still pedalling smoothly, even if his features are creased into a grimace.
Trentin is flagging at the back of the chasing group. But up front, Gilbert is, somehow, extending his advantage over the chasers.
Sagan forces the pace at the front of the chase group. Only Van Avermaet and Naesen can follow him...
Remarkable scenes on the Oude Kwaremont... Sagan crashes on the Kwaremont and brings Naesen and Van Avermaet with him. It looks as though Sagan hit the foot of the barrier on the roadside. It's not clear if a spectator's jacket was the cause, or if he simply rode too close to the barrier himself, but his hopes are gone...
14km remaining from 260km
Van Avermaet was the quickest to remount, but that has surely ended his hopes of victory. Van Avermaet is with Trentin, Offredo, Naesen and Van Baarle giving chase, but Philippe Gilbert is about to win the Tour of Flanders by a street...
It appears as though Sagan was caught by the advertising banner that was draped on the barrier. He is back on a replacement bike and giving chase, but without any hope.
13km remaining from 260km
Gilbert begins the Paterberg with a winning advantage over Van Avermaet et al. It must be said that Sagan's surge on the Kwaremont had made precious little inroads into his advantage.
For the first time, Gilbert betrays real signs of suffering as he struggles to keep the gear turning over on the 20% slopes.
Van Baarle is the second rider on the road, 48 seconds down, while Van Avermaet accelerates on the Paterberg, 1:12 back.
12km remaining from 260km
Gilbert drops over the top of the Paterberg with a gap of 48 seconds over Van Baarle. Van Avermaet and Terpstra - who picked his way through the carnage on the Kwaremont - are the third group on the road, around a minute back.
11km remaining from 260km
Gilbert calls for information on the gaps behind. Amid the confusion of the Sagan crash, he has precious little information.
Sagan grinds forlornly over the top of the Paterberg to generous applause from the crowds on the roadside.
10km remaining from 260km
Terpstra and Van Avermaet catch Van Baarle. This trio are 53 seconds down on Gilbert. Surely Terpstra - Gilbert's teammate, remember - will stop giving Van Avermaet occasional turns now that they've caught Van Baarle...
9km remaining from 260km
Only a mechanical mishap can stop Gilbert now, who carries a lead of 54 seconds into the final 9 kilometres.
7km remaining from 260km
Gilbert has been alone off the front since the Oude Kwaremont, with 54 kilometres still to go. That's not something we tend to see very often in contemporary cycling. At 34 years of age, after some listless years at BMC, this is a rather unexpected turn of events in the Belgian's career.
6km remaining from 260km
40 seconds the lead for Gilbert. Nine years ago, he won Omloop Het Volk after a 50-kilometre solo break, but to do this at the Tour of Flanders is something else altogether.
5km remaining from 260km
Van Avermaet and Van Baarle's chase efforts have brought Gilbert's lead down to 36 seconds. Surely he can't squander this now? Terpstra sits in Van Avermaet's wheel.
4km remaining from 260km
Gilbert is grinding into a headwind and the effort is taking its toll. 35 seconds the gap...
3km remaining from 260km
Van Avermaet is doing the lion's share of the work in the chasing group, but Gilbert's lead has stabilised above the 30-second mark.
3km remaining from 260km
33 seconds for Gilbert as he reaches the final three kilometres. Barring disaster, that has to be enough to claim victory.
2km remaining from 260km
Terpstra has had a free ride from the Paterberg, and the Dutchman is poised to clip away and take second place behind Gilbert.
Gilbert can sense he has this in the bag, even if Van Avermaet's pursuit effort means that he can't quite start to enjoy it yet.
1km remaining from 260km
Into the final kilometre for Philippe Gilbert, who is closing in on Tour of Flanders victory. Who could have anticipated a solo effort like this? A funny old game, cycling...
Gilbert runs through the gamut of celebrations as he pedals up the long, long finishing straight into Oudenaarde.
Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) wins the Tour of Flanders. He gets off his bike and lifts it above his head as he crosses the line.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) beats Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step) to take second, 31 seconds down. Van Baarle is fourth.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) wins the sprint for 5th place, 54 seconds down.
Quick-Step manager Patrick Lefevere clasps Gilbert in a hug as he reaches the television tent near the podium. Gilbert exhales and says, "Mamma mia." Quite.
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
2 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
3 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors
4 Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Cannondale-Drapac
5 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin
Striking as Gilbert's solo effort was, it will be impossible to tell the story of this Tour of Flanders without talk of Peter Sagan's crash on the Kwaremont, which also brought down Van Avermaet. We'll never know if the Olympic champion would have caught Gilbert without that fall, and therein lies the terrible beauty of the Classics.
Gilbert speaks: "It all started on the Muur, I was riding on Tom’s wheel and it went on from there. After the Muur, we had three riders in the group and we decided to push on from there. We had a good gap, a group of about 15 riders and we just pushed on from there. Then we went to the Kwaremont and we decided to go full on. I looked behind and I was alone and I just went on from there."
Pretty straightforward really.
Greg Van Avermaet, who seems not to have been asked about the crash on the Kwaremont: "I was aiming for the win but it didn’t work out. I was riding a very strong race. We were chasing and we had a group of riders but some people weren’t contributing to the chase. Phil deserves the win. On the Muur, I was a bit far behind, I didn’t see what happened when that group went."
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors 06:23:45
2 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 00:00:28
3 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors 00:00:28
4 Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Cannondale-Drapac 00:00:28
5 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin 00:00:52
6 Sacha Modolo (Ita) UAE Team Emirates 00:00:52
7 John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo 00:00:52
8 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Wilier Triestina 00:00:52
9 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Direct Energie 00:00:52
10 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida 00:00:52
Sagan, incidentally, crossed the finish line in 27th place, 3:30 behind, in a group that also contained Boonen in his final Ronde.
Thanks for joining our live coverage on Cyclingnews of this most dramatic edition of the Tour of Flanders. A full report, results and pictures are available here, and we'll have the reaction of Philippe Gilbert, Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet and more imminently.
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