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87th Ronde van Vlaanderen/Tour des Flandres - CDM

Belgium, April 6, 2003

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Complete Live Report

Start time: 10:00 CEST
Estimated finish time: 16:00 CET

Welcome to the live coverage of the 87th Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) presented by Cyclingnews.Today's race is the second round of the World Cup, currently led by Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step), who looks good to keep the vertically rainbow-striped jersey today, provided he can gain a few points. But the Ronde is much more than a contest for points - it's Flanders' biggest and most important sporting event of the year, and carries significant weight as a cultural event. The 600,000 odd fans who will be lining the roads this year will not only be there for the bike race, given that this occupies only a fraction of the live viewing time. They'll also be out to celebrate the fact that there is such a great event in their collective backyards. And believe me, Belgians know how to celebrate. "Vijf Trappisten, alstublieft..."

The race route measures 255 kilometres this year, starting in Brugge in the north western part of Flanders, then travelling east to Eeklo, the official town of the Ronde, then south to Oudenaarde and into the "heuvelzone" - the defining feature of the Ronde, consisting of 19 short but steep climbs, nine of which are cobbled. The first climb is at Nokere (km 89) and the last is the Bosberg (km 242). The toughest climbs are the Kwaremont (km 177), Paterberg (km 180), Koppenberg (187), Taaienberg (km 195), Berendries (km 223) and the Muur (km 239). That said, the cobbles of the Bosberg are quite tough, coming at the end of the whole tour. The finish is in Ninove-Meerbeke, as is traditional.

The Ronde is a very selective race, and is considered as one of the hardest classics to win. Mario Cipollini rated it as tougher than Milan-San Remo in this respect. "The Tour of Flanders is a very hard race," he was quoted in the Belgian papers yesterday. "You have to have the ability to interpret the course of the race and it is constantly being aware of crashes or punctures. One streak of bad luck and it's all over. Hard, but that is what makes it so beautiful. To be honest; the degree of difficulty is a lot higher than Milan-San Remo."

Photo: © Jeff Tse
Click for larger image

"I am here to win the Tour of Flanders," he added without hesitation. "See, last year I finished ninth; I think it's ok to think about winning it then. It's just that the race doesn't always develop as you think it will. Look at Milan-San Remo: I was so strong but didn't make it."

"I don't know any of the new climbs. But that is the reason why I am here a few days before. I came to scout the parcours. To be triumphant in Rainbow colours is a dream."

Cipo will be honoured by the Province of Limburg (which hosted the World's last year) while he is in the country; he will receive the "code of honour" and be made a "freeman". "I didn't win the World's by myself though," he said, adding that he thought it was a great honour.

It's also known that Cipollini loves motorbikes and on Monday he has been invited to race a top of the line motorbike on the circuit in Zolder. "It really appeals to me, but we have to wait and see what happens on Sunday. I have to race Gent-Wevelgem on Wednesday and that too is a goal for me."

9:40 CEST
The riders are gathered in Brugge's Grote Markt for the neutral start, in about five minutes time. There is a huge crowd on hand to watch the action, enjoying seeing their heroes being introduced on stage. The neutral start is at 9:50am, with the official start on the outskirts of the city at 10:00am.

The weather today should be good, although there was some rain overnight and the roads have not dried up yet. If the sun comes out as predicted, then the climbs should be largely dry. If not, then the already hard task of navigating the course becomes very difficult and dangerous. The wind will no doubt play some factor today - it's expected to be from the north, blowing at a moderate strength. This will give the riders a tail/cross wind at the start, and then a head/cross wind for much of the hilly section. The final part between the Bosberg and Ninove will be a cross wind.

10:00 CEST - 0 km
And they're off! 194 riders have left Brugge for Ninove, with 255 km of hard riding in front of them. The sun is starting to show its face a little more, and it should be a fine day. One rider who did not start is Johan Verstrepen (Landbouwkrediet).

One of the big favourites today is Johan Museeuw, who had to shrug off an injured knee and a bronchial infection to be at the start of 'Vlaanderen's mooiste'. It's easy to spot Museeuw in the peloton: you can look for the very solid figure in the blue and white Quick Step-Davitamon outfit but it might be easier to spot his new "Lion helmet". The Lion of Flanders has been given a brand new helmet by his Italian friend Alessandro Montagnaro, who owns a bistro in Roeselare. On the front you will see (of course) the head of a lion and on the back the names of Johan's two sons, Gianni and Stefano are written in small letters.

10:12 CEST - 7 km

Korff and Liese
Photo: © Chris Henry
Click for larger image

As the riders leave Brugge bound for Eeklo, the attacks start almost immediately. Michael Rich (Gerolsteiner) is the first to attack at 5 km, and he is joined by compatriot Thomas Liese (Team Coast), Vincent van der Kooij (BankGiroLoterij) and ... wait for it.... Jacky Durand (FDJeux.com). OK, you didn't have to wait that long.


10:21 CEST - 14 km
The four leaders now have a 30 second gap on the peloton. Is this the break of the day? Durand really wants it to happen. He won the race in 1992 with a long breakaway.

This morning before the start there were five teams subjected to health controls by the UCI: Cofidis, iBanesto.com, ONCE, Phonak and Rabobank. All riders were cleared to start.

10:29 CEST - 19 km
The four leaders, Michel Rich (Gerolsteiner), Thomas Liese (Coast), Jacky Durand (FDJeux.com) and Vincent Van der Kooij (BankGiroLoterij) have extended their advantage to 50 seconds over the large and compact peloton. The four are now passing through Eeklo, the official town of the Ronde. The pace is relatively brisk, as expected in the early part of the race. What's missing from the break are a Palmans-Collstrop and a Vlaanderen-T Interim rider.

Ahh, we don't have to wait long for our answer: Vlaanderen-T Interim's Jan Kuyckx (remember him from last year?) attacks through Eeklo in pursuit of the four leaders.

10:39 CEST - 25 km
Kuyckx may have missed the boat - he trails Durand and co. by 1'05, and leads the peloton by 1'28. A 1 minute gap is very tough to close on your own when you're chasing four fresh riders moving along at 45 km/h.

10:45 CEST - 30 km
Kuyckx will be left to his own devices it seems, as the peloton stops to commune with nature in Zomergem. He trails Durand and co. by 1'13, and won't get that back unless they wait for him. It's notable that the two Germans in the break, Michael Rich and Thomas Liese, are both very strong time trialists. Together with Durand and Van der Kooij, this quartet will be out there for a long time.

10:56 CEST - 37 km
Michel Rich (Gerolsteiner), Thomas Liese (Coast), Jacky Durand (FDJeux.com) and Vincent Van der Kooij (BankGiroLoterij), who attacked after 5 kilometres, now have a 4'30 advantage over the peloton, which has slowed down a little.

We spoke to Durand's teammate Baden Cooke at the start in Brugge this morning, and he had this to say: "I'm back to normal. Not as good as I was but back to normal. The two guys going the best are Bernhard Eisel and Christophe Mengin so we'll look after those guys the best we can."

"Obviously Jacky will attack straight from the start so we'll be represented in the break as per usual. The other guys like Fred [Guesdon], [Brad] Wiggins and myself will have a bit of free reign in the middle section. Mengin and Eisel will sit back and wait for the finale."

11:05 CEST - 44 km
Kuyckx is caught by the peloton just after Ursel, leaving just four leaders in front: Durand, Rich, Liese and Van der Kooij. That is until Palmans' Hendrick Van Dijck counter attacks... But there's no way that he's going to close a 5 minute gap to the leaders.

The Quick.Step-Davitamon team took extra measures to get rid of the 'flu that hit the team in the last few weeks. They decided to disinfect the air-conditioning system in the Quick Step-Davitamon team bus. "It was Johan Museeuw's father who came up with the idea," said manager Patrick Lefevere. "The 'plague' hadn't gone yet; even the girl that sells the team posters and cards at the start got sick with the same thing."

Filip Demyttenaere, the PR officer of Omega Pharma (the parent company of Davitamon) said that "We used Insidine, a disinfectant that is used in hospitals and operation rooms."

11:18 CEST - 49 km
ONCE's Rafael Diaz Justo chases and catches Van Dijck, so now there are two riders 7'43 behind the leading four, who are now 9'08 in front of the peloton. Again the scenario is similar to last year, where Diaz Justo was involved in the chasing of the four leaders.

11:31 CEST - 59 km
Van Dijck and Diaz Justo have realised their pursuit is pointless, and have now been caught by the peloton. The leading four Durand, Rich, Van Der Kooij and Liese still have 9 minutes advantage.

11:42 CEST - 67 km
The four leaders have now gained 10'10 advantage over the peloton, which is gradually picking up pace as it heads towards Waregem.

There is a crash in the peloton, but it's not serious. Daniele Contrini (Gerolsteiner) comes down, but he quickly gets back on his bike.

11:54 CEST - 75 km

Fred Rodriguez
Photo: © Chris Henry
Click for larger image

Durand, Rich, Liese and Van Der Kooij have reached a 12'48 gap over the peloton as they pass through Waregem. There is still no real interest in chasing yet, and it will probably be a little while longer.

Cyclingnews spoke to Fred Rodriguez (Sidermec) at the start today, "I've had a couple of bad crashes and I've been sick so we'll see how it goes. Romans and Bortolami are riding well so we'll see how they go and I'll help them out if I can."

12:04 CEST - 90 km
The leaders, who have been away since kilometre 5, have covered 88.8 kilometres in the first two hours of racing (44.4 km/h), helped by a light tailwind. They have gone through Kruishoutem and up the first climb of the day, the Nokereberg (300m, cobbled).

12:14 CEST - 98 km
The gap back to the peloton on the Nokereberg was 14'30, which means that the four leaders are now roughly 10 kilometres in front. However, they've got a long road ahead of them: nearly 160 km and 18 more climbs.

Peter Van Petegem
Photo: © Jeff Tse
Click for larger image

1999 winner Peter van Petegem (Lotto-Domo) is certainly one of the favourites today. In an interview in the VUM newspapers yesterday he said, "We could be complaining: An injured Hans De Clercq will be watching the race on television. Just like Eeckhout who isn't ready for the Ronde."

But he wasn't complaining, "Because the team leader is good, and that is the most important. And I can motivate the youngsters well. Just by being there. The evening before Milan-San Remo I called the guys in the hotel; they all sounded down, depressed. That won't be the case this weekend. I don't think that I will have to sit by myself after 150 km."

Peter clearly has confidence in his team, and vice versa. "I think I will stick Glenn d'Hollander with Peter for the first half of the race," said team director Mark Sergeant. "Wim Vansevenant can last longer. The way he is riding now, he will be able to lend a hand in the finale. And then we have Baguet, Hoste, Vierhouten, maybe Van Bon."

Van Petegem added, "I have been asked the same question for weeks now: How fast can you be on top of things after the illness that kept you out of Milan-San Remo? The answer has been given I think. I had the form, and I never let my head hang down. In Waregem and Harelbeke I suffered like mad. Yes, I was feeling a bit stressed at that moment. Not any more. The Driedaagse van De Panne gave me confidence. Especially the time-trial. That one never lies, they say."

12:31 CEST - 110 km
Jacky Durand (FDJ), Michael Rich (Gerolsteiner), Thomas Liese (Coast) and Vincent van der Kooij (BankGiroLoterij) have been away since kilometre five, and are currently holding a lead of 14'32 over the peloton, which is now matching their speed. The peloton is just approaching the first feed zone near Oudenaarde.

12:44 CEST - 120 km/135 km to go
The pace has started to take its toll already on the bunch, even though there has been not much racing yet. Rafael Diaz Justo and Joseba Beloki (ONCE) have abandoned, as have Jurgen Van De Walle (Vlaanderen) and Jans Koerts (Bankgiroloterij).

Oscar Camenzind (Phonak) fell in the feed zone.

12:56 CEST - 126 km/129 km to go
The latest time check saw the four leaders at 14'50 in front of the peloton, so there's still no chase going on.

Oscar Camenzind has been taken to hospital in Oudenaarde, so his fall was more serious that first thought.

13:08 CEST - 134 km/121 km to go
The leaders are now hammering up the 3 km cobbled section at Mater, as the peloton has picked up the pace, reducing the gap to 11'28. The Rabobank and Quick.Step teams are in front, controlling the pace. Mario Cipollini is also quite close to the front.

Quick.Step's Johan Museeuw said at the start, "I don't know how I will feel in the race. I don't know... I feel ok but that doesn't mean anything yet, we'll have to wait and see. I haven't trained much this week. I know that I took the heaviest type of antibiotics; what others say about me being sick or not doesn't interest me."

13:13 CEST - 137 km/118 km to go
One of the abandoned riders, Jans Koerts, fell heavily in the Driedaagse van De Panne on Thursday morning. He hurt his knee quite badly. In was in the same crash that Andy Capelle broke his elbow.

The wind is quite strong at the moment, and the riders still have a tail/cross wind. Robert Hunter and Mathew Hayman (Rabobank) are driving the peloton, with Paolo Bettini and Mario Cipollini in the third row. Steffen Wesemann, Dario Pieri, Johan Museeuw and Peter Van Petegem are also near the front.

Bettini takes the lead, and switches from one side of the road to the other, avoiding the cobbles. He has done quite a bit of damage to the peloton, and has also reduced the gap to 10'45. The next climb is approaching: the Wolvenberg (6.3 percent average, paved).

13:22 CEST - 143 km/112 km to go
The peloton tackles the Wolvenberg, led by US Postal's Benoit Joachim. They reach the top 10'36 behind the four leaders (Durand, Rich, Liese and Van der Kooij). Then they have to negotiate another 800m of cobbles. Wilfried Cretskens (Quick.Step) is setting the pace now, followed by Wim Vansevenant (Lotto-Domo).

Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE) has a mechanical problem (dropped chain?) but quickly gets a push from a spectator and is on his way.

13:30 CEST - 147 km/108 km to go
Rabobank and Quick.Step are the teams setting the tempo on the Kattenberg cobbles , stringing out the peloton on the descent into Oudenaarde, hitting 67 km/h. These cobbles aren't too bad though, and above all, they're dry.

The four leaders, Durand, Rich, Liese and Van der Kooij, are gradually losing time as they head towards Kluisbergen on the big road. Liese is taken a break to refuel, and he'll need it for the hills coming up. Durand, who is wearing his traditional hairnet and cap (or is that a hairnet helmet?) gets rid of his shoe covers as the sun has come out. Their gap is 9'41.

13:42 CEST - 156 km/99 km to go
The leaders now have under 100 km to go, as they approach Kluisbergen, and the fourth hill of the day. The peloton is still large, and not moving too quickly. Luca Paolini and Paolo Bettini are at the back, sorting themselves out before the action really begins. Frank Vandenbroucke is also there.

The gap to the leaders is down to 8'51, thanks to the work of Bramati, Hunter, Boven and De Jongh.

The leaders take the left hand turn in Ruien onto the Kluisberg, which measures 1.1 km and averages 6 percent, with a maximum of 15 percent. Durand leads and suffers up the steepest section, with Liese riding comfortably. At the top, Michael Rich takes over and crests in front. The gap is 8'20. Last year it was over 11 minutes at this point.

13:54 CEST - 165 km/90 km to go
Robert Hunter (Rabobank) now takes the right hand turn to the Kluisberg, 7'50 behind the four leaders. He is followed by Bramati and Cretskens for Quick.Step. The favourites are also near the front on this first climb.

Hunter drops to the back of the peloton as the climb progesses, his work done. Bramati leads over the top of the climb. The peloton heads down the other side, taking care to avoid the hole on the right hand corner near the bottom...

14:00 CEST - 168 km/87 km to go
Thomas Liese, in his light blue Team Coast jersey, leads Michael Rich, Jacky Durand and Vincent Van der Kooij on the Knokteberg, a tough asphalt climb with a 13 percent sting at the top. They also have a headwind, and their advantage over the peloton has fallen to 6'54. Durand and Van der Kooij are dropped about 100m from the top. Only 14 more climbs to go...

Cyclingnews spoke to Julian Dean (CSC) at the start today, and asked him about his chances. "We have a couple of designated riders to look after. The riders that have been going well the last couple of weeks [Andrea Tafi and Tristan Hoffman]. So we'll try to stick by them and hopefully they can deliver for us at the end of the day. As far as the parcours change goes, I think it'll be pretty similar to other years. The first selection will be made around the Kwaremont and the final selection will be made after the 200 km mark, especially on the Muur and the Bosberg like always."

Dean noted that Tafi had lost 4 kg since Het Volk.

14:06 CEST - 170km/85 km to go
The Quick.Step/Rabobank block leads the pack up the Knokteberg. Bettini, Museuew, Cipollini, Van Petegem are all near the front. Luca Paolini rides off in front to fix his bike computer. Or at least, that's what he tells the peloton :-) At the back, Gonzalez de Galdeano has problems again.

14:12 CEST - 173 km/82 km to go
The Durand group hits the Oude Kwaremont, 2.2 km of cobbles at an average of 4.2 percent. It quickly becomes the Liese/Rich group, as Durand and Van der Kooij are left floundering.

As the peloton turns onto the climb, Bettini gets a puncture. He gets a quick wheel change and will have to chase on the Kwaremont. In front , Sidermec and a few other teams take over the pace setting. The gap to the leaders is now 5'10. Planckaert sprints for the bottom of the climb and wins. He is now in the front row. Behind him, riders try to take the short cut between the telegraph pole and the house...and fail.

Bettini is now making his way up through the tail of the peloton, which wasn't going too hard before the cobbles. But now his teammate Paolini is setting a hard tempo at the front, followed by Zanini, Planckaert, Van Petegem, Cooke, Vainsteins. Freire, Museeuw, Bartoli are also there.

14:18 CEST - 177 km/78 km to go
The peloton is two thirds of the way up the Kwaremont, still led by Paolini and Zanini. There are three Lotto riders there too. Further back, Cretskens gets a puncture and takes Bramati's wheel. Cretskens is considered an important helper for Museeuw.

In front, the Durand, Rich and Liese have dropped Van der Kooij on the Paterberg, and Van der Kooij has really had it. The gap is now 4'39, as Zanini attacks off the front of the peloton.

14:23 CEST - 181 km/74 km to go
The bunch doesn't let Zanini go, with Fassa Bortolo leading the way onto the Paterberg. Museeuw is second wheel, following Cancellara up the 12.5 percent cobbled monster. Vainsteins, Wesemann, Baldato and Van Petegem are all there. Baldato is first over, followed by Vainsteins. Boogerd and Pieri are also up there.

In front, Van de Kooij has caught back on, just in time for the Koppenberg.

14:27 CEST - 183 km/72 km to go
The Paterberg caused a natural selection of 15 riders, but the chasers come back, bit by bit. There is no real organisation, as Luca Paolini and Fabian Cancellara set the tempo at the front. There are about 30 riders in front.

Marco Serpellini (Lampre) attacks, hoping to get to the Koppenberg first. The gap to Durand and co. is now 3'17.

Serpellini is joined by Sacchi (Saeco), Cassani (Alessio), Bettini and Paolini (Quick.Step), Gabriele Balducci (Sidermec), Lombardi (Domina Vacanze), Roberto Petito (Fassa) to form a dangerous group. All Italians!

14:32 CEST - 186 km/69 km to go
The four leaders are now on the Koppenberg, chased by an eight man group containing Bettini and Paolini at 2'56. There are no Rabobank or Lotto riders in that group.

Michael Rich and Thomas Liese ride away from Durand and Van der Kooij, who are really having a tough time today.

Paolo Bettini heads the eight man Italian chase group on the Koppenberg, with the peloton at 30 seconds. Bettini looks very comfortable, unlike some of the others on the 22 percent section. In the peloton, Zanini, Bruylandts and Wesemann are leading. Museeuw is in about 5th wheel. Max van Heeswijk (USPS) is suffering in about 15th, but is still there.

There's a fall right at the top of the climb in the peloton, with Hondo (Telekom) coming down.

14:38 CEST - 189 km/66 km to go
One of the following motorbikes has crashed on the Koppenberg. Bramati is standing in front of it, having been sitting right behind it when it crashed. He eventually gets going, with Van Heeswijk as company. The peloton is long gone.

In front, Liese and Rich are enjoying their last kilometres of freedom. They are being mowed down by a group of eight Italians, including Bettini and Paolini at 1'45. The peloton follows at 2'15. Liese and Rich are now on the Steenbeekdries, a fairly gentle but cobbled climb.

14:43 CEST - 192 km/63 km to go
The chasing group with Bettini, Paolini, Balducci, Petito, Sacchi, Lombardi,Cassani and Serpellini are on the Steenbeekdries, 1'52 behind Rich and Liese. Durand and Van Der Kooij are somewhere in between. The main peloton is still around 30 seconds behind the chase group, led by Rabobank. Museeuw is in second wheel, looking good.

Lombardi is dropped over the top.

14:47CEST - 194 km/61 km to go
Liese hammers up the Taaienberg, with its cobbled maximum of 18 percent. Rich has difficulties following, and is about 80m behind at the top. 1'13 behind is the Italian group, with the peloton at 1'56.

Mattan, Museeuw and Vandenbroucke lead the peloton up the climb, 45 seconds behind Bettini's chase group.

Durand and Van der Kooij are caught by Bettini's group just over the top of the Taaienberg, in a fairly windy section.

14:51 CEST - 196 km/59 km to go
Liese and Rich are now just 39 seconds in front of the Bettini-Italian chase group, with the peloton at 1'21. Michael Boogerd does some work in front, as his team has no riders in front. The peloton is still around 50 riders strong.

The next climb is the Ladeuze, a tough, narrow asphalt road, with an average of 7 percent. Durand and Van der Kooij will be dropped on this climb, and probably Liese and Rich will be caught by the chasers.

14:55 CEST - 199 km/56 km to go
Durand and Van der Kooij come off the back on the 13 percent maximum section of Ladeuze. Lombardi is also in difficulties. Rich is caught once it flattens out, leaving only Thomas Liese in front.

The peloton is now led by Marc Wauters and Wim Vansevenant, who will have to ride hard to close this gap. Museeuw is still in second wheel.

14:58 CEST - 201 km/54 km to go
Liese has 20 seconds on Bettini's nine man group on the descent towards the Boigneberg. Rich is sitting on the back, but the peloton is closing the gap. Wauters and Vansevenant have cut it to 15 seconds.

The chasing group: Marco Serpellini (Lampre), Fabio Sacchi (Saeco), Enrico Cassani (Alessio), Paolo Bettini and Luca Paolini (Quick.Step), Gabriele Balducci (Sidermec), Giovanni Lombardi (Domina Vacanze), Roberto Petito (Fassa) and Michael Rich (Gerolsteiner).

The chase group is caught at the bottom of the descent, and now the peloton is back together after some panic. Thomas Liese (Team Coast) is the sole leader, with 15 seconds on the Boigneberg.

Mario Cipollini is coasting off the back, and doesn't look as though he'll win the Ronde. He has now abandoned.

15:03 CEST - 203 km/52 km to go
Liese's reign is almost over, as the attacks come on the Boigneberg. Joachim (USPS) attacks first, with Museeuw on his wheel. Then Balducci, Wauters, Pieri, Van Petegem. Museeuw is watching everything.

Joachim, Guesdon and Balducci attack again over the top, and get 5 seconds to the peloton. They are now en route to the Foreest, climb number 13.

15:07 CEST - 205 km/50 km to go
The trio are caught, and Dario Pieri (Saeco) launches himself off the front. There is no immediate reaction, with the 50 rider peloton content to let him go. Could be dangerous, and last year's winner Andrea Tafi (CSC) gets to the front and drives it through St Maria Hoerebeke, on the main road.

Pieri will catch Liese soon, who has been way for 200 km. The pair are now together on the descent before the Foreest.

15:12 CEST - 209 km/46 km to go
Liese is dropped by Pieri at the foot of the Foreest, the 13th climb of the day. Pieri has 15 seconds on Benoit Joachim (USPS), who has put his head down and attacked again. He is allowed to go by the peloton.

Stijn Devolder (Vlaanderen) has a flat tyre.

Rolf Aldag (Telekom) attacks in pursuit of Pieri, catching and passing both Joachim and Liese. He is chased by Paolini (Quick.Step).

15:16 CEST - 212 km/43 km to go
Dario Pieri (Saeco) is about to be caught by Rolf Aldag. Then there are four riders: Thomas Liese, Christophe Mengin (FDJ), Paolini, and Joachim about 10 seconds behind, with the peloton at another 10 seconds.

Pieri is now on the Steenberg. He looks behind and wonders where Aldag is.

15:19 CEST - 214 km/41 km to go
Aldag and Pieri are now together, with 41 kilometres and five climbs to go. Paolini, Mengin and Joachim are chasing them at 13 seconds. The peloton is nervous, and Museeuw in his yellow helmt is covering a lot of attacks. Impressive work - for himself or Bettini? Max Sciandri tries, but can't do anything with the Lion of Flanders on his wheel. Is Museeuw doing too much?

15:24 CEST - 216 km/39 km to go
Aldag and Pieri hit the Haaghoek, a 2 km section of cobbles (downhill then uphill). They have about 22 seconds lead on Paolini, Joachim and Mengin, and 32 seconds to the peloton, led by Fassa Bortolo. Paolini's group is caught by the peloton, as Cassani accelerates on the cobbles with Museeuw right on his wheel. Museeuw does a turn...it's strong. Mattan is also there. So is Van Petegem.

Museeuw, Mattan and Guesdon have a small gap to the peloton as they hit the Leberg. Aldag is caught by them. Van Petegem bridges up, to form a group of five in pursuit of Pieri.

15:27 CEST - 219 km/36 km to go
Mattan, Aldag, Museeuw, Guesdon, Van Petegem, Pieri and Guesdon are leading the race now, with a small gap to a Michel Bartoli led peloton. Mattan is setting a tough tempo, but they don't want to ride hard it seems.

Some riders, including Ekimov, Bartoli, Cassani and Boogerd, have caught Museeuw's group now.

15:32 CEST - 222 km/33 km to go
Mattan leads Guesdon on the Berendries, hammering hard at the bottom. He gets plenty of encouragement from the supporters on the side of the road. Museeuw's group seems to have been caught, as Salvatore Commesso (Saeco) attacks the peloton.

Commesso feels the pull of gravity and goes back to the peloton. Dave Bruylandts, Frank Vandenbroucke (past the God is Terug signs) and Ivanov are next to attack.

15:36 CEST - 224 km/31 km to go
Mattan and Guesdon have descended back towards Brakel, and are chased by a group with around 10 riders in it. Celestino, Bruylandts, Cassani, Commesso, Sacchi, Museeuw, Bartoli, Ivanov, Van Petegem, Vandenbroucke, Boogerd, Ekimov are all there.

15:39 CEST - 226 km/29 km to go
Mattan and Guesdon make the left hander onto Tenbossestraat, chased by a group of 10-15 with Museeuw, Bartoli, Van Petegem, Boogerd and Freire. Ekimov hammers off the front of the group at the foot of the climb, but can't get much of a gap.

But Ekimov perserveres, and goes hard. But then Museeuw counters, then Van Petegem! Strong move. Over the top, VDB and Bruylandts are chasing Van Petegem, with Guesdon and Mattan still leading the race.

Van Petegem catches Mattan and Guesdon on the road down to Parike. It's a head cross wind now.

15:43 CEST - 229 km/26 km to go
Bruylandts and VDB are chasing Mattan, Guesdon and Van Petegem at 10 seconds down the hill to Parike. VDB is very strong, and Bruylandts is struggling. Then the next group with Bartoli, Museeuw and the Saecos is following.

VDB and Bruylandts catch the leaders on Parikeberg (not actually marked as a climb, but still a climb.)

Baldato, Ekimov, Boogerd, Ivanov, Celestino and O'Grady are in another group chasing the front five at 14 seconds. Then Museeuw is in a group 100m back.

15:51 CEST - 235 km/20 km to go
The leading five are now just 9 seconds in front of Baldato, Celestino, Ekimov, Boogerd, Ivanov, and O'Grady, who should get them before the Muur. But Ivanov doesn't want to work hard. The next group with Museeuw and co is at 48 seconds.

The leaders are now in Geraardsbergen. They are caught by the chasers on the bridge, forming a group of 11. But Guesdon decides to attack, just before the Muur. This is going to hurt at the top.

15:54 CEST - 238 km/17 km to go
Guesdon is halfway up the Muur now, heading towards the last and toughest section. He has 5 seconds on a group with Boogerd, Baldato, O'Grady, Ekimov, VDB, Van Petegem, Celestino, Bruylandts, Mattan.

Ivanov has a puncture.

Van Petegem rides down Guesdon on the Muur, followed by VDB. The pair of Belgians have a small gap. They attack on the steepest part. Ooh la la...

15:58 CEST - 240 km/15 km to go
The next group, led by Bartoli, is 1'16 behind on the Muur. They will not catch these 11 leaders.

In front, it's Peter Van Petegem and Frank Vandenbroucke in the lead, with a 10 second gap on a group of 8, with Guesdon, Boogerd, Baldato, O'Grady, Ekimov, Celestino, Bruylandts, Mattan.

15:58 CEST - 241 km/14 km to go
Van Petegem and VDB are now 12 seconds in front of the chasers, as they approach the Bosberg. Are we looking at a Belgian victor?

16:02 CEST - 243 km/12 km to go
Mattan attacks the chasing group in pursuit of PVP and VDB. He'll have to bridge on the Bosberg, the final climb. Van Petegem is leading up the climb, hammering.

Serguei Ivanov has caught the chasing group after his puncture. Mattan's attack goes nowhere, as Ekimov mows him down.

VDB attacks on the Bosberg, but Van Petegem covers it. Behind them Ekimov, Mattan, Baldato and Ivanov have a small gap to the rest. The gap is 22 seconds at the top.

16:05 CEST - 245 km/10 km to go
Peter Van Petegem and Frank Vandenbroucke are now working together after a brief chat. "No more attacks until we're sure" ? The gap is 22 seconds to the 9 man chase group.

The chasers: Guesdon, Boogerd, Baldato, O'Grady, Ekimov, Celestino, Bruylandts, Mattan, and Ivanov.

16:08 CEST - 247 km/8 km to go
Vandenbroucke is doing a lot of work, and he is strong. Van Petegem also, as they keep the chasers at bay in this windy section. It's now 24 seconds, and growing.

16:10 CEST - 248 km/7 km to go
VDB or Van Petegem? It looks as though these two will stay away to Ninove. Behind them, the eight man chase group is making exactly zero ground. Actually, they are losing time despite all of them riding hard.

The two leaders are just about to reach the long straight, finishing road to Ninove, fighting the wind. The gap is increasing: 33 seconds. Incredible riding by the two Belgians in front.

16:12 CEST - 250 km/5 km to go
Wilfried Peeters has a chat to VDB with 5 km to go, as they turn onto the main road to Ninove. The attack is a good one, and there's no thought yet of stopping cooperation. The chasers are too close for that - 33 seconds.

16:15 CEST - 252 km/3 km to go
3 km to go and it's all downhill from Frank Vandenbroucke and Peter Van Petegem. The wind is against them, but it's not really slowing them down. The chasers, with O'Grady, Baldato, Boogerd and co. are at 35 seconds.

16:16 CEST - 253 km/2 km to go
The leading pair are still working smoothly, under the two km to go banner. VDB is the slower sprinter on paper.. The chasers are now looking at each other, seeing who gets third.

16:18 CEST - 254 km/1 km to go
1 km to go - they're still together. Looking back. They have it won, but will it be PVP or VDB?

16:21 CEST - 255 km/0 km to go
Van Petegem leads, with VDB shadowing him. They make the last right hander, with PVP in front. VDB attacks first, too early. Peter Van Petegem wastes no time in winding it up and powers past VDB comfortably. Van Petegem wins! He gets his second Ronde and is delighted. VDB really didn't have the speed to match PVP, and it didn't matter where he jumped.

O'Grady wins the sprint for third from Baldato and Mattan. Good ride by the Australian champion!

Thanks everyone for following the Ronde van Vlaanderen with Cyclingnews. We'll be back next weekend with Paris-Roubaix, and that's already shaping up to be a great race. Watch out for Museeuw again, who was strong today. Full results, report and photos will be available soon.


1 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Lotto-Domo                 6.29.57
2 Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel) Quick.Step-Davitamon
3 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Credit Agricole
4 Fabio Baldato (Ita) Alessio
5 Nico Mattan (Bel) Cofidis
6 Frederic Guesdon (Fra) FDJeux.com
7 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Fassa Bortolo
8 Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus) US Postal-Berry Floor
9 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank
10 Dave Bruylandts (Bel) Marlux

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