117km to go
Alpecin-Fenix now has four riders around their leader Mathieu van der Poel up near the front of the peloton as it weaves along a narrow lane, roughly wide enough for just one vehicle.
120km to go
Great photograph here to illustrate the dangers of multiple road surfaces. If you look down the middle, there is a gap that is roughly the width of a bike wheel. Get stuck in here and a riders’ race could be over. While over to the left hand side there is a gulley, and then again a strip of cobbles. Riding safely across these can be exhausting, both physically and mentally, and are often underestimated as the focus is placed on the cobbled sections and brutish climbs.
126km to go
The peloton has completed the first ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, their deficit on the breakaway having dropped a little further to 9min 51sec. Elegant-Quick Step have numbers up near the front, Trek-Segafredo, Jumbo-Visma, Lotto-Sodal and Bahrain Victorious are there too. Alpecin-Fenix, meanwhile, appear happy to allow the big WorldTour teams do much of the heavy lifting. For now, at least.
129km to go
Tom Pidcock is riding at around fifth or six wheels on the first ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel some way back, while Greg van Avermaet is stuck near the rear.
132km to go
A sharp left-hander sees a big battle for position near the front of the peloton as it approaches the Oude Kwaremont. UAE Team Emirates move towards the front, making sure former winner Alexander Kristoff is well positioned. He’s an absolute master at this type of move, making sure he’s near the front before sliding back through the group and regaining contact once over the top. He’s incredibly consistent at this race, and nobody will want to take the big powerful sprinter all the way to the line today.
133km to go
The breakaway has gone over the top of the Oude Kwaremont, losing time in the process. However, the peloton is around seven minutes from the bottom of that cobbled climb so it will be interesting to see what that gap is like once they have tackled it.
135km to go
The breakaway in onto the first of three ascents of the Oude Kwaremont and it is eerily quiet. Their lead on the peloton is down to 11min 15sec. Ordinarily this 2.2km cobbled climb is mobbed by cycling fanatics, enjoying some frites and the odd beer. Not today.
140km to go
Just spotted the moustachioed Luke Rowe tucked in behind Julian Alaphilippe. The Welshman who loves these tough one-day races is one of four Britons in the Ineos Grenadiers team, including two debutants Ethan Hayter and Tom Pidcock. Hayter, interestingly, is one of two riders from VC Londres — the south London cycling club based at Herne Hill velodrome — riding today. The other, Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), made his debut here last year.
Most eyes, though, will be focused on Pidcock who has enjoyed a great start to his professional career having finished fifth at Strade Bianche and 15th at Milan-Sanremo.
Normal service has resumed . . .
151km to go
The seven-man breakaway is onto the second cobbled section of the day, the 1,500-metre long Holleweg. Back in to peloton and Edoardo Affini is leading the way on behalf of his Jumbo-Visma team. Interesting to not that Total Direct Énergie have a few riders near the front. Although the French squad is not part of the WorldTour, they have a strong looking team here today and I would not be surprised to see Anthony Turgis challenging at the pointy end of the race. Assuming Turgis is the team’s leader today, then he has team-mates Edvald Boasson Hagen, Damien Gaudin and former winner Niki Terpstra to support his ambitions. That’s some firepower.
153km to go
World champion Julian Alaphilippe (Elegant-Quick Step) is just spotted chatting with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe). Sagan, of course, won here in 2016 and although he is not the dominant force he once was, has shown some form recently — fourth at Milan-Sanremo and a stage winner at Volta a Catalunya — and so I would not discount him from doing something here today.
The breakaway is inching up the Kattenberg, but those cobbles look fairly benign. The peloton will follow in around 12 minutes.
158km to go
Still early in the race, but just as the peloton approached the first section of cobbles in today’s race, Elegant-Quick Step move up towards the front of the group which is a wise move, as further back a number of riders are delayed having been caught out. Not too far away from the first climb of the day, the Kattenberg, which is just 800 metres in length and should not cause too many issues. Breakaway’s advantage is at 12 minutes.
What no Tractor?
Interesting, the man that is known as El Tractor — Tim Declercq — is not riding on the front of the peloton. I will repeat that: Tim Declercq is not riding on the front. Declercq, one of the best domestiques in world cycling ordinarily positions himself on the front, however it appears that today his team Elegant-Quick Step look happy to allow Jumbo-Visma to take control. Jumbo-Visma, of course, will be hoping to set up Wout van Aert here today, while the Belgian super-team Elegant-Quick Step have a handful of riders that could challenge.
While Julian Alaphilippe is their obvious leader, Kasper Asgreen, Davide Ballerini or Florian Sénéchal may also fancy their chances. Equally Yves Lampaert could also land a big one today should the stars align in his favour. Either way, Elegant-Quick Step have the strongest looking team and as we saw at the E3 race a couple of weeks back, on their day they can work over the likes of pre-race favourites Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) with ease. In order to do that, though, they will need to have almost all of their riders up near the front of the bunch at the key point in the race — in other words, at the bottom of the Koppenberg, Taaienberg, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs.
Already we have seen Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroën) and Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel Start-up Nation) clip off the front of the peloton to go and greet some friends or, most likely, family members at the roadside. The very fact that the bunch is happy for them to do this pretty much tells us everything we need to know about the state of play on the road right now: everybody is taking it relatively easy on the approach to the first cobbled sector of the day.
The breakaway has increased its advantage to 11min 18sec with 172km to go.
Early controversy . . .
So today’s race got under way a little over an hours ago, the peloton rolling out of the port city of Antwerp at a fairly leisurely pace. Weather-wise it is fairly still and although not especially sunny, it is not too cold. The peloton is fairly evenly split between those riders wearing leg warmers and jackets/gilets, and those with exposed legs.
A flurry of early attacks kicked off proceedings, leading to Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo) instigating the move that led to a breakaway forming. Bissegger, the Swiss neo-pro who won the time trial at last month’s Paris-Nice, was soon joined by Mathias Norsgaard (Movistar), Mathijs Paasschens (Bingoal Wallonnie Bruxelles), Fabio Van Den Bossche (Sport Vlaanderen Baloise) and Jelle Wallays (Cofidis) before Nico Denz (DSM) and Hugo Houle (Astana-Premier Tech) bridged over to form a seven-man group. As it stands, that breakaway leads by a shade over 10 minutes with just under 185km of the race remaining.
The big talking point of the day, thus far at least, has been a coming together between Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana-Premier Tech) and Otto Vergaerde (Alpecin-Fenix) — see above. Fedorov, the Kazakh neo-pro, appeared to touch his brakes while on the front of the bunch which upset a number of riders that were sat on his wheel. While a number of riders gesticulated in his direction, Vergaerde reacted. As a result, both riders have been kicked off the race and one of the pre-race favourites — that’s Mathieu van der Poel for anybody who has been living in a cave — is already a man down and the race has yet to reach its first cobbled sector of climb.
Who was on the starting line this morning?
WorldTour teams . . .
Ag2r-Citroën (Fra): Stan Dewulf (Bel), Lawrence Naesen (Bel), Oliver Naesen (Bel), Michael Schär (Swi), Damien Touzé (Fra), Greg Van Avermaet (Bel), Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel).
Astana-Premier Tech (Kaz): Yevgeniy Fedorov (Kaz, neo-pro), Yevgeniy Gidich (Kaz), Dmitriy Gruzdev (Kaz), Hugo Houle (Can), Ben Perry (Can), Nikita Stalnov (Kaz), Artyom Zakharov (Kaz).
Bahrain Victorious (Brn): Sonny Colbrelli (Ita), Marco Haller (Aut), Heinrich Haussler (Aus), Jonathan Milan (Ita, neo-pro), Marcel Sieberg (Ger), Dylan Teuns (Bel), Fred Wright (GB, neo-pro).
BikeExchange (Aus): Jack Bauer (NZ), Luke Durbridge (Aus), Alex Edmondson (Aus), Amund Grondahl Jansen (Nor), Michael Mathews (Aus), Luka Mezgec (Slo), Robert Stannard (Aus).
Bora-Hansgrohe (Ger): Maciej Bodnar (Pol), Marcus Burghardt (Ger), Patrick Gamper (Aut, neo-pro), Daniel Oss (Ita), Nils Politt (Ger), Lukas Pöstlberger (Aut), Peter Sagan (Svk).
Cofidis, Solutions Crédits (Fra): Piet Allegaert (Bel), Tom Bohli (Swi), Andre Carvalho (Por), Jempy Drucker (Lux), Christophe Laporte (Fra), Kenneth Vanbilsen (Bel), Jelle Wallays (Bel).
Deceuninck-Quick Step (Bel): Julian Alaphilippe (Fra), Kasper Asgreen (Den), Davide Ballerini (Ita), Tim Declercq (Bel), Yves Lampaert (Bel), Florian Sénéchal (Fra), Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel).
DSM (Ger): Nikias Arndt (Ger), Tiesj Benoot (Bel), Nico Denz (Ger), Nils Eekhoff (Hol, neo-pro), Soren Kragh Andersen (Den), Joris Nieuwenhuis (Hol), Jasha Sütterlin (Ger).
EF Education-Nippo (US): Alberto Bettiol (Ita), Stefan Bissegger (Swi, neo-pro), Jens Keukeleire (Bel), Sebastian Langeveld (Hol), Jonas Rutsch (Ger, neo-pro), Tom Scully (NZ), Michael Valgren (Den).
Groupama-FDJ (Fra): Antione Duchesne (Can), Kevin Geniets (Hol), Stefan Küng (Swi), Mathieu Ladagnous (Fra), Olivier Le Gac (Fra), Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe), Valentin Madouas (Fra).
Ineos Grenadiers (GB): Leonardo Basso (Ita), Owain Doull (GB), Michal Golas (Pol), Ethan Hayter (GB, neo-pro), Tom Pidcock (GB, neo-pro), Luke Rowe (GB), Dylan van Baarle (Hol).
Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux (Bel): Aimé De Gendt (Bel), Wesley Kreder (Hol), Taco van der Hoorn (Hol), Boy van Poppel (Hol), Danny van Poppel (Hol), Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel), Loïc Vliegen (Bel).
Israel Start-up Nation (Isr): Jenthe Biermans (Bel), Guillaume Boivin (Can), Hugo Hofstetter (Fra), Reto Hollenstein (Swi), Alexis Renard (Fra, neo-pro), Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel), Sep Vanmarcke (Bel).
Jumbo-Visma (Hol): Edoardo Affini (Ita), David Dekker (Hol, neo-pro), Pascal Eenkhoorn (Hol), Timo Roosen (Hol), Wout van Aert (Bel), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Bel), Maarten Wynants (Bel).
Lotto-Soudal (Bel): John Degenkolb (Ger), Frederik Frison (Bel), Roger Kluge (Ger), Tosh Van der Sande (Bel), Brent Van Moer (Bel), Florian Vermeersch (Bel, neo-pro), Tim Wellens (Bel).
Movistar (Spa): Imanol Erviti (Spa), Iván García Cortina (Spa), Juri Hollmann (Ger, neo-pro), Johan Jacobs (Swi, neo-pro), Lluís Mas (Spa), Mathias Norsgaard (Den), Gonzalo Serrano (Spa).
Qhubeka-Assos (SA): Victor Campenaerts (Bel), Dimitri Claeys (Bel), Michael Gogl (Aut), Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita), Emil Vinjebo (Den), Max Walscheid (Ger), Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol).
Trek-Segafredo (US): Koen de Kort (Hol), Ryan Mullen (Irl), Mads Pedersen (Den), Kiel Reijnen (US), Quinn Simmons (US, neo-pro), Jasper Stuyven (Bel), Edward Theuns (Bel).
UAE Team Emirates (UAE): Mikkel Bjerg (Den), Sven Erik Bystrom (Nor), Ryan Gibbons (SA), Alexander Kristoff (Nor), Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor), Rui Oliveira (Por), Matteo Trentin (Ita).
UCI Professional Continental teams . . .
Alpecin-Fenix (Bel): Dries De Bondt (Bel), Silvan Dillier (Swi), Jonas Rickaert (Bel), Oscar Riesebeek (Hol), Mathieu van der Poel (Hol), Otto Vergaerde (Bel), Gianni Vermeersch (Bel).
Arkéa-Samsic (Fra): Warren Barguil (Fra), Benjamin Declercq (Bel), Matis Louvel (Fra), Dan McLay (GB), Christophe Noppe (Bel), Clément Russo (Fra), Connor Swift (GB).
B&B Hotels p/b KTM (Fra): Frederik Backaert (Bel), Cyril Barthe (Fra), Bryan Coquard (Fra), Bert De Backer (Bel), Jens Debusschere (Bel), Jérémy Lecroq (Fra), Cyril Lemoine (Fra).
Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles (Bel): Timothy Dupont (Bel), Arjen Livyns (Bel), Mathijs Paasschens (Hol), Tom Paquot (Bel), Jelle Vanendert (Bel), Luc Wirtgen (Lux), Tom Wirtgen (Lux).
Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise (Bel): Ruben Apers (Bel), Cédric Beullens (Bel), Lindsay De Vylder (Bel), Arne Marit (Bel), Fabio Van Den Bossche (Bel), Jordi Warlop (Bel), Thimo Willems (Bel).
Total Direct Énergie (Fra): Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor), Damien Gaudin (Fra), Adrien Petit (Fra), Geoffrey Soupe (Fra), Niki Terpstra (Hol), Anthony Turgis (Fra), Dries Van Gestel (Bel).
Hello, good morning and welcome to our live rolling blog from the 105th edition of the Tour of Flanders, or De Ronde van Vlaanderen as the locals say.
As most of you will know, today’s 254.3-kilometre jaunt from Antwerp to Oudenaarde is one of the most prestigious one-day races in the calendar and following last month’s Milan-Sanremo is the second monument of the season. Following the postponement of Paris-Roubaix this cobbled classic has taken on added significance among those that make their living in these tough races.
For the locals, De Ronde is the biggest day in the Belgian sporting calendar and has been described as being like the Boat Race, Royal Ascot and the FA Cup final. All rolled into one. So as you can imagine, having no fans at the roadside today — or very few, at least — the race will, as we saw last year when Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) prevailed, feel a little quieter than usual.
In an effort to discourage spectators heading to the race due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, organisers did not release a map or profile. However, all of the usual cobbled climbs — Molenberg, Koppenberg, Taaienberg, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg — will feature, while a number of cobbled stretches of road are included.
The combination of narrow, twisty lanes, coupled with some brutish cobbled climbs — raced over a multitude of road surfaces — makes the Tour of Flanders, arguably, the most technical and toughest of all of the one-day races to win. Concentration is absolutely key to success here, while positioning on the climbs can make or break a riders’ ambitions.