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Photo ©: Sirotti

102nd Paris-Roubaix - CDM

France, April 11, 2004

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Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Chris Henry and Gabriella Ekström

Complete live report

Start time: 11:00 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:30 CEST

11:00 CEST   
Johan Museeuw (Quick.Step-Davitamon)
Photo ©: CN
Welcome to Cyclingnews' coverage of the 102nd Paris-Roubaix, nicknamed the 'Queen of the Classics' or the 'Hell of the North', probably depending on your status as a spectator or rider. As is traditional, the race starts in Compiegne, which can be considered 'Paris' in a very liberal sense. But the classic does finish in Roubaix, or more specifically the Roubaix velodrome, where the riders complete the final kilometre.

The characteristic features of Paris-Roubaix are the cobbled zones/sectors. There are 26 of them in this year's race, totalling 51.1 km. The first one is at Troisvilles after 99.8 km of smooth roads, and the last is just before the entrance to the velodrome with 1 km to go. Some of these are harder than others, with the key sectors being the Forêt d'Arenberg (km 166.5, 2.4 km), Le Mons-en-Pévèle (km 213.2, 3 km) and Carrefour de l'Arbre (km 244.8, 2.1 km). But all of them are hard, and after six and a half hours of riding over them, the riders' bodies will be begging for relief from the painful jarring.

There are a number of favourites today, with luck also an important factor in who gets the winner's trophy. Quick.Step's block of cobbled specialists is led by Johan Museeuw (in his last Paris-Roubaix), but they can also rely on Tom Boonen, Servais Knaven and Stefano Zanini as alternatives.

Lotto-Domo has the defending champion in Peter Van Petegem, but look out for Leon van Bon and Leif Hoste as well. Saeco will be pinning its hopes on Dario Pieri, who was second last year, while US Postal-Berry Floor will pull out all stops to try and get George Hincapie, or possibly Stijn Devolder or Max van Heeswijk into a winning position.

Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile) is backing up from last week's win in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and he hopes to improve on his second place in 2002. Fassa Bortolo will rely on Frank Vandenbroucke and Juan Antonio Flecha, while Rabobank will look to last year's fourth place getter Marc Wauters. Alessio Bianchi have Magnus Backstedt, Fabio Baldato and Andrea Tafi, with Scott Sunderland hoping to get in an early break. No doubt plenty of other candidates will emerge as the race unfolds.

The weather at the start is reported to be fine and cool, with a little bit of sun and no rain. At the moment, a slight wind is blowing from the north, which will be against the riders all day.

11:13 CEST   
The start
Photo ©: CN
The riders roll out of Compiegne's Place du Palais in front of a large crowd that has gathered here on Easter Sunday to witness the start of yet another edition of this prestigious classic. The official start is at 11:10am, on the outskirts of Compiegne.

A little later on, we're expecting Rabobank's Mathew Hayman to join us in our live coverage. Matt has ridden this race four times and would have loved to be on the start line today. Unfortunately, a crash in Gent-Wevelgem on the descent of the Kemmelberg left him very bruised.

11:27 CEST    9km/252km to go
177 riders have rolled out of Compiegne for the first section of the race, which will take them along rolling roads up through St. Quentin (km 59) en route to Troisvilles (km 100). Once the race approaches that point, the action really begins, as often that very first section of cobbles will split the peloton into several groups. To get to Troisvilles in front is the aim of everyone who is serious about finishing, and this is often why riders try to get in an early breakaway, in order to avoid all the pushing and shoving.

11:35 CEST    18km/243km to go
The first attack of the day was made by a Brioches La Boulangère rider, who went as soon as the flag dropped. He was brought back immediately by the peloton.

Reader Ron Flores from Belgium asks if Paris-Roubaix is the 'Queen of the Classics', is there a King? I don't honestly know if there is one. Milan-San Remo is nicknamed "La Primavera", the Ronde van Vlaanderen is "Vlaanderen's Mooiste" and Liege-Bastogne-Liege is "La Doyenne". But is there a King?

11:44 CEST    25m/236km to go
Race radio reports that 177 riders started (OK, I was thinking of the ghosts of Cofidis). 38 riders were also blood tested by the UCI this morning from the following teams: AG2R, La Boulangère, Crédit Agricole, Domina Vacanze and Saeco. No rider was declared unfit to start.

For non-Dutch speakers, "mooiste" translates as "best" or "finest", by the way.

11:56 CEST    30km/231km to go
The riders have covered the first 30 km in 49 minutes, and there is a break of three riders: Erki Putsep (Ag2r), Elke Van de Wal (BankGiroLoterij) and Guillaume Auger (RAGT). They have 16 seconds lead on the bunch, which is not much but it's something.

Other Belgian readers have sent in more translations of "mooiste": Prettiest, most beautiful of all. Also, "La Doyenne" means oldest, typically referring to grand old dame.

12:09 CEST    37km/224km to go
George Hincapie (USPS-Berry Floor)
Photo ©: CN
We spoke to a number of riders before the start this morning in Compiegne, and although there were plenty of nerves, a lot of riders were looking forward to the challenge.

Will today be US Postal-Berry Floor's leader George Hincapie's day? "I hope so!" he told Cyclingnews. "I'm feeling really good, The team's good.. .Max is feeling good again, Stijn's feeling good. We'll hope for the best."

Teammate Floyd Landis added, "We've got a good team. I'm feeling good. I raced a bit in Spain...I'm a bit tired, but it's ok. I'm glad it's dry...I've had enough rain for this year."

12:16 CEST    47km/214km to go
Race radio reports that 40.2 km were covered in the first hour.

The three breakaways Putsep (Ag2r), Van de Wal (BankGiroLoterij), and Auger were caught by Commesso and Vaugrenard, but this group was brought back by the peloton. Two more riders attacked: Carlos Barredo and Rony Martias (Brioches), but they too were brought back.

12:19 CEST    49km/212km to go
Quick.Step's team manager Patrick Lefevere is hoping for a good result from his boys today, and has a good track record in this event with seven winners and four clean sweeps of the podium. "We're great today, we'll go for it," he told Cyclingnews.

Quick.Step's Tom Boonen is certainly a candidate: "If I'm feeling good...I'm feeling really good, actually, I'll ride for myself and have a free hand like I normally have when I ride a race like this that suits me."

Laszlo Bodrogi added, "The whole team is very good. We proved that this wednesday when we put six riders in the break. I can't promise we'll repeat it but we can try."

12:28 CEST    53km/208km to go
It's clouded over a bit now, but there is no rain at the moment. No-one has yet been able to get clear of the peloton. The latest rider to try is Belgian Erwin Thijs (MrBookmaker-Palmans).

12:38 CEST    60km/201km to go
Cyclingnews spoke to 1999 winner Andrea Tafi (Alessio-Bianchi) in Compiegne this morning. The big Tuscan said that, "I feel very good and I'm happy to be here because I haven't been doing so well lately. But I feel like I might have a good day today."

Teammate Magnus Backstedt is equally a candidate, especially after finishing second in Gent-Wevelgem on Wednesday. "I'm truly, truly happy to be here," he said. "I really feel like racing. I've been counting the days for the last week, and I've been longing for this moment for three years."

Click here to read our interview with Magnus a few days before the start.

Alessio's Marcus Ljungkvist is feeling better after his crash last week in Flanders. "It's all for Magnus today," he said. "He could really have an amazing race. It hasn't turned out to be his favourite weather (rain), but the day isn't over yet."

12:39 CEST    61km/200km to go
There's been a big crash. About 12 riders are down, including Lampre, Lotto-Domo and FDJeux.com riders. And we're still 40 km from the first cobbled sector.

12:45 CEST    67km/194km to go
Erwin Thijs has extended his lead to 20 seconds, but he's having to work hard for it. We talked to his MrBookmaker.com teammate this morning, Jo Planckaert, who said "This is a race that suits me when I'm having a good day. On the other hand if you don't have the legs, this race is the worst place you could possibly be. I've had sinus problems for the last four or five weeks, but I'm feeling better now, and I do have some good results in this race."

12:48 CEST    69km/192km to go
Lotto-Domo will be riding in support of Peter van Petegem and Leon van Bon today. Last year's winner is in good shape at the moment, despite his "miss" in the Ronde van Vlaandern. His teammate Hans De Clercq told Cyclingnews "We are hoping that a lot of our riders will last as long as possible, to be there in the end. That's when it all counts. Mainly, of course, we'll ride for Van Bon and Van Petegem, but everyone in the team is really well prepared. We have a team especially suited for a race like this."

12:53 CEST    71km/190km to go
Thijs has been caught now by the peloton, which is still essentially together. John Gadret and Gerben Lowik (Chocolade Jacques) and Tony Bracke (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) have abandoned after the earlier crash.

12:58 CEST    73km/188km to go
For those of you interested in what bikes some of the teams are riding in Paris-Roubaix, the following articles should be of interest:

Bikes at the 2004 Paris-Roubaix: Part I and Scott Sunderland's Bikes for Roubaix.

13:01 CEST    74km/187km to go
A new break tries to establish itself: Commesso and Bonomi (Saeco), Krauss (Gerolsteiner), Auger (RAGT), Albasini (Phonak), with JP Nazon (Ag2r) in hot pursuit. But they're running out of distance before Troisvilles...

13:05 CEST    78km/183km to go
The leading group of five has 35 seconds on the peloton, which has caught JP Nazon. This is the most promising break of the day.

T-Mobile is going into Paris-Roubaix with solid chances, especially last weekend's winner Steffen Wesemann. But there are others too. Andreas Klier told Cyclingnews that, "I'm feeling really good. I have free hands for this race, I can ride for myself. The same thing goes for Steffen Wesemann and Nardello and Aldag."

Nardello added that, "Wesemann is our capitano, but I'm also allowed to try my chances. I think we have a very good team for this race."

13:10 CEST    81km/180km to go
After just on two hours of racing, we have a leading group of five riders with 1'35 to the peloton: Salvatore Commesso and Giosue Bonomi (Saeco), Sven Krauss (Gerolsteiner), Guillaume Auger (RAGT) and Michael Albasini (Phonak). Finally, a break has established itself.

By the way, Gadret, Lowik and Bracke have actually pulled out of the race due to a crash. They didn't attack, as was reported earlier.

13:15 CEST    84km/177km to go
Photo ©: CN
The temperature is still only 9 degrees, although it's not raining. There have been quite a few mechanical problems resulting from the earlier crash, but it appears that no more riders have abandoned yet.

A dark horse today is Frank Vandenbroucke, whose best result in this race is 7th in 1999. That doesn't stop him from wanting to win it!

His team boss Giancarlo Ferretti told Cyclingnews this morning that, "We're good. Perhaps not brilliant, but we're still good. Our cards for today are Cancellara, Vandenbroucke, and Flecha. They're all in good shape."

13:19 CEST    87km/174km to go
There was a crash at the start involving Chris Van Roosbroeck (USPS mechanic) and the USPS team car. We're not going to tell you what caused the crash, suffice it to say that he might have been better served keeping his eyes on the road :-) No-one was injured though.

13:22 CEST    90km/171km to go
The gap has expanded to 4'00 as the five leaders make good their escape. It took over 70 km for this break to happen.

13:30 CEST    95km/166km to go
Saeco's Dario Pieri
Photo ©: CN
After 88 km, the gap to the five leaders is 4'45. Bonomi, Commesso (Saeco), Albasini (Phonak), Krauss (Gerolsteiner), Auger (RAGT) are the men in front. Saeco are nicely represented.

There's been another crash, and Bobbie Traksel (Rabobank) is down.

13:36 CEST    98km/163km to go
The five leaders are working very well together, and have opened up a five and a half minute gap on the peloton, which is still riding as a solid block. It looks like Quick.Step, CSC, Lotto-Domo and Brioches la Boulangere are near the front.

The leaders are approaching Troisvilles, the first of 26 cobbled sectors. It's still dry, and there probably won't be any rain today. *sniff*.

13:40 CEST    100km/161km to go
And they're on the pavé, as Bonomi and Albasini take the lead from Auger, Krauss and Commesso. This sector is 2.2 km long, and there are plenty of people lining the sides of the road to watch the action.

The peloton is at 5'43.

13:43 CEST    102km/159km to go
The leading five stay together on the Troisvilles cobbles, taking the downhill section without incident. The peloton is now strung out as everyone fights for position before the cobbles. Quick.Step jerseys are prominent at the front, as expected.

13:44 CEST    103km/158km to go
Albasini has been dropped from the break, and trails by 25 seconds.

A CSC rider leads the peloton at full speed onto the cobbles, and immediately the gap has fallen below five minutes to the break.

13:46 CEST    103km/158km to go
It's very strung out as the peloton takes the sharp lefthander on the Troisvilles sector. It will take a good 20-30 seconds for the whole peloton to get through.

13:49 CEST    105km/156km to go
Commesso, Bonomi, Krauss and Auger are on the smooth road again en route to sector 25 at Viesly. They are caught by Albasini, after a hard chase.

The peloton is more or less back together after finishing the Troisvilles sector.

13:51 CEST    107km/154km to go
Bonomi and Commesso now lead the break on sector 25, at Visely. Pounding along the cobbles at a steady pace.

There's a crash in the peloton: an Illes Balears and Rabobank rider come down. There are plenty of riders trying to chase back on now.

Welcome to our guest commentator Mathew Hayman (Rabobank), who estimates that the break "doesn't really have enough time. It can be a big advantage to get away in the early break in Roubaix but this group is too small and they didn’t have much time on the first section of cobbles."

13:54 CEST    109km/152km to go
Aart Vierhouten (Lotto), Kevin Hulsmans and Servais Knaven (Quick.Step) are making tempo at the front of the peloton as it approaches Visely. Meanwhile, the break is on the next sector at Quievy - rue de Valkenciennes (3.7 km).

Hunter was the Rabobank rider who crashed. He appears to be ok though, but will have to chase.

13:56 CEST    110km/151km to go
Ludo Dierckxsens (Landbouwkrediet) attacks the peloton on the Visely sector, immediately opening up a 30m gap. The peloton is led by Quick.Step, and is 4'30 behind the leading break.

13:58 CEST    111km/150km to go
Dierckxsens gets company with Knaven and Vierhouten and a few others joining him before zone 24 (Quievy). They have 10 seconds to the strung out peloton. Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) accelerates in the saddle up to this gruop.

Bart Voskamp (Jacques) and Wim Van Sevenant (Lotto) have punctured.

14:00 CEST    114km/147km to go
Dierxkxsens, Knaven, Vierhouten, Bartko, Hoste, Boonen and Devolder(?) are in a chas group of eight, less than 4'00 behind Commesso and co. in front. The peloton follows at 5 seconds.

14:03 CEST    115km/146km to go
The leading five: Salvatore Commesso and Giosue Bonomi (Saeco), Sven Krauss (Gerolsteiner), Guillaume Auger (RAGT), Michael Albasini (Phonak) are now on the Quievy - Saint-Python sector (23), with a lead that is shrinking all the time.

Andy De Smet (MrBookmaker) punctures just after attacking. It looks like the Dierckxsens group has been caught.

14:05 CEST    117km/144km to go
Frnak Hoj (CSC) has punctured, but gets a quick wheel change from a teammate. He told Cyclingnews this morning, "I feel good! I'm excited, I'm motivated... We've got a good team. I would actually have preferred some different weather, because I've got the technique for the cobbles. We'll see how it goes."

Auger has punctured in front, and is now chasing the break. The peloton is shrinking.

Mathew Hayman comments "It is very nervous in the bunch, but nobody really wants to start too much, at this stage if you crash or have a puncture there are always groups coming back. Everybody wants to get to the next big breaking point and that's the Forest. There are riders that are given the job to stay with the team leader and make sure he gets to the Forêt d’Arenberg without using too much energy."

14:08 CEST    118km/143km to go
Auger has rejoined the break and his checking his back wheel to see if the brake is rubbing. The five leaders, who have been away since 70km, are approaching sector 22 Haussy.

Fred Guesdon, 1997 winner, has crashed at the back of the bunch, and he's not happy about it.

Thierry Marichal (Lotto-Domo) is now hammering on sector 23, continuing to stretch the peloton. The pace is very high, and punctures are common now. The gap to the leaders is down to 3'15.

14:11 CEST    118km/143km to go
The leaders have reached the feed zone at Solesmes, and grab musettes while they still have time. The peloton is just 3'00 behind them.

Mathew Hayman comments on the race situation, which seems to be one of controlled aggression, rather than attacking. "It's still a long way. It's best to try and stay out of trouble."

"A few years ago Marc Wauters was sick or injured and came to the hotel before the race and his advice for the race was 'Keep on riding, what ever happens, even if you think that you are out of the race just keep on riding'."

14:15 CEST    119km/142km to go
The peloton passes through the feed at Solesmes with Lampre leading. Scott Sunderland (Alessio-Bianchi) is there in second position behind Hayman's Rabobank teammate Maarten den Bakker.

The five leaders are now en route to Haussy (sector 22, remembering that we're counting down).

14:16 CEST    122km/139km to go
Commesso, Bonomi, Kruass, Auger and Albasini hit sector 22 at Haussy with 2'45 lead on the reduced size peloton, which is getting ready for the next cobbled assault. This is not such a tough sector, only 900m long.

14:18 CEST    123km/138km to go
It's Lotto-Domo in front, controlling the tempo in the peloton which is bearing down on the break. Australian champion Matt Wilson (FDJeux.com) is at the rear of the bunch.

The peloton is now on the Haussy sector, led by Benoit Joachim and George Hincapie (USPS-Berry Floor).

14:20 CEST    125km/136km to go
Backstedt, Van Bon, Klier, Hoste are all well placed near the front of the bunch behind Joachim/Hincapie. But the sector is over as quickly as it started. Stijn Devolder (USPS) is at the back, chasing to close the gap.

The gap to the leaders is now 2'20.

14:23 CEST    126km/135km to go
Geert Steegmans (Lotto-Domo) has punctured. It looks like Devolder has made it onto the back of the peloton. Now to get to the front...

Van Haecke (Mr Bookmaker) has punctured. Also Max Sciandri (CSC) is getting attention from the team car, with the mechanic/director leaning out the window to adjust his derailleur.

14:25 CEST    129km/132km to go
There is calm in the peloton now before the next sector at Saulzoir, where the five leaders are riding at the moment. Landbouwkrediet and Lampre have taken over the pace making in the peloton.

14:26 CEST    130km/131km to go
Joachim is in front of the bunch again as the bunch approaches Saulzoir (sector 21). This is not too long or difficult - 1200m - but all of these sectors count.

14:29 CEST    131km/130km to go
Bonomi and Commesso are leading the break with Albasini, Krauss and Auger in tow. The peloton is riding as one big bunch on this sector, with Landbouwkrediet hammering on the front. Frank Vandenbroucke acclerates slightly, and gets a good line on the cobbles. Last year he didn't make it this far. Dierckxsens is in second wheel.

The gap is now down to 2'01, so the leaders are surviving.

14:31 CEST    132km/129km to go
VDB looks very good on the cobbles, and has really stretched out the peloton. There are gaps all over the place. About four riders have a small gap at the end of the sector. Bernucci (Landbouwkrediet) takes over in front, with Hiemstra (Jacques) on his wheel. VDB has gone back to the peloton.

Vierhouten has punctured.

Now 1'21 to the leaders.

14:33 CEST    133km/128km to go
It's not Bernucci, it's Geert Van Bondt. He is with Hiemstra with 10 seconds lead on the bunch.

Putsep has punctured, and gets a quick wheel change. Vierhouten has caught the peloton again.

The leaders are now on sector 20 at Verchain-Maugre (km 133). They only have 1'35 to the bunch.

14:35 CEST    135km/126km to go
Mathew Hayman says that he "can't remember all of the cobbled sectors, there are a few that stick out like the Forest and the three sections after that. Then there are the big long ones near the end. They are hard because of the distance. These first ones just seem to become a blur.

"You see that the riders tend to use the side of the cobbles more in the dry. It is a lot quicker, but there is more of a chance of flats. When it's wet and you can't see anything then the best way is to just go down the center. Probably should have done that on Wednesday."

14:37 CEST    135km/126km to go
Bortolami and Joachim are leading the peloton in the dirt on sector 20 (Verchain-Maugre), with Van Bondt and Hiemstra about 10 seconds in front of them. The leading five have just exited this sector, and their gap is sunk to less than a minute.

14:39 CEST    136km/125km to go
Joachim, Knaven and two others lead the peloton off sector 20.

Alexandr Bazhenov (Domina) crashes with a Landbouwkrediet rider at the back. Matt Wilson avoids it and sneaks by. Vandenbroucke has punctured, but is on his way back.

14:41 CEST    137km/124km to go
the leaders are now on sector 19 at Maing (km 136), with an ever diminishing advantage. Krauss is getting dropped now, but isn't giving up yet.

It looks like Van Bondt and Hiemstra have been caught. There are still a good 60-70 riders in the main peloton, with more bunches close behind. Dierckxsens, Hammond and Knaven are near the front.

14:45 CEST    140km/121km to go
Fornaciari (Saeco) is out the back of the bunch, waiting for a teammate perhaps. Eisel (FDJ) has also punctured. They're on the 18th sector at Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon, rated with three stars out of five (the maximum).

Krauss has been caught and dropped.

Mathew Hayman comments, "It's important to eat and drink between the cobbles at this stage in the race. Because you are going to need that energy in the last 50km, sometimes you really don’t feel like it but you have to."

14:46 CEST    140km/121km to go
Van Bondt has caught Commesso in front of the race, and the two are alone.

VDB is still chasing onto the back of the bunch. No teammates with him.

14:50 CEST    142km/119km to go
Van Bondt and Commesso are leading the race with 25 seconds to the peloton. The rest of the break has essentially been caught. Bonomi and Auger look back and see the peloton and sit up. They were away for some 70 km.

The bunch is still fairly big at this stage, some 80-100 riders strong. VDB is close to the back of the bunch, asking for his team car. The pace drops slightly and VDB gets a bottle form the car. And now some attention to his back wheel. He gets it seen to, and is finally on the back of the peloton, passing Krauss.

Matt Hayman interjects, "The forest is such an important phase of the race, after the second feed then you have a good idea on how everybody is going."

14:52 CEST    144km/117km to go
Van Bondt (Landbouwkrediet) and Commesso (Saeco) are now riding 42 seconds in front of the peloton, which is being controlled by no team in particular. Lotto jerseys are moving to the front again, with Van Bon and Steegmans. The leaders are in Haspres, about to hit sector 17 (1700m, difficulty 4).

14:55 CEST    146km/115km to go
Kevin Hulsmans (Quick.Step) leads the peloton on the cobbles at Haspres, with Ivanov (T-Mobile) as company. Van Bondt is doing most of the work in the break in front with Commesso choosing to sit in second wheel. The pair still have 33 seconds.

The peloton is hanging together on this tough section.

14:58 CEST    147km/114km to go
There's a huge crash at the front of the peloton. A Rabobank rider is down - it looks like Robert Bartko (Rabobank). He's getting up, which is good. But his crash almost stopped the peloton, with several other riders coming down. He's still waiting for a bike.

Marichal (Lotto) lifts the tempo in front of the bunch, as Bartko walks to the team car. About 6 riders came down in that crash. "It doesn't look good for him," says Matt Hayman.

15:00 CEST    149km/112km to go
Floyd Landis, Servais Knaven and Aart Vierhouten are near the front of the bunch, and the pace slows allowing those riders caught in the crash to get back on.

Matt Hayman comments about Bartko's crash that, "He is such a strong rider it is a shame, I'm not sure if he had ridden this race before. But his form was good and he has some horse power when he wants to go."

Gianluca Bortolami (Lampre)
Photo ©: CN
Andrea Tafi (Alessio-Bianchi), Ludovic Capelle (Landbouwkrediet) and Leif Hoste (Lotto-Domo) have punctured. A Lampre rider is at the back of the bunch too, bringing Bortolami back. Gussev (CSC) and Hoste (Lotto-Domo) are with them.

The two leaders, Van Bondt and Commesso, have 45 seconds.

15:03 CEST    151km/110km to go
Hvastija (Alessio) is at the back of this chasing group with Bortolami, which has just reached the tail of the peloton. Thierry Marichal (Lotto) is driving the tempo, but he has a Landbouwkrediet rider on his wheel who doesn't take over. That allows the two leaders to gain a minute.

15:07 CEST    152km/109km to go
Benoit Joachim is riding away again, and gets a MrBookmaker rider with him - Erwin Thijs again. Hulsmans and Knaven close it down.

Didier Rous (La Boulangere) is chasing back on after a puncture. Matt Hayman says that, "There is a chance to get back on here, if the wind is okay. I came back from a fall here last year, but it looks like a cross wind. A long section of wide road before the next cobbles."

15:09 CEST    155km/106km to go
It's still Geert van Bondt (Landbouwkrediet) and Salvatore Commesso (Saeco) away in front, holding a 50 second lead over the large peloton, which is now strung out again at top speed. The next cobbled sector is at Haveluy (km 158).

Rous and Derepas are trying to close to the peloton after flatting. But the tmepo is high. The Arenberg is approaching in about 10km.

15:11 CEST    157km/104km to go
Victor Pena (USPS) drives the tempo up in the peloton, and they're in Haveluy now. The two leaders have only 20 seconds.

"Now the race get really serious. Everybody wants to be up the front for the next set of cobbles," comments Matt.

15:13 CEST    158km/103km to go
Jo Planckaert (MrBookmaker) punctures in Haveluy, and is trying to stay upright as his team car comes up. He takes the wheel out and waits for the change. He's off again - very quick change.

The two leaders are just about caught as they hit sector 16 at Haveluy.

Chris Henry reports from the Arenberg forest that it's "dry, but a bit muddy on the sides."

15:14 CEST    159km/102km to go
Matt Hayman : "I say that the race starts now but you have to remember that the guys have now raced 160km so the legs are starting to hurt, you know you have to fight for this section.

"Through the old houses, you can see the mines in the distance. every place counts. Once you're in the Forest it's hard to move up. It is like a bunch sprint."

15:16 CEST    160km/101km to go
Zanini leads the peltoon along the Haveluy sector, and it's one long line again. Leon van Bon is well placed tear the front. It looks as though Van Bondt and Commesso are caught.

Ludovic Capelle and Jo Planckaert are trying desperately to get back on.

15:18 CEST    162km/99km to go
Less than 100 km to go now, and the race is on for the Arenberg Forest (sector 15, 2.4km). The peloton regroups slightly, and Aldag (T-Mobile) attacks through the town of Wallers.

15:21 CEST    163km/98km to go
Aldag has 15 seconds and has really put the hammer down. He wants to get to Arenberg first, and that's a good tactic in anyone's books. The pace will pick up again behind him soon.

Incidentally, the Arenberg Forest marked the beginning of the end of the now infamous Philippe Gaumont's career in 2001, when he crashed and broke his right femur.

Steegmans (Ltto) picks up the pace now, and he has a host of Lotto and Quick.Step riders behind him. Museeuw and Boonen are there in the second rank.

15:23 CEST    165km/96km to go
Aldag rides along in the sunshine through plenty of fans with 1 km to the Arenberg. The pace is really high in the peloton 20 seconds behind him. Now is the moment of truth. Still Lotto leading the bunch.

15:24 CEST    166km/95km to go
Aldag is first into the Arenberg "trench" while in the peloton, Museeuw shows himself at the front with Van Petegem, Wauters. Aldag has some difficulty, but he keeps his momentum up.

15:27 CEST    167km/94km to go
A motorbike crashes between Aldag and the bunch. Aldag can't keep his tempo and is swallowed by the bunch. Crash: Devolder and Van Heeswijk down.

Cancellara emerges in front with a small gap to Hoste, Hoffman, Michaelsen, Van Bon, Hincapie, Zanini, Hoj, Wesemann, Museeuw...

15:29 CEST    169km/92km to go
Hoste takes over from Cancellara towards the end of the Forest, with a group of 15-20 making it out in front. Hoste continues, grabbing a drink, asking for Hoffman to come through. Hoffman obliges. Hincapie, Nardello are in front, as are Museeuw, Boonen...

Pieri, Guesdon and Ivanov are a long way back, as is Dierckxsens. Hulsmans, Flecha are also back there with Joachim.

15:31 CEST    171km/90km to go
At the front we have about 17-18 riders, including Van Bon, De Clercq, Van Petegem, Hammond, Hoffman, Museeuw, Boonen, Bernucci, Cancellara, Nardello, Wesemann, Backstedt and Hincapie.

15:36 CEST    173km/88km to go
The leading group contains: Van Bon, Hoste, Van Petegem, Vierhouten, De Clercq (Lotto), Hammond (MrBookmaker), Hoffman, Gussev, Michaelsen (CSC), Museeuw, Zanini, Boonen (Quick.Step), Bernucci (Landbouwkrediet), Cancellara (Fassa), Nardello, Wesemann (T-Mobile), Backstedt (Alessio), Hincapie (USPS), Hushovd (CA). They are being chased by a group with Kirsipuu, Cretksens, Dierckxsens and Mengin at 20 seconds. VDB is further back.

Michaelsen punctures.

Mathew Hayman comments, "This is a very important part of the race, from now till the feed will decide the race."

15:37 CEST    175km/86km to go
The leading group of 19 is working well together to increase the gap to the chasers, which number 12.

Vainsteins is also in the front group.

15:42 CEST    176km/85km to go
The two leading groups are getting close together, but are not quite there yet. 21 leaders, chased by 17 riders. There are five Lottos in front, the best represented team.

Hoffman has to get assistance, but he is quickly back in the lead group.

15:44 CEST    180km/81km to go
They're now on zone 13 at Hornaing, a 3.7 km sector. This will make it tough for the two groups to come together. Still massive crowds, as usual.

Mathew Hayman observes that there are "A lot of Lotto riders up there. Leon van Bon looks to be riding really well. In my first Paris-Roubaix I had to stay with him all day. He is a class rider. If he gets near the finish with a small group I would put my money on him, but still a long way to go." "I hope that Hunter can get back to that front group, it's not good with nobody from Rabobank in the front group."

15:47 CEST    182km/79km to go
The two groups have come together now, and Ludo Diercksens attacks on the cobbles of Hornaing. Immediately, Tom Boonen follows him.

Fabio Baldato (Alessio) is right on the back of the front group.

15:49 CEST    184km/77km to go
Nardello now leads with Boonen and Van Bon on his wheel. Flecha comes up beside him.

Vierhouten has punctured, and is anxious to get a new wheel.

15:52 CEST    186km/75km to go
Bernucci accelerates again, and takes Boonen with him. But the peloton doesn't want to let them go. The gap is about 5 seconds. A Lotto rider has come up to them - Van Bon.

Gerben Lowik has broken his left elbow, Belgian television has reported.

15:55 CEST    187km/74km to go
We've now got six leaders, with Boonen, Van Bon, Bernucci, Backstedt all there.

They are on zone 12, which is split into two bits: Warlaing and Tilloy, both 2.4 km long.

15:57 CEST    188km/73km to go
Boonen looks comfortable as he drives the breakaway, but more of the front group has come back to them. 17 men in total. Van Bon and Backstedt sit in second and third wheel.

Mathew Hayman comments, "Boonen is really active at the moment and looks like he wants to get away. He will need a Lotto with him if it is going to last. It's still early."

Horrillo punctures.

16:01 CEST    191km/70km to go
The leaders are still on zone 12, but now on the second secotr at Tilloy. George Hincapie (USPS) shows himself at the front of the bunch. Still some 35 riders in one group.

Peloton 2 is at 2'37, and they are out of it.

16:03 CEST    193km/68km to go
Hunter has punctured again. He hasn't had a lot of luck today.

The chase group (at 2'37) has VDB and Van Heeswijk in it, but they're out of it it seems.

16:05 CEST    194km/67km to go
Hushovd leads the front group to the end of sector 12, through massive crowds and darkening skies. There are still around 30 riders in front.

The next sector is at Orchies (km 201).

Thierry Marichal punctures from the second group, but that's probably not going to affect the outcome of the race greatly.

16:07 CEST    196km/65km to go
Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2r) attacks the front group on the smooth roads, pedalling a big gear. Two riders set off in pursuit, then four more. Kirsipuu looks back.

16:09 CEST    196km/65km to go
Kirsipuu rides through Beuvry-la-Foret as Boonen leads the front group in pursuit. He has a gap of about 10 seconds, and means to go on with it. Can Kirsipuu survive past 200 km? It looks like it. The Estonian looks very strong.

The front group starts to break up again as riders attack off the front.

16:11 CEST    198km/63km to go
Kirsipuu reaches the feed zone with 10 seconds advantage, and grabs the all important musette (feed bag). The rest of the front group also takes the opportunity to refuel.

16:14 CEST    200km/61km to go
Kirsipuu is now in Orchies, still powering away in a giant gear, holding a 15 second lead over the main group of 30 which contains most of the favourites (Van Bon, Van Petegem, Museeuw, Boonen, Wesemann, Hincapie). He is almost on sector 11.

Mathew Hayman says, "All the favorites seem to have made it through to this end of the race. There is a bit of rest from the cobbles now for a few kilometers. I hope Robert can get back from what ever happened with his bike on that last section, we need someone in the race. There are a few teams that now have to control the race. Teams lie T-Mobile, Lotto-Domo, and Quick Step-Davitamon. The others can just sit back a bit but it is now dangerous if a small group does get away with all those teams involved."

16:18 CEST    201km/60km to go
Kirsipuu is now on the famous Orchies section, taking the right hand corner and riding through thousands of people. The peloton behind him is about 20 seconds distant. Geert Steegmans (Lotto) brings up the rear.

Hincapie leads the chase behind Kirsipuu. Boonen is also up there.

A lot of readers are asking why Hincapie is alone with no USPS teammates. Well it didn't help when Van Heeswijk and we think Devolder tangled in Arenberg.

16:21 CEST    204km/57km to go
Kirsipuu is now off the Orchies cobbles with 10 sectors to come. The bunch, with Museeuw, Hoste, Michaelsen, Bartoli, Hincapie and Backstedt are cruising along.

Cretskens signals for his team car.

16:23 CEST    206km/55km to go
To recap at 55 km to go, we have a breakaway with Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2r) leading a bunch of about 30 riders by 20 seconds. The group contains (among others):

Hoste, Van Petegem, Van Bon, Steegmans, De Clercq (Lotto), Cancellara and Flecha (Fassa), Bernucci (Landbouwkrediet), Baldato, Backstedt (Alessio), Hammond (MrBookmaker), Vainsteins (Lampre), Hoffman, Bartoli, Gussev, Michaelsen (CSC), Museeuw, Zanini, Cretskens, Boonen (Quick.Step), Mengin, Guesdon (FDJ), Bernucci (Landbouwkrediet), Nardello, Wesemann, Ivanov, Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Hincapie (USPS), Hushovd (CA) and Hunter (Rabobank)

16:25 CEST    207km/54km to go
Steegmans, in front of the bunch, tries to grab a bottle but fails. Hulsmans is on his wheel, keeping the tempo high. Kirsipuu is doing well to stay clear for this long. He is now on sector 10, Auchy-lez-Orchies (2.6 km).

16:29 CEST    210km/51km to go
Flecha gets a bottle from his team car just before the group hits the Auchy-lez-Orchies sector. Kirsipuu has half a minute, and is still riding very well. Zanini is on the tops, powering the peloton along.

Steegmans is being dropped from the front group. He's done a lot of work.

Marc Wauters (Rabobank) has abandoned.

Kirsipuu exits the 10th sector with 29 seconds. No attacks in the peloton yet. Hudhovd is next.

16:30 CEST    210km/51km to go
Museeuw attacks! With Backstedt in pursuit. Nice move. This is hurting the peloton, and the Lion gets a gap.

16:32 CEST    211km/50km to go
Museeuw pounds along the cobbles in pursuit of Kirsipuu, who is back on the smooth roads again. 9 sectors to come, including the restored Mons-en-Pévèle sector.

Museeuw waits for Van Petegem and a few others.

16:34 CEST    212km/49km to go
As Museeuw is caught, Van Bon counters, with Backstedt going with him. But the rest of the bunch close the gap. A few have been dropped though.

16:36 CEST    213km/48km to go
Kirsipuu has been caught.

Van Bon and Hoj have now got a gap over the bunch as they hit sector 9, Mons-en-Pévèle, a 3.7 km long section and rated as 5, the most difficult.

16:39 CEST    215km/46km to go
Baldato is in a bit of trouble at the bacck of the bunch, next to Radochla and Cretskens. But there's more trouble for Quick.Step as Zanini crashes. He's back on the bike again though, and sets off in pursuit of the lead group.

Hammond, Museeuw and Hincapie have attacked in pursuit of Van bon and Hoj.

16:41 CEST    217km/44km to go
Van Petegem and Wesemann bridge the gap up to Hammond and go, followed by the remnants of the splintering front group. Hammond attacks again, with the Lion right on his wheel. He's having a good race, and is an expert off road. The sector finally finishes, and it's back together with 44 km to go.

Cancellara is next to attack, trying to close the 16 second gap to Hoj and Van Bon.

16:44 CEST    218km/43km to go
Cancellara is caught by a group of about 15-20, with Kevin Hulsmans (Quick.Step) at the head. The gap to Hoj and Van Bon is now up to 28 seconds. They're riding well.

16:44 CEST    220km/41km to go
Mathew Hayman comments, "I still like Van Bon at the moment, the last attack from Roger Hammond brought all the big guns out of their holes. Cancellara was riding well on Wednesday, he is really strong one to watch and could surprise a few. But all the favorites are up there and showing themselves."

16:46 CEST    222km/39km to go
The chase group numbers 24 now, and still contains a number of favourites. But at the moment it's Leon van Bon (Lotto-Domo) and Frank Hoj (CSC) out in front with half a minute's lead. They've just done sector 8.

Aldag takes over Hulsmans on the front of the peloton.

16:50 CEST    223km/38km to go
Hulmans is doing a lot of work together with Cretskens. The two leaders hit sector 7 Pont-Thibaut (1.4 km). Van Bon is in front, leading Frnak Hoj.

"There are still a few long sections to come, like zone 4-3, someone like Museeuw can close a 30sec on a long zone like that. It's still wide open," says Matt Hayman.

16:52 CEST    225km/36km to go
Hulsmans' turn on the cobbles is a bit too strong, and he gets a little gap, but it's not intentional and he steps off the gas.

The leaders exit sector seven with 20 seconds lead. By the way, Ludo Diercksens (Landbouwkrediet) is also in this chasing group.

16:53 CEST    225km/36km to go
Frank Hoj and Leon van Bon are fighting a losing battle against Kevin Hulsmans and Quick.Step, who still have five men in the chase group. CSC, T-Mobile and Lotto are the other strong teams here.

16:55 CEST    227km/34km to go
Hulsmans, Cretskens and Aldag are doing most of the work in the bunch, with Museeuw well placed in fourth wheel. Van Petegem is right up there too.

Hoj and Van Bon certainly haven't given up, although their gap is just 13 seconds.

16:57 CEST    229km/32km to go
Frank Hoj (CSC) and Leon van Bon (Lotto-Domo) are leading a group of 25 or so by 18 seconds, approaching sector six: Le Moulin de Vertain (500m, difficulty 3). They're also approaching the "business end of the bike race" as it's referred to in some circles.

16:59 CEST    230km/31km to go
Jan Schaffrath (T-Mobile) is now helping the Hulsmans/Cretskens chase. The gap of 20 seconds is still very manageable.

Robbie Hunter, the only Rabo rider in this group, is bringing up the rear.

17:00 CEST    232km/29km to go
The gap is now just eight seconds. Hulsmans and Cretskens work to close it down for good. The two leaders soft pedal, and they realise it's over. Nice try! The attacks will start again, no doubt.

17:02 CEST    232km/29km to go
Less than 30 km to go, and it's still Hulsmans, Cretskens and Schaffrath leading the 26 man group. It will get smaller than this as Boonen and Hincapie attack. But immediately there is a reaction. No go.

17:05 CEST    233km/28km to go
Dierckxsens and ivanov accelerate next, but they too get company. Hoste is there as are Cancellara and a Hulsmans. But the remainder of the bunch is not far behind and catch them again.

17:07 CEST    236km/25km to go
The attacking is constant now, as Boonen tries again before Cysoing. But no-one will let him go. It slows, then another attack goes. Mengin (FDJ), who had to chase back on after a puncture, is next. Baldato goes with him. Then Hoste and Flecha.

17:08 CEST    236km/25km to go
The bunch is lined out in hot pursuit of Baldato, Mengin, Flecha and Hoste. Tom Boonen is also there. The five have a small gap as they hit sector 5 at Cysoing (1 km).

17:10 CEST    237km/24km to go
Disaster for Hoste, as he crashes into a Flemish flag that someone let go. Bad luck for the Lotto rider. Now just four riders in front, and no Lottos.

17:11 CEST    238km/23km to go
Boonen hammers on the second half sector in Bourghelles, with Flecha and Hincapie on his wheel. Two riders are chasing - Baldato and Mengin. Then the group.

17:13 CEST    240km/21km to go
Three leaders: Boonen, Hincapie and Flecha, with a small gap to Baldato and Mengin, who are at 9 seconds and falling back. T-Mobile is driving the peloton in pursuit, very hard! 21 km to go.

17:14 CEST    241km/20km to go
Hincapie does a big turn, then Boonen and Flecha. These three are strong, and have 17 seconds on the T-Mobile led peloton. This is a dangerous move. Mengin and Baldato are at the back now.

17:16 CEST    242km/19km to go
Nardello is riding clear of the bunch now as Aldag and Schaffrath drop to the back of the bunch. Nardello has Hoste and another rider with him: Bernucci.

The three leaders look back, and see they have a nice gap.

17:16 CEST    242km/19km to go
Mathew Hayman comments, "It is a shame about the flag. Hoste was going so well and now it puts Lotto-Domo in a bad position through no fault of their own, they were covering all the moves.

"Cycling remains one of the only sports that lets the public get so close to the riders, before the start you can walk right up to all the riders, on the road you can literally touch the riders, shame when something like that happens."

17:18 CEST    243km/18km to go
Boonen, Hincapie and Flecha are now on the 1.8 km Campain-en-Pévèle sector. Huge crowds are cheering them on as a group of three is chasing them. Hoste tries to drive the pace up, but the gap is still 10 seconds.

17:19 CEST    244km/17km to go
Hoste is now solo, in pursuit of the three leaders. Meanwhile, his team captain Van Petegem has punctured. Bad moment.

Hayman says, "Not sure how Hincapie got there, must have happened with the flag thing. Now some long zones. This could be the race, it would be good to see Hoste get back."

17:22 CEST    244km/17km to go
hoste is flying and has caught the motorbikes behind the three leaders. There are now four in front. Nardello and Bernucci are chasing.

Le Carrefour de l'Arbre is next. Wesemann has closed the gap to the leaders, dragging the bunch up with him. Van Petegem is not there, but there are still a good 15 riders.

Van Petegem, Badlato, Aldag, Michaelsen, Schaffrath are chasing.

Museeuw leads on sector 4, Le Carrefour de l'Arbre, with Wesemann on his wheel.

17:24 CEST    247km/14km to go
Museeuw, Wesemann, Hammond are all leading, as Van Petegem reaches Kirsipuu. But PVP is still 29 seconds behind. He passes Hushovd, Hoj...

Backstedt is with the leaders.

17:26 CEST   
The Le Carrefour de l'Arbre is over, and Museeuw (Quick.Step), Backstedt (Alessio), Cancellara (Fassa), Wesemann (T-Mobile), Hincapie (USPS), Hammond (MrBookmaker) exit in front. The remainder of the group is in bits. Van Petegem is still 20 seconds behind the leaders.

Museeuw accelerates on Gruson, the second part of sector 4.

17:28 CEST    249km/12km to go
Hincapie doesn't appear to be with the front five. But Van Petegem is making good ground to get up to the leaders.

Backstedt, Hammond, Museeuw, Hoffman, and Cancellara are leading with 13 km to go. Impressive stuff.

17:29 CEST    251km/10km to go
Van Bon is now with Van Petegem, catching the group behind Museeuw and straight away going to the front. Vainsteins, Nardello, Boonen are all in this group.

Flecha and Hincapie are chasing the five leaders at 8 seconds.

17:29 CEST    251km/10km to go
Matt Hayman: "Don't ask me who would win if those five guys turned onto the track together."

17:31 CEST    252km/9km to go
Flecha and Hincapie are chasing the lead group at 15 seconds. Van Bon and Van Petegem are leading a bigger group at 25 seconds. Oohlalalala.

The leaders: Museeuw (Quick.Step), Backstedt (Alessio), Cancellara (Fassa), Hammond (MrBookmaker), Hoffman (CSC)

17:32 CEST    252km/9km to go
Hincapie and Flecha are caught by Van Petegem's group. 9 km to go. It's five men being pursuit by about 10.

17:33 CEST    253km/8km to go
The gap is 26 seconds. All of these riders in front can sprint, but who has the strength at the end of 260 km? But it's not over yet. Amazing stuff from Museeuw.

Boonen is in the chase group, as are Diercksens, Hincapie, Hoste, Van Bon, Van Petegem, Hoj, Flecha....

17:35 CEST    254km/7km to go
The leaders have 30 seconds with 8 km left, and are looking good. They are now on zone 2: Hem, as Backstedt takes over with Museeuw on his wheel.

17:36 CEST    255km/6km to go
The chase group is not coming back. Van Petegem has missed it, due to bad luck more than anything. We have five candidates for the win with 6.5 km to go.

Museeuw punctures! Oh dear.

17:36 CEST    256km/5km to go
He loses 15 seconds, and has a lot of difficulty getting going. Bad luck for the Lion. Now four leaders. Van Petegem is solo, in pursuit of Museeuw.

17:38 CEST    257km/4km to go
van Petegem and Museeuw exit the Hem section togehter and are now 20 seconds behind the four leaders. Wesemann is back. Hammond, Cancellara, Backstedt and Hoffman are the leaders.

The thre chaseers are looking at each other. Museeuw does a turn. There are eight chasers.

17:40 CEST    257km/4km to go
Backstedt (Alessio), Cancellara (Fassa), Hammond (MrBookmaker), Hoffman (CSC) are leading with 4 km to go, as Museeuw does a big turn in the chase group. But they're not going to close 28 seconds. Hincapie is also in this group, as are Hoj, Boonen, Van Bon.

17:42 CEST    258km/3km to go
Hammond, Cancellara, Backstedt and Hoffman are fighting into the wind in the last 3 km. The next group is 28 seconds behind them, and is essentially out of it. Very bad luck for Museeuw to puncture with 6 km to go.

17:42 CEST    258km/3km to go
Van Petegem and Museeuw are clear of the chase group now, but Museeuw isn't doing much. He does a turn.

17:43 CEST    259km/2km to go
Who will it be? Backstedt, Cancellara, Hammond or Hoffman ? They can all sprint. I'd put my money on Backstedt. 2km to go.

17:44 CEST    260km/1km to go
The leading four are still working together as they hit the final kilometre. Hammond pulls off, and Backstedt takes over, then Cancellara. The gap to Museeuw and Van Petegem is 25 seconds.

17:44 CEST    260km/1km to go
They hit the last cobbled zone with 1 km to go. It's only 300m long. Now they are in the velodrome.

17:45 CEST    260km/1km to go
Cancellara leads into the Roubaix velodrome....

17:47 CEST    261km/0km to go
Hammond is in second wheel, then Backstedt and Hoffman. They get the bell and Cancellara swings up Hammond still in second, Cancellara accelerates, but doesn't get far. Then Hammond goes. But Backstedt comes on the inside and takes the win!!!! Hoffman second, then Hammond and Cancellara.

Museeuw and Van Petegem come across together, with PVP putting his arms around Museeuw and pushing him into 5th place. Very emotional finish.

17:52 CEST    261km/0km to go
Magnus Backstedt, the first Swede ever to win Paris-Roubaix, gets a big kiss from his wife Meg in the velodrome. And a hug from teammate Fabio Baldato. Not a bad effort, considering Alessio only started with 6 men.

Leon van Bon won the sprint for seventh ahead of Hincapie, Boonen and Hoj

You can read our pre-race interviews with Backstedt and Hammond here.

Finally, we thank Mathew Hayman for joining us today with his comments, and we hope to see him on the velodrome next year. "It's a shame that about the flat for Museeuw, but it was nice to see four riders that you wouldn't expect fighting it out for the win in a classic like that. Great ride from Backstedt, very short sprint but after 260km. I thought that Hammond had the best chance when they got on the track."

"Nice race, but I don't ever want to have to sit though it like that again, seeing all those people alone the road and thinking that I should be out there myself, there is only 365 days till the next one..."


1 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Alessio-Bianchi      6.46.12
2 Tristan Hoffman (Ned) CSC
3 Roger Hammond (GBr) MrBookmaker
4 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo
5 Johan Museeuw (Bel) Quick.Step
6 Peter van Petegem (Bel) Lotto-Domo
7 Leon van Bon (Ned) Lotto-Domo
8 George Hincapie (USA) USPS-Berry Floor
9 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step-Davitamon
10 Frank Hoj (Den) CSC

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