Hello and welcome to live coverage of the 2020 women's Tour of Flanders.
We are about 20 minutes away from the start of the race. The women's and men's races were switched around for this year, meaning the women had a little longer in bed this morning before having to travel to the start.
It's a very quiet affair as the organisers have done their best to persuade people to watch the race from home. Given that it has started to rain, I'm sure many will be happy to be inside an warm as they watch.
This year's race is slightly shorter than usual and there is no Muur van Garaardsbergen but the peloton still has 11 hellingen to contend with. The first of those will come up after 51km of racing.
Just 20 teams are confirmed for today's race after four pulled out. The biggest news was that Marta Bastianelli won't be able to defend her title. Ale BTC Ljubljana could not get to Belgium on time after needing to quarentine following a positive coronavirus test within the team. Meanwhile, Equipe Paule Ka also pulled out due to their title sponsor failing to pay the team for several months. You can read more about it here.
CCC-Liv will be at the race but they will be without one of the pre-race favourites in Marianne Vos. The team said that Vos was "not fit enough" to race this weekend but did not eleborate further on it. The still have Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Sofia Bertizzolo but they will miss Vos today. Read more about it here.
#RVVwomen 🇧🇪Almost time to rock and roll 👊 pic.twitter.com/YIOnBixUKmOctober 18, 2020
The riders have rolled out and are making their way through the nine-kilometre neutral zone.
Before the racing gets going, if you want to read up on what to expect today then my colleague Kirsten Frattini has put together a great preview, which you can read here.
Even without Vos and Bastianelli in the peloton today, there are some very big contenders looking for the win. Trek-Sgeafredo has three former winners in their line-up in Ellen van Dijk, Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini. Other former winners riding today are Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen and Coryn Rivera.
Annemiek van Vleuten spoke Sporza ahead of the race. She told them that she's still feeling the effects of her Giro Rosa crash last month.
"I still have pain in my wrist. After Liege I had noticed that my level had dropped somewhat. Then we added a training camp to be as good as possible here today. I won here in 2013 and that was the real start of my career. Today I am still standing here with the same feeling."
There was a crash in the neutral zone with several riders caught up and needing technical assistance afterwards. It appears that everyone is ok, thankfully, and the race has been allowed to begin.
It has been a busy start to the stage and 10 kilometres have already been ridden. No attacks have been successful just yet and it is all together for the peloton for now.
Belgium has won this race just once in its history with Grace Verbeke taking the victory in 2010. This year, the home nation stands a chance of making it to the top step for the first time in a decade with Jolien D'hoore on great form at the moment. She will have to do her best to hold onto the attacks because none of the peloton will want to take her to the line. Her teammate Van der Breggen is probably a much more likely contender for the win this afternoon, however.
120km to go
The attacks are still coming thick and fast and a seven-rider group has now attempted to get up the road.
The peloton is fast approaching the first cobbled sections of the day. The Lippenhovestraat and the Paddestraat will come after 34.9km and 36.4km of racing.
The seven-rider group has a slim 35-second advantage on the peloton. I'm still waiting for a full list of names but I can tell you that Mieke Kroeger one of them.
The gap has now increased to 47 seconds. I also have the name of another member of the group, Irish rider Alice Sharpe. At this rate, I might have the full list of riders by the end of the race.
The gap continues to grow and is now at 1:25 over the peloton. I have some names now too! The seven up front are Teuntje Beekhuis (Lotto), Gloria Rodriguez Sanchez (Movistar), Alice Sharp (Ciclotell), Mieke Kröger (Hitec Products), Heidi Franz (Rally),
Ariadna Trias Jordan (Massi Tactic) and Emily Newsom (Tibco).
Trias Jordan has been dropped from the group of seven up front, making it just six riders. The gap is going up further and is now at about 1:45.
#RVVWomen Composition of the leading group 🇱🇺Beekhuis @Lotto_Soudal 🇪🇸Rodriguez @Movistar_Team🇮🇪Sharpe @TeamCiclotel🇩🇪Kröger @Hitec_Products🇺🇸Franz @Rally_Cycling 🇺🇸Newsom @teamTIBCO_SVB #RVV20October 18, 2020
The pace is taking prisoners and Sharpe has now been dropped from this leading group, making it a five-woman break. Sharpe is riding just her second year at UCI level and got a very late call up to the race.
I'm hearing that Sharpe got a puncture, which caused her to lose contact with the leading group. Now with five riders remaining, their pushing on hard and have a 2:37 gap over the peloton behind. The first cobbles are almost upon us!
Mieke Kroeger is no doubt the strongest rider in this leading group. She has a huge pedigree but it is going to be a struggle to keep this breakaway up front when we reach the climbs and the big favourites start to make their moves.
I mentioned Jolien D'hoore as someone who might be able to give Belgium just their second ever De Ronde victory. Another home favourite that is on form at the moment is Lotte Kopecky. The Belgian champion finished second to D'hoore at Gent-Wevelgem last weekend.
The leaders are now onto the first cobbled stretch of the Lippenhovestraat and have a three-minute advantage over the peloton. A reminder of who is up front at the moment: Teuntje Beekhuis (Lotto), Gloria Rodriguez Sanchez (Movistar), Mieke Kröger (Hitec Products), Heidi Franz (Rally) and Emily Newsom (Tibco).
Liane Lippert spoke to the UCI social media team ahead of the race. This is what she had to say:
"I think in general we have a really strong team and we have more cards to play. The parcours has changed a bit so it makes it a bit easier for the break for the Kanarieberg.
"The latest moment [for the race to explode] is the Kwaremont for sure but we will try to get ahead before that moment so we are there with the best at that moment."
The leaders are on the Paddestraat now and the gap is coming down. After having close to three minutes it has been reduced to 2:25.
95km to go
Make that 1:50 now. The peloton, led by Sunweb, is winding up the pace.
The riders are still a tad over 10km away from the first climb of the day, the Katteberg. Once they hit that climb, it will be a relentless up and down all the way back into Oudenaard. In addition to the 11 climbs, there are two more flat cobbled sections to contend with.
🎥 Local hero for today? After finishing 2nd at #GWEwomen last week, @LotteKopecky of @Lotto_Soudal is one of the favourites today at #RVVwomen. Here is what she said at the start! #UCIWWT pic.twitter.com/pyGcgnX4hoOctober 18, 2020
Over in the men's race, it's into the final 18km. World Champion Alaphilippe was in the leading group when he clipped a race motorbike and crashed heavily. You can read more about what happened here.
As the leaders reach the Katterberg, there are reports of a crash. It's not yet clear who has been involved.
Onto the Holleweg cobbles now and the gap to the five leaders has increased again to 3:11.
After the Holleweg, the riders will take on the second climb of the day the Edelare.
The leaders are working really well together at the moment and after losing some time to the peloton shortly before the climbs, they are maintaining their advantage well at the moment. However, it feels very much like the calm before the storm.
There has been another crash in the bunch and five riders have come down. Again, no word from race radio on the names involved in the incident.
81km to go
A counter attack coming from Lisa Brennauer and Alison Jackson as the gap to the escapees drops under three minutes again. This is a very strong move.
Brennauer and Jackson have a small advantage on the peloton over the Varent. The five leaders have 1:55 as the pace picks up.
Next up on the menu is the Haaghoek cobbles and the Leberg climb.
Jakson and Brennauer have just 10 seconds on the peloton, the five leaders are still 1:57 up the road as they hit the Haaghoek stretch of cobbles.
While the women's race is ramping up, we've just seen a very exciting finale in the men's event. I won't spoil it for you but you can find out what happened here.
64km to go
The gap to the five escapees is coming down very quickly now. Brennauer and Jackson have been caught and the five up front now just have 1:40. Now Lippert has a dig off the front.
Rivera and Falkner have bridged up to Lippert. Meanwhile, Anna van der Breggen is leading the chase in the peloton behind.
61km to go
The three chasers have a very slim margin on the peloton. The leaders are now 1:28 up the road.
It's an interesting move from the Sunweb team to go so far out. Realistically, Rivera needs a bit of an advantage over the better climbers if she wants to be in the mix in the finish. She's a decent climber herself, but she's no match for Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten when they're at full tilt.
The leaders are onto the Valkenberg now. They have 1:08 on the three chasers and 2:01 on the peloton.
Trek-Segafredo takes to the front of the bunch as the peloton reaches the Valkenberg. I can see the rainbow stripes of Van der Breggen still very near the front.
Van Vleuten looks ready to pounce as she sits in second wheel at the moment, just ahead of Deignan. Demi Vollering is right up there too.
Now that the Valkenberg has been dispatched with, there is a small lull in the climbs and the leaders will soon be passing through the feed zone. The next climb up with the Kanarieberg and the Taaienberg will follow that.
It's getting pretty dark now as grey clouds loom over the peloton. Amalie Dideriksen moves up to the front of the peloton and has a bit of a wobble on her bike as she does so. She stays upright, though.
53km to go
The chase from the peloton has slowed on this flatter section with Majerus now setting the pace. The five leaders have 1:39 on the bunch, with the three chasers still about 1 minute behind.
Rivera doesn't need to keep this gap all of the way to the finish, but if she can hold on as long as possible it makes it much more likely that she can hang in when the race really blows apart.
Rain has started to fall on the riders. Lippert and Rivera have been caught by the bunch, Faulkner is about to be reeled in.
We're now back to having two groups on the road. The five leaders have 1:38 on the Boels Dolmans-led peloton.
There has been a crash in the feed zone. It looks like a touch of wheels as riders pick up some refreshments in the feedzone. Meanwhile, Koch from Sunweb has hit an unmarked bollard on the side of the road. It really should have had something to indicate it was there. She looks a bit winded but ok.
Now the riders are through the feed zone, the pace in the peloton has noticeably gone up. There are several trains on the front, including a CCC-Liv one and Boels Dolmans.
45km to go
The leaders are onto the Kanarieberg and Newsom has a mechanical problem. She's going to have quite the chase to get back on. The gap to the peloton is now just 28 seconds.
I am a little suspicious of the time check at the moment, it seems to be all over the place. I'd count that 28 seconds out. It's probably closer to about a minute.
Anna van der Breggen setting the pace on the peloton now. Is she planning something or is she working for another teammate? It's not the first time she's been on the front today.
This is a tough pace that Van der Breggen is setting and plenty of riders are being distanced off the back.
There are four Boels Dolmans rider up to the front with Lisa Brennauer sitting in the middle of their train. It's still Van der Breggen putting in a huge turn and she's strung the peloton out in one long line.
Newsom is back with the leading group but their days are numbered up front. They're looking over their shoulders and they can almost see the peloton coming up th road behind them. The gap is just 22 seconds now.
The Taaienberg is in just two kilometres. We can expect a very big selection to be made on this climb.
The leaders are onto the Taaienberg and the peloton swallows them up almost instantly.
It looks like Lizzie Deignan is off the back of the bunch on the climb. It's unclear if she's had a mechanical issue or is struggling.
The peloton has split into two groups. Deignan is in the second.
Mackaij tries to push the pressure on the front of the leading group at the top of the climb. There has been quite a substantial split now, with about 30 riders in this front group. More riders are trying to chase on.
An attack from Eric of Movistar and there are some riders trying to bridge the gap.
Cordon-Ragot is leading the chase with Van der Breggen in her wheel.
Eric has been brought back and the pace abates briefly.
Deignan has made it back to the front group. She's very close to Van Vleuten, who is quite a bit down in the group. Van Vleuten playing it very quiet at the moment. Is she biding her time or not feeling at hr best?
Deignan has moved back up to the front of the group and she's primed and ready as CCC-Liv launches an attack.
It is Markus for CCC that has gone off the front and she has been joined by Amialiusik of Canyon-SRAM. The pair has a small lead over a 30-rider group.
36km to go
There doesn't appear to be a concerted effort in the peloton to make this chase. They're going to wait until the next climb, it seems.
One of the Rally riders has gone off in an attempt to close the gap.
Markus and Amialiusik have 27 seconds on the peloton now. The next climb is the Kruisberg in about 8 kilometres.
Rivera takes a big turn on the front of the peloton and brings back the Rally rider Franz.
There's another brief attempt from Rally to go off the front, but Rivera has the move marked.
The gap to Amialiusik and Markus is growing ever so slowly and they have 40 seconds on the peloton.
30km to go
Ceratizit-WNT isn't happy with the speed of the chase and is working on the front. However, the two leaders now have 53 seconds heading towards the ninth climb of the day.
Van der Breggen now back on the front pushing a really hard pace with Brennauer in her wheel. The pressure has blown a lot of riders out of the back of the group.
29km to go
An attack from Van den Broeck-Blaak and Longo Borghini follows her.
Brennauer is on Longo Borghini's wheel. The German has been very agressive today.
Deignan has been dropped again by that push in pace and it looks like Longo Borghini will be Trek-Segafredo's option for today.
The group of favourites has been reduced to about 15 riders as they bring back the two leaders.
Van Vleuten attacks and Uttrup Ludwig follows
27km to go
Uttrup Ludwig can't follow the wheel and Van Vleuten has a gap. She's on her own and this is dangerous.
Further back, D'hoore was dropped on the Kruisberg and she's in a chasing group with some Mitchelton-Scott riders.
Van der Breggen is trying to bridge the gap to Van Vleuten and she's making ground. Uttrup Ludwig is leading the other chase group a little bit further back.
The Uttrup Ludwig group has about eight riders in it. I'll provide you with some names once I can get a closer look.
Van der Breggen has bridged the gap to Van Vleuten, the two Dutch riders are together on the road. This is fascinating!
Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen are not working well together. It looks like Van der Breggen doesn't want to work with her compatriot. She has some sprinters in the group behind.
A wry smile from Van Vleuten as she realises they are going to be caught by the chasing group.
It's getting more interesting as the D'hoore group is about to regain contact with the Van Vleuten/Van der Breggen group.
Grace Brown was in the D'hoore group. They make contact and she attacks straight away.
Van den Broeck-Blaak brings her back and it's all together again.
Let's see if I have time to write down some of the names in this group: Van Vleuten, Van der Breggen, Van den Broeck-Black, Brown, Uttrup Ludwig, Longo Borhini, D'hoore, Stevens, Karukus, Mackij, Vollering, Kopecky and Cavalli.
There are some very strong sprinters in this group. Van Vleuten will have to go again if she wants to win this race.
After that chase down a little earlier, it seems that Van der Breggen is playing the team game. She is back on the front of the bunch and setting the pace.
This is really fascinating.
19km to go
The riders are onto the Oude Kwaremont and D'hoore has been distanced.
D'hoore is really digging deep, she's lost about five bike lengths on this climb.
Meanwhile, Kopecky is looking strong as she easily holds onto this group. Could she be the Belgian to take the title today?
Van Vleuten is on the front of the leading group. She doesn't want to give D'hoore a chance of getting back on.
Van den Broeck-Blaak attacks and she is followed by Vollering.
More riders losing contact as Mackaij and Markus drop back on the climb.
17km to go
Back onto the tarmac and Van den Broeck-Blaak has a slender advantage. Vollering has been replaced by Van Vleuten at the head of the chase.
It looks like Van den Broeck-Blaak is edging out the gap. On the flat section, she has a bit more power than the chasing Van Vleuten.
About eight riders in this chasing group with two more riders a short distance further back.
Boels Dolmans has Van der Breggen and Pieters in the chasing group. Van Vleuten and Brown are there for Mitchelton-Scott. There's Uttrup Ludwig, Vollering and Kopecky also in there.
Van den Broeck-Blaak is onto the Paterberg now.
Van Vleuten moves over to the side of the chasing group and briefly ends up in the grass. It might be October but this is not cyclo-cross.
Longo Borghini moves to the front of the chasing group as we continue up the Paterberg.
13km to go
Van Vleuten loses the wheel midway down the group as Longo Borgh puts the pressure on. They're over the Paterberg now, the final climb of the day.
Van den Broeck-Blaak has a very decent gap on the chasers now. We don't have a time gap yet.
D'hoore is still plugging along and she's just crested the Paterberg quite a way back.
11km to go
Brown launches a counter-attack from the chase group but she is brought back by Brennauer.
11 riders in this chasing group: Van Vleuten, Brown, Van der Breggen, Pieters, Vollering, Cavalli, Longo Borghini, Stephens, Uttrup Ludwig and Kopecky.
At last, a time check! Van den Broeck-Blaak has 17 seconds on the chasing group.
8km to go
Another attack from Brown and Vollering is on her wheel.
Brown is shut down and now it's Van Vleuten having a go
Van Vleuten came right from the back of the group. Pieters is hot on her tail, though.
Brown attacks and Pieters is chasing her down again.
6km to go
Boels Dolmans are really using their numbers at the moment. Brown looks over her shoulder and her heart sinks as she sees Pieters on her wheel.
Uttrup Ludwig is now trying to bridge the gap. All of this cat and mouse is playing into the hands of Van den Broeck-Blaak, who has 32 seconds on the chasers.
Pieters and Brown have been reeled in. Van den Broeck-Blaak has 40 seconds.
5km to go
Van Vleuten tries to go again but she can't shake off her companions.
Van den Broeck-Blaak has 45 seconds now with less than five kilometres to go. She's looking more and more like she's going to take this win.
4km to go
Mitchelton-Scott is not going down without a fight. Brown attacks again but she is shut down by Van der Breggen.
Van Vleuten goes and Longo Borghini follows. It's unsuccessful once again.
3km to go
As all of this goes on, Van den Broeck-Blaak now has a lead of 54 seconds.
Mitchelton-Scott continues to try and snap the elastic in this group but Pieters and Van der Breggen have been superb in closing absolutely everything down.
Just two kilometres left for Van den Broeck-Blaak and she has over a minute. She just needs to stay upright and this is hers.
Van den Broeck-Blaak goes under the flamme rouge. The finish line is almost in sight.
Mackaij is back in that chasing group and she has a little dig off the front of the peloton. SHe is brought back, though.
Van den Broeck-Blaak crosses the line and she has taken an emphatic win.
The chasing group is now linging up for the sprint
Sara Roy launches first
But it is Pieters that takes the sprint for second place and it looks like Kopecky took third.
Just when it had looked like Van Vleuten might be about to ride everybody off her wheel on the Kruisberg, Boels Dolmans played an absolute blinder to set up Van den Broeck-Blaak.
A few words from our winner today Van den Broek-Blaak: "I feel very happy, I was waiting the whole season for this moment and I have thought about this race for a long time and now I finally have it."
For results, pictures and a recap of today's action, here is our race report.
van den Broek-Blaak says Anna van der Breggen told them in the team meeting yesterday that she was here for the team. In the words of the Flanders champion "you know then you need to do it!"October 18, 2020
Elisa Longo Borghini came seventh in the end. This is what she had to say after the finish:
"It was a really tough race and the team did really well but in the end I was isolated with a little too many Boels riders. Then, on the Kwaremont Van den Broek-Blaak went and then we were a small group with many attacks. I tried to follow them and I tried to so the sprint and ended up with seventh. It wasn’t the result that we came here for but we have to be content with this.
"It was hard to cover all of the attacks but the girls did the job before and it was just a very hard race."
Short and sweet from Lotte Kopecky in English at the finish line. Of her third place she said "I think for today it was all that I had."
This is today's top 10
1 Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak (Ned) Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam
2 Amy Pieters (Ned) Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam
3 Lotte Kopecky (Bel) Lotto Soudal Ladies
4 Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Ceratizit-WNT Pro
5 Sarah Roy (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott Women
6 Alena Amialiusik (Blr) Canyon-Sram Racing
7 Demi Vollering (Ned) Parkhotel Valkenburg
8 Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo Women
9 Lauren Stephens (USA) Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank
10 Marta Cavalli (Ita) Valcar-Travel & Service
Amy Pieters made it a 1-2 for the Boels-Dolmans team today. This is what she had to say after the race: "I’m super happy with this. If you can be second after your teammate it’s just like winning. I’m happy."
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