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Photo ©: Sirotti

88th Ronde van Vlaanderen - CDM

Belgium, April 4, 2004

2003 results     Preview     Course Map     Start List    Results

Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional commentary by Chris Henry and Luc Claessen

Complete live report

Start time: 10:00 CEST
Estimated finish time: 16:35 CEST

09:42 CEST   
Welcome to Cyclingnews' coverage of the 88th Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), nicknamed in Flemish Vlaanderen's Mooiste (Flanders' finest). Today's 257 km between Brugge and Ninove/Meerbeke dwarfs all of the races leading up to it in Flanders, and it's certainly the one race that any Flemish cyclist dreams about winning.

The Ronde follows a nearly completely flat parcours until the first hill is encountered after 138 km (Grotenberge in Zottegem), which serves as a softening up period for what's to come. In the important section of the race there are 18 climbs, half of which are cobbled. Once climb 5 (Oude Kwaremont, km 182) is reached, there is no respite until the finish.

It's not only the climbs that make this race selective. The narrow Flemish farm roads that are used combined with a very strong south-westerly wind will cut the peloton to ribbons. It will be a crosswind for much of the day, and we definitely won't see a super fast race. At the moment there is not too much rain around, even though the roads are still wet from showers during the night. Temperatures are around 10 degrees, with expected maximums of 14 degrees.

09:53 CEST    0 km/257 km to go
After assembling in Brugge's Grote Markt this morning, the riders are now leaving the historical city, still under neutral conditions. The start proper will be given at 10:00am.

By the way, today's date is 04/04/04. How superstitious is Johan Museeuw, who could become the first rider to win the Ronde four times today?

10:02 CEST    0 km/257 km to go
The start shot is given at Sint Pieters, on the outskirts of Brugge, and the rides are now on Oostendsesteenweg, battling a stiff wind out towards Oostende. Once they reach there, they turn south to Gistel (Museeuw's home town) and the wind will be even more against them.

193 riders took the start. It's about time now for either Jacky Durand or Ludo Dierckxsens (or both) to mount a daring attack that will see them spend the next 220 km in front.

10:15 CEST    7 km/250 km to go
The wind combined with the riders' nerves have combined to cause a crash in the opening kilometres, fortunately not too serious. Mirko Celestino (Saeco) and Stéphane Auge (Crédit Agricole) were both involved, but they are now back on their bikes and chasing. Celestino's teammate Giosue Bonomi was not so lucky, and has been taken to hospital with a probable broken shoulder.

The attacks have also begun, with neo-pro Steven Caethoven (Vlaanderen T Interim, a late sub for Wouter Van Mechelen) and Erwin Thijs (MrBookmaker) going on the offensive. But they were not allowed to go far by the peloton.

10:27 CEST    14 km/243 km to go
The attacks continue, with many riders eager to get in that early break. The latest move comes from Jan Van Velzen (Chocolade Jacques), Bart De Spiegelaere (Vlaanderen), Carlos Barredo (Liberty Seguros) and Michael Rich (Gerolsteiner), who have gained 25 seconds on the peloton.

10:35 CEST    19 km/238 km to go
The four leaders - Jan Van Velzen, Bart De Spiegelaere, Carlos Barredo (who was also in the MSR break) and Michael Rich - have now reached Oostende with a 45 second lead, with several other riders trying but failing to bridge up to them.

It's windy, but still not raining (and doesn't look like it will for a while).

10:43 CEST    26 km/231 km to go
The four leaders are slowly but surely increasing their advantage as they exit Oostende and pass through Middelkerke. The lead is now up to 1'20 and growing. This could be the break.

10:45 CEST    27 km/230 km to go
By the way, Michael Rich was also involved in the long breakaway last year, together with Thomas Liese, Jacky Durand and Vincent Van Der Kooij. His enormous size and power output makes him a handy guy for these long escapes.

10:50 CEST    28 km/229 km to go
Now it's getting messy. Four leaders (Rich, Van Velzen, Barredo and De Spiegelaere) have 43 seconds on a group of chasers:

Bruun (CSC), Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Elmiger (Phonak), Joachim and Cruz (USPS), Zanini (Quick.Step), Ludewig (Saeco) De Jongh and Sentjens (Rabobank), Coenen (Mr. Bookmaker), Schoonacker (Vlaanderen), Pagliarini (Lampre).

Behind them at 1'00 from the leaders is another group of eight riders, including Leif Hoste (Lotto-Domo). The main peloton is at 1'53. This wind is making things very difficult.

10:58 CEST    30 km/227 km to go
The race is passing through Gistel now, still on a slow schedule. There are huge crowds out to see Museeuw for the last time in the Ronde.

The leading group of four has been caught by the 14 chasers, so now we have: Jan Van Velzen (Chocolade Jacques), Bart De Spiegelaere and Jehudi Schoonacker (Vlaanderen), Carlos Barredo (Liberty Seguros) and Michael Rich (Gerolsteiner), Thomas Bruun (CSC), Jan Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Martin Elmiger (Phonak), Benoit Joachim and Antonio Cruz (USPS), Stefano Zanini (Quick.Step), Jorg Ludewig (Saeco), Steven De Jongh Roy and Sentjens (Rabobank), Johan Coenen (Mr. Bookmaker), Erki Putsep (Ag2r), Luca Pagliarini (Lampre) and two more riders.

Leif Hoste's eight man chasing group is at 1'00, while the peloton is at 3'00.

11:13 CEST    44 km/213 km to go
The front groups have come together, and we have a new situation on the road. Riders in front are:

Peter Wuyts and Johan Coenen (MrBookmaker), Stefano Zanini (Quick.Step), Bart De Spiegelaere (Vlaanderen), Thomas Bruun (CSC), Carlos Barredo and Rafael Diaz Justo (Liberty), Michael Rich and Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner), Jan Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Thierry Marichal and Leif Hoste (Lotto-Domo), Bert Hiemstra and Jan Van Velzen (Jacques), Alberto Ongarato (Fassa), Jorg Ludewig and Salvatore Commesso (Saeco), Steven De Jongh and Roy Sentjens (Rabobank), Martin Elmiger (Phonak), Benoit Joachim and Antonio Cruz (USPS), Luca Pagliarini (Lampre), Erki Putsep (Ag2r), Marc Streel and of course Jacky Durand (Landbouwkrediet).

The last time check to the peloton was 1'30.

Stéphane Augé (Credit Agricole) has abandoned. He was one of the first riders to crash today.

11:23 CEST    52 km/205 km to go
The 26 leaders have now passed through Lichtervelde, the official "Town of the Ronde" this year. It's an impressively sized break, and far bigger than we've seen in recent years. The riders covered 40.2 km in the first hour, which given the strong head/crosswinds is pretty impressive.

11:30 CEST    55 km/202 km to go
For all those who were asking: yes, Stuart O'Grady did start, despite having a broken rib.

US Postal-Berry Floor have two riders in the break: Benoit Joachim and Antonio Cruz. This was all part of the plan, according to team director Dirk Demol, who told Cyclingnews this morning, "There are four strong teams: Rabobank, Quick.Step, Lotto and Fassa. But maybe I'd say there are five teams...with us. We have to avoid situations where we have to work or chase. So we're going to try and send guys in breaks. It would be good to have Benoit or Stijn Devolder up there because they can go all day.

"We've had a very good spring. In the past we were always without victories but this year we already have nine. The team's morale is very good. George won De Panne, Max is riding very well and we gave him a little break because he doesn't need to do all the races. I'm also glad that Eki is here. We have a good team and we're ready."

11:32 CEST   
It's been confirmed that Giosue Bonomi (Saeco), who was in the first crash of the day, has broken his shoulder. He is currently in hospital.

11:46 CEST    69 km/188 km to go
The 26 leaders are now approaching Ruislede from the west, having enjoyed a bit more of a tailwind for the last 20 km. But they turn due south soon and will be fighting it again.

12:00 CEST    79 km/178 km to go
The leading group of 26 has a steady three minute gap on the peloton, which is riding attentively, not wanting to let these guys get a huge lead. It's one thing to led a four man break get 15 minutes, but another to let a mini peloton get that amount of time.

The leaders have just crossed the 1900m flat cobbled section in Kanegem.

Riders in the break: Peter Wuyts and Johan Coenen (MrBookmaker), Stefano Zanini (Quick.Step), Bart De Spiegelaere (Vlaanderen), Thomas Bruun (CSC), Carlos Barredo and Rafael Diaz Justo (Liberty), Michael Rich and Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner), Jan Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Thierry Marichal and Leif Hoste (Lotto-Domo), Bert Hiemstra and Jan Van Velzen (Jacques), Alberto Ongarato (Fassa), Jorg Ludewig and Salvatore Commesso (Saeco), Steven De Jongh and Roy Sentjens (Rabobank), Martin Elmiger (Phonak), Benoit Joachim and Antonio Cruz (USPS), Luca Pagliarini (Lampre), Erki Putsep (Ag2r), Marc Streel and of course Jacky Durand (Landbouwkrediet).

12:02 CEST    81 km/176 km to go
For those interested in the resurfacing work that was down on the Muur van Geraardsbergen in the last six months, the following feature goes into some more detail, including some photos of the "Muur zonder kasseien": Will the new Muur change the Ronde?.

12:06 CEST    83 km/174 km to go
The peloton crosses the cobbles at Kanegem and there's a crash. It looks as though World Cup leader Oscar Freire (Rabobank) is down, but it's unsure yet whether it's serious.

46 km were covered in the second hour of racing, helped by a tail/crosswind. The last time check was 3'30 between the 26 leaders and the main bunch.

12:15 CEST    87 km/170 km to go
In the front group, Bert Hiemstra has punctured, but he gets a quick change and is able to regain the leaders.

The weather has deteriorated somewhat, and there are now rain showers falling in various parts of Flanders.

The women's Ronde started from Oudenaarde at 12:00 noon, and we'll try to provide you with any updates when available.

12:27 CEST    94 km/163 km to go
94 kilometres have now been covered in the 88th Ronde van Vlaanderen, with the toughest part still to come. The leaders are riding through Waregem with a 4'07 gap to the peloton, which is still vigilant. No more news of Oscar Freire at the moment, after his crash.

We spoke to Roger Hammond (MrBookmaker) this morning before the start, and he was feeling a little nervous but looking forward to the challenge. "I feel good but this is another step up. Each race I've done this year has been another step up in level. So far I've been able to cope with the previous level so I'm hoping to have a good day. It's a big race and there's a lot of extra stress attached to it.

"We have three protected riders: Me, Jo Planckaert and Geert Omloop, but it's not really up to us to make the race. There's enough big teams that we can afford to follow. If we're able, then we can get a good result. If not, then we'll get a good kick around the ear when we get home."

12:38 CEST    100 km/157 km to go
After covering 100 kilometres, the leaders have now reached the feed zone with 3'45 to the peloton. The names in the break (and there are many) are:

Peter Wuyts and Johan Coenen (MrBookmaker), Stefano Zanini (Quick.Step), Bart De Spiegelaere (Vlaanderen), Thomas Bruun (CSC), Carlos Barredo and Rafael Diaz Justo (Liberty), Michael Rich and Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner), Jan Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Thierry Marichal and Leif Hoste (Lotto-Domo), Bert Hiemstra and Jan Van Velzen (Jacques), Alberto Ongarato (Fassa), Jorg Ludewig and Salvatore Commesso (Saeco), Steven De Jongh and Roy Sentjens (Rabobank), Martin Elmiger (Phonak), Benoit Joachim and Antonio Cruz (USPS), Luciano Pagliarini (Lampre), Erki Putsep (Ag2r), Marc Streel and Jacky Durand (Landbouwkrediet).

Weather: changing. The wind is so strong that the rain clouds are quickly moving away...until the next lot come in. That's one thing that is predictable about Belgian weather!

12:47 CEST    103 km/154 km to go
Erki Putsep (Ag2r), who is also apparently in the leading group, has crashed. He's on his way back and should catch them soon.

13:05 CEST    113 km/144 km to go
The lead riders have just crossed the 1700m cobbled section at Eine/Doorne, and have passed through Oudenaarde. The 26 man break has a 4'16 lead over the peloton, and that's about the most they've managed to get in this very tightly controlled race.

13:13 CEST    129 km/128 km to go
We still haven't reached the halfway point, with our 26 leaders holding 3'56 over the peloton. There are 17 teams represented in front, with only one rider from one French team (Putsep, Ag2r) represented. Bodysol is doing most of the work in the peloton, as they don't have anyone in the break.

There's a crash in the peloton, and Gerben Lowik (Jacques) is down, as are Schreck, Wesemann (T-Mobile) and Camenzind (Phonak). It doesn't look like Lowik will continue.

The leaders are on the Paddestraat/Lippenhovestraat, enjoying the sunshine and the cobbles. This section is nearly 4 km long.

11:15 GMT   
It's reported that Oscar Freire (Rabobank) is back in the peloton, after his earlier crash.

The main bunch is now on the Paddestraat, with Lotto-Domo riders leading. The crowds are very big, and the peloton is very long. Most of the favourites look very comfortable on the cobbles: VDB, Van Bon, Van Petegem, Boogerd, Mattan and Dierckxsens are all in front.

13:20 CEST    133 km/124 km to go
Barredo (broken stem), Rich and Pagliarini have been dropped by the front riders, leaving 23 in the top group after the Paddestraat. The gap is still 4 minutes.

There's another crash in the peloton. The wind is making life hell, although at least there's no rain and the roads are quite dry. The Spanish riders are finding it tough at the back of the bunch, with Ludo Dierckxsens at the head of affairs.

13:25 CEST    135 km/122 km to go
Gian Matteo Fagnini (Domina Vacanze) punctures on the Lippenhovestraat, and waits for his team car. The rest of the peloton is back on the main road, still led by Lotto-Domo. The tempo isn't too high, but it's certainly nervous. Hondo shows his face at the front.

Capelle (Landbouwkrediet), Wilson (FDJeux.com), Willems (Vlaanderen) and De Vocht (Bodysol) have attacked the peloton, but they are chased down.

The 23 leaders are on the first climb, the Grotenberge in Zottegem. This is an 875m climb at 3.8 percent.

13:28 CEST    141 km/116 km to go
The peloton is in one long line as it approaches the Grotenberge. The gap is still 4 plus minutes. De Vocht attacks hard again, and gets two riders for company - Verheyen and Knaven. But the peloton is very close behind them and bridges the gap.

13:32 CEST    143 km/114 km to go
Rich and Pagliarini, who were in dropped from the early break, have been caught by the bunch, which is moving quickly now. Flecha and Dierckxsens are hammering at the front. Gaps are appearing. It looks like 12 men are clear. Knaven, Hondo, Dierckxsens, Mattan, De Vocht, Wauters, Sacchi, Petito, Herve are all there. They trail the 23 leaders by 3'47, with the peloton at 10 seconds.

Gerben Lowik has abandoned and is on his way to hospital, after his crash.

13:37 CEST    146 km/111 km to go
The peloton is really shredding due to the wind. Van Petegem, Astarloa, O'Grady are all there.

In the second chase group at 3'17 are: Dierckxsens, Arvesen, Knaven, Mattan, De Vocht, Hondo, Moreni, Sacchi, Wauters, Bazenov, Petito, Herve. The peloton is another 20 seconds behind. An Alessio rider crashes in Zottegem: Marcus Ljungqvist. He doesn't look as though he's getting up in a hurry, and could well have broken something. Bad luck for the Swede, who came fifth in the first stage of De Panne.

13:39 CEST   
To recap the 23 man lead group: Peter Wuyts and Johan Coenen (MrBookmaker), Stefano Zanini (Quick.Step), Jehudi Schoonacker, Bart De Spiegelaere (Vlaanderen), Thomas Bruun (CSC), Rafael Diaz Justo (Liberty), Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner), Jan Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Thierry Marichal and Leif Hoste (Lotto-Domo), Bert Hiemstra and Jan Van Velzen (Jacques), Alberto Ongarato (Fassa), Jorg Ludewig and Salvatore Commesso (Saeco), Steven De Jongh and Roy Sentjens (Rabobank), Martin Elmiger (Phonak), Benoit Joachim and Antonio Cruz (USPS), Erki Putsep (Ag2r), Marc Streel and Jacky Durand (Landbouwkrediet).

Chasing them at 2:52 is a group with Dierckxsens and Arvesen, among others, while the peloton is at 3'28. It's tough going at the moment, with a stiff headwind.

13:42 CEST    150 km/107 km to go
Lotto-Domo and US Postal are leading the chase in the peloton, although it's not really a chase at the moment. There's a group of 23 in front, chased by another group of 12 or so at 2:49, then the peloton. The next climb is the Rekelberg, a new one for the Ronde.

13:46 CEST    152 km/105 km to go
The leaders, led by Coenen and Wuyts, are now on the Rekelberg (800m at 4 percent).

The chase group is at 2'43, gradually making ground. The names: Ludo Dierckxsens (Landbouwkrediet), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC), Servais Knaven (Quick.Step-Davitamon), Nico Mattan and Wim De Vocht (Bodysol), Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner), Cristian Moreni (Alessio-Bianchi), Fabio Sacchi and Roberto Petito (Fassa Bortolo), Marc Wauters (Rabobank), Alexandre Bazhenov (Domina Vacanze), Cedric Herve (Credit Agricole).

Tristan Hoffman (CSC) punctures out of the bunch.

13:51 CEST    154 km/103 km to go
The leaders are almost on the Molenberg, flying along with 2'42 in front of a 13 man chase group. The peloton is at 3'16, struggling with the wind and led by Lotto-Domo and US Postal, who don't have anyone in the chase group, although they do have men in the leading bunch.

13:52 CEST    155 km/102 km to go
As if on cue, Thierry Marichal takes the first line into the corner that leads onto the Molenberg. This is a short (325m) but steep (9.8%) cobbled climb. Marichal leads to the top, with Luxembourger Benoit Joachim right behind him. The pair have a bit of a gap, but that won't last too long.

13:55 CEST    155 km/102 km to go
The peloton is now in two groups, chasing two groups in front. Each group contains 30 riders or so. The wind has already caused a lot of damage.

The first chase group is now on the Molenberg, 2'37 behind the leaders. Herve and Bazhenov bring up the rear. The first peloton follows, and it's very slow going at the back.

14:00 CEST    156 km/101 km to go
The leaders are well off the Molenberg now, and are now travelling up a slight rise into this very strong wind. The pace drops off. There are only 17 riders in this front group now. Van Velzen, Durand, Streel, Schoonacker De Spieghelare and Putsep have all been dropped. They'll have trouble getting back on, as the leaders are now on the 3 km cobbled section at Mater/Kerkgate.

Dierckxsens was the strongest of the chase group on the Molenberg, but he is caught again after some time off the front. The gap is 2'28. The peloton is at 3'15.

Belgian television has reported that Briek Schotte has died in Oostende, aged 84. He was one of the true Flandriens, and a two time winner of the Ronde and World Championships. We wish his family all the best.

14:03 CEST    157 km/100 km to go
It's heavy going on the cobbles at Kerkgate, with the leaders fighting the wind, cobbles and a gradual uphill. The chase group of 13 is now within 2'24, with Hondo, Mattan and Arvesen all doing their turn in front. Hondo is riding very strongly.

14:08 CEST    160 km/97 km to go
The peloton is on the cobbles now, and Francois Mourey (FDJeux.com) and Isaac Galvez (Illes Balears) are at the back. So is Igor Astarloa (Cofidis), who is taking the smooth bit on the edge of the cobbles. Cancellara and Flecha (Fassa) are also near the back.

The leaders are now on the Wolvenberg, 800m at 6.3 percent. Massive crowds waving a lot of Flemish flags greet them. Roy Sentjens (Rabobank) is strong on the front.

14:11 CEST    163 km/94 km to go
Interestingly, the peloton has dropped to 5'03 behind the leaders, while Dierckxsens group is at 2'13. Schoonacker and De Spieghelaere (dropped from the front group before) are caught by the chase group on the Wolvenberg.

14:12 CEST    163 km/94 km to go
Stefano Casagrande (Saeco) has given his wheel to teammate Mirko Celestino, who just punctured.

Dierckxsens leads the chase group on the descent of the Kattenberg. Meanwhile in the peloton, most of the Spanish riders have to stop at the foot of the Wolvenberg.

14:17 CEST    165 km/92 km to go
The lead group: Peter Wuyts and Johan Coenen (MrBookmaker), Stefano Zanini (Quick.Step), Thomas Bruun (CSC), Rafael Diaz Justo (Liberty), Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner), Jan Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Thierry Marichal and Leif Hoste (Lotto-Domo), Bert Hiemstra (Jacques), Alberto Ongarato (Fassa), Jorg Ludewig and Salvatore Commesso (Saeco), Steven De Jongh and Roy Sentjens (Rabobank), Martin Elmiger (Phonak), Benoit Joachim and Antonio Cruz (USPS).

At 1'52 is the chase group: Ludo Dierckxsens (Landbouwkrediet), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC), Servais Knaven (Quick.Step-Davitamon), Nico Mattan and Wim De Vocht (Bodysol), Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner), Cristian Moreni (Alessio-Bianchi), Fabio Sacchi and Roberto Petito (Fassa Bortolo), Steven De Jongh, Marc Wauters (Rabobank), Alexandre Bazhenov (Domina Vacanze), Cedric Herve (Credit Agricole)

The peloton is at 5'00.

They are now en route to the Oude Kwaremont. Van Summeren (Bodysol) punctures and gets a wheel from a teammate. Jimmy Engoulvent (Cofidis) also punctures.

14:18 CEST    166 km/91 km to go
This morning we spoke to one of the favourites, Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step-Davitamon), who was in a good mood. "My condition is good. The whole team is going well so we're hoping for a big day today. For the race we have me and Johan, but also Boonen and Paolini, so we'll just watch the breakaways and see how it goes."

14:25 CEST    171 km/86 km to go
The first chase group is now getting closer to the 17 leaders. The gap is now 1'12. The leaders are riding steadily, and the peloton is matching the speed at 4'35 behind. This will be an interesting finale, with so many in front. Usually the race is made purely from the peloton.

14:29 CEST    172 km/85 km to go
The chase group also contains Durand and Streel, who were dropped from the leaders a while back. The Landbouwkrediet riders are certainly contributing to the chase with Dierckxsens. Mattan and De Vocht are doing a lot of work too in this chase group.

In front, Ludewig (Saeco) gets a small gap, slightly annoying his colleagues. He's caught again fairly quickly. The riders are facing a strong headwind now on their way to Berchem. Then they will turn and head up the Oude Kwaremont.

The gap is under a minute. The chasers could well catch the front riders on the Kwaremont, if not before.

14:31 CEST    173 km/84 km to go
An update on the women's Ronde van Vlaanderen:

La Primavera Rosa winner Zoulfia Zabirova (Let's Go Finland) has won the first women's Ronde van Vlaanderen. She beat Trixi Worrack (Germany) and Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel (Farm Frites-Hartol).

14:36 CEST    177 km/80 km to go
Slowly but surely the chase group is reaching the leaders along this headwind section towards Berchem. The gap is now just 0'38, with Landbouwkrediet riders doing a lot of work.

In the group: Ludo Dierckxsens, Marc Streel (Landbouwkrediet), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC), Servais Knaven (Quick.Step-Davitamon), Nico Mattan and Wim De Vocht (Bodysol), Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner), Cristian Moreni (Alessio-Bianchi), Fabio Sacchi and Roberto Petito (Fassa Bortolo), Marc Wauters (Rabobank), Alexandre Bazhenov (Domina Vacanze), Cedric Herve (Credit Agricole).

Meanwhile, the 17 leaders are just about on the Kwaremont, a 2.2 km cobbled climb averaging 4.2%.

14:38 CEST    178 km/79 km to go
Sentjens and De Jongh drive the lead group at the foot of the Kwaremont, with 27 seconds lead on the chasers. The peloton is still at 4'20.

14:43 CEST    180 km/77 km to go
Durand and Streel are dropped from the chase group at the foot of the Kwaremont, and Ludo Dierckxsens takes over. In front, the leaders are splitting up a little as they reach the flat section of the Kwaremont. The gap is still 32 seconds. Herve is struggling, and Putsep is dropped too.

There are big crowds at the top, waving flags with various motivational phrases printed on them. Like "Go Mattan".

14:46 CEST   
Hoste, Marichal (Lotto), Zanini (Quick.Step), Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Ludewig (Saeco), De Jongh (Rabobank) and Elmiger (Phonak) exit the Kwaremont in the lead. Jan Van Velzen, Peter Wuyts and Benoit Joachim are chasing.

The next chase group with Wauters, De Vocht, Mattan, Bazhenov, Knaven, Dierckxsens are steadily sweeping up the rest of the break. Mattan has problems with his bike, and gets assistance from Herman Frison in the team car. Looks like a pedal problem (speaking from personal experience, that's familiar after the Kwaremont).

14:48 CEST    183 km/74 km to go
Hoste, Marichal (Lotto), Zanini (Quick.Step), Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Ludewig (Saeco), De Jongh (Rabobank) and Elmiger (Phonak) are now on the descent to the Paterberg. They hit it at a good speed, and then start to feel the pinch. This cobbled climb is only 350m long, but it averages 12.5% with a maximum of 20%. It generally hurts.

14:51 CEST    185 km/72 km to go
The chasers are now on the Paterberg, forming a semi-cohesive group in pursuit of the leading seven. Riders are now all over the place. The peloton is at 3'06 and is flying up the Paterberg now. The race is on from behind now.

14:55 CEST    189 km/68 km to go
The back markers in the peloton, including Baldato and Thijs, have to stop. Roesems and Wilson do too. The Paterberg is like that. This is a gigantic traffic jam. A lot of Euskaltel and Illes Balears jerseys are there.

The leading seven have 38 seconds on the next group, as they approach the Koppenberg. This is the tough one, 550m at 11.6%, with a maximum of 22%. There will be more traffic jams.

There are now three groups in front of the peloton, and Dierckxsens main chase group still hasn't closed the gap.

14:59 CEST    190 km/67 km to go
The leaders, Hoste, Marichal (Lotto), Zanini (Quick.Step), Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Ludewig (Saeco), De Jongh (Rabobank) and Elmiger (Phonak) hit the Koppenberg at full gas, although a lot of momentum is lost by the sharp right hander at the bottom. Most riders choose either the left or the right hand side, where it's a bit easier. But then it gets harder on the steepest bit. Zanini leads, pedalling very slowly. De Jongh is in trouble. Elmiger tries to take the 5cm wide smooth bit on the side.Even with a 23 cog on the back, this climb is very tough.

Joachim leads the first chase group at 30 seconds, then Hondo leads the Dierckxsens/Mattan group up.

15:02 CEST    192 km/65 km to go
Putsep brings up the rear of the third chase group. But he will be gobbled up by the peloton, which is still 60 men strong. The gap has certainly come down. Boogerd, Bruylandts, Museeuw, Van Petegem, Boonen are flying! So are Hincapie, VDB, Bettini, Vainsteins, Bartoli, Freire, Astarloa, Van Bon, Peers, Hammond, Nardello... And yes, a couple of Euskaltel riders (Silloniz).

15:04 CEST    194 km/63 km to go
The leaders are now at the foot of the descent of the Koppenberg, and will shortly hit some more cobbles. Mariaborrestraat (2100m) followed immediately by the Steenbeekdries climb (500m). The feed zone comes first.

Matt Wilson is walking/running up the climb. He's ahead of Durand though, who is completely gone.

15:07 CEST    195 km/62 km to go
The leaders grab feed bags before Mariaborrestraat, then hit the long down/up stretch of cobbles. At least it's dry, unlike yesterday. This is still a tough section, as the wind will be against them on the uphill.

Group 2, with Joachim, is at 42 seconds.

15:09 CEST    195 km/62 km to go
Groups 2 and 3 have come together on the Steenbeekdries, while the peloton is getting closer at 2'35. There's still a whole lotta climbing to come.

15:12 CEST    196 km/61 km to go
The peloton is now being led by a T-Mobile rider and Stijn Devolder, who need to up the pace for Wesemann and Hincapie. Scott Sunderland (Alessio-Bianchi) is having a good ride today, and is right near the front next to Museeuw.

The seven leaders: Hoste, Marichal (Lotto), Zanini (Quick.Step), Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Ludewig (Saeco), De Jongh (Rabobank) and Elmiger (Phonak) are now on the Taaienberg, 475m at 9.5%. De Jongh is in trouble. As is Ludewig.

15:13 CEST    197 km/60 km to go
Dierckxsens hammers up the Taaienberg 50 odd seconds behind the leaders, with Arvesen and Petito(?) on his wheel.

In the front group, Marichal punctures at the top. Bad luck, as he is one of the strong men. He could be caught by the chasers.

15:15 CEST    198 km/59 km to go
Dierckxsens' group contains about 10 riders, trailing the leaders by 50 seconds. Bruylandts and Museeuw and Bettini lead the peloton on the Taaienberg at 2'35. They open up a gap!

15:16 CEST    199 km/58 km to go
Dave Bruylandts, Johan Museeuw and Paolo Bettini have about 10 seconds lead on the peloton at the top of the Taaienberg. They catch Hondo and Cruz, who were dropped from the front group. An interesting - and early - move.

15:19 CEST    201 km/56 km to go
The peloton, led by T-Mobile, realises the danger and closes the gap to Museeuw and co. on the descent of the Taaienberg. Museeuw realised it was too early anyway, and backed off.

The first two groups are separated by 55 seconds, with a very strong Stefano Zanini leading the way towards climb 10, the Eikenberg: 1175m at 5.5%. It's cobbled, but there's a handy asphalt section at the side that is the preferred way up. Unless there are barriers :-)

15:21 CEST    202 km/55 km to go
The leaders: Elmiger, Zanini, Ludewig, De Jongh, Schaffrath, Hoste. Then Marichal, then Ludo's group of 18 at 1'01, then the peloton at 2'00.

Tom Boonen takes a flyer from the peloton before the Eikenberg. He catches and passes Sentjens. He's caught by the Van Bon, and the rest of the peloton. He opts for the asphalt section.

15:24 CEST    203 km/54 km to go
Dierckxsens' group, which also contains Petito, Sacchi, Arvesen, Ongarato, Joachim, Van Velzen, Knaven, Wauters, Mattan is at 1'03 behind the six leaders plus one chaser.
But Marichal is now back on the leading group. Seven men in front again.

They are now on the approach to the Boigneberg. The peloton is at 1'53.

15:27 CEST    205 km/52 km to go
Finally a smooth climb. The seven leaders are on the Boigneberg: 1000m at 5.8% with a max of 15%. It still hurts, but it's nice to be able to feel your hands.

The 15 odd chasers are at 1'03, with the peloton at 1'52.

15:30 CEST    206 km/51 km to go
Geert Verheyen (Jacques, Leon Van Bon (Lotto-Domo), and Tristan Hoffman (CSC) have opened up a lead on the Boigneberg. The peloton has slowed a little. Watching. Bettini at the front.

Ludo Dierckxsens is doing a heap of work in the first chase group. Commesso is there, trying to hold his wheel. As is Knaven, who looks good.

15:32 CEST    207 km/50 km to go
Dierckxsens pulls off, but Knaven doesn't want to come through. Neither does Arvesen. Their captains are in the peloton still. Dierckxsens is his team captain, thus he attacks now. He's now riding past the Roman brewery.

Verheyen and Van Bon have been caught by the peloton.

15:35 CEST    210 km/47 km to go
The leaders: Hoste, Marichal (Lotto), Zanini (Quick.Step), Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Ludewig (Saeco), De Jongh (Rabobank) and Elmiger (Phonak).

Chasing alone at 1'06: Ludo Dierckxsens. Then the rest of his chase group at 1'21, and the peloton at 1'52.

Devolder is leading a group off the front of the peloton, along with Boonen and Ivanov. Vierhouten and a Fassa rider are also there. The peloton is another 10 seconds back.

15:38 CEST    212 km/45 km to go
Boonen, Devolder, Vierhouten, Ivanov and ? are chasing the group in front of them, which is in turn chasing Dierckxsens, who is in turn chasing the 7 leaders, who are on the Foreest climb. Are you still with us?

Kroon, Van Velzen, Coenen caught the big chase group, although Kroon punctured just as he did so.

Boonen's group catches the first chase group.

Ludo is only 33 seconds behind the front seven. Impressive.

15:41 CEST    213 km/44 km to go
Kroon catches the chase group on the Foreest climb, and there are now a good 20 riders (including Boonen) here. Ludo Dierckxsens is at 20 seconds behind the leaders, and should get them soon.

Scott Sunderland and Geert Van Bondt are leading the peloton, which is not going that quick.

15:44 CEST    214 km/43 km to go
Hoste, Marichal (Lotto), Zanini (Quick.Step), Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Ludewig (Saeco), De Jongh (Rabobank) and Elmiger (Phonak) are now on the Steenberg, a fairly steady paved climb (825m at 7%). Ludo Dierckxsens (Landbouwkrediet) is closing the gap steadily and is at 29 seconds.

The next chase group is at about 1'00. The peloton?

The riders have been lucky with the rain today. Despite what was predicted, there hasn't been much at all. The wind has blown it away.

15:46 CEST    217 km/40 km to go
Erik Dekker (Rabobank) is setting the tempo in the peloton, keeping an eye on Igor Astarloa (Cofidis). Hincapie, VDB, Bettini, Astarloa, Dekker now have a small gap. The peloton is at 2'13.

The chase group, with Lotto-Domo's Van Bon and Vierhouten setting a steady tempo, are at the top of the Steenberg now. In total, there are four Lotto-Domos in front.

15:50 CEST    218 km/39 km to go
Astarloa, Boogerd, Bettini, Bruylandts, Flecha, and five others have 10 seconds lead over the peloton, which contains Freire, Baguet, Van Petegem, Peers, Museeuw, Van Haecke, Jo Planckaert, Hammond, Nardello, Bartoli. They take the right hand turn at the Trap op Cafe and are now en route to the Haaghoek.

There are now approximately four groups of significance on the road. Dierckxsens has almost caught the front seven.

15:51 CEST    219 km/38 km to go
Dierckxsens has caught the leading seven on the Haaghoek, to form a group with: Hoste, Marichal (Lotto), Zanini (Quick.Step), Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Ludewig (Saeco), De Jongh (Rabobank) and Elmiger (Phonak) and Dierckxsens (Landbouwkrediet). That was a good chase.

Bettini's group has caught Boonen's big group. Hincapie and Kirsipuu is also there. The rest of the peloton is at about 15 seconds behind them.

15:55 CEST    220 km/37 km to go
On the Leberg we have eight leaders, with a 2'00 lead on a group of about 20 with Bettini, Flecha, Astarloa, Boonen, Devolder, Hincapie, Klier... Boonen does a big turn on the Haaghoek. The main peloton is 20 seconds behind them.

Eeckhout and Mourey have abandoned.

Museeuw has closed the gap to Boonen's group in one hit! Impressive. Now Van Petegem comes across on the Leberg.

Hincapie attacks on the Leberg. Boonen and Bettini drive the tempo up behind him.

15:57 CEST    222 km/35 km to go
Hincapie gets about 20m lead, but Boonen and Bettini won't let him go far - too dangerous. They catch him. The chase group is now officially the peloton. The pace slows, and Hincapie accelerates again to keep the pace high before the Berendries.

The gap between the front 8 and this mini peloton is 1'54.

15:59 CEST    224 km/33 km to go
Hincapie is frustrated that no-one will work with him. But Lotto has two riders in front - why will they work? The leading eight are on the Berendries. Zanini looks good.

Gert Verheyen is at 54 seconds in between the peloton and the leaders. The 50 man peloton is at 1'50, with all the main riders.

16:01 CEST    225 km/32 km to go
On the Berendries, Vierhouten sets tempo and reduces the gap to 1'42 at the top. Bruylandts attacks, followed by Ivanov. The pair are away. Boogerd is on his way up to them. Three more climbs.

The gap is 1'32. The race is reaching its climax.

Boogerd closes the gap to Bruylandts and Ivanov on the descent into Brakel.

16:03 CEST    227 km/30 km to go
Ivanov, Boogerd and Bruylandts are in pursuit of the leading eight with 30 km to go. The gap is just 1'30.

The peloton is about 10 seconds behind, still with 50 riders in it. Tenbossestraat will be important.

16:04 CEST    228 km/29 km to go
The leaders: Dierckxsens has caught the leading seven on the Haaghoek, to form a group with: Hoste, Marichal (Lotto), Zanini (Quick.Step), Schaffrath (T-Mobile), Ludewig (Saeco), De Jongh (Rabobank) and Elmiger (Phonak) and Dierckxsens (Landbouwkrediet).

The peloton is at 1'10, having just caught Boogerd and co. Van Bon immediately gets a gap. He eases up, as PVP is the main man. Verheyen (who was in between the two groups) is caught.

16:06 CEST    229 km/28 km to go
Frank Hoj (CSC) is now on the front of the bunch, setting tempo into Brakel. He has Boonen and Flecha on his wheel.

The eight leaders are just starting the Tenbosse with 1'06 lead. That's not much. This is a 250m non-cobbled climb at 11%.

16:08 CEST    230 km/27 km to go
Museeuw does a big turn at the foot of Tenbossestraat, and Paolini then takes over. A couple of T-Mobile riders are right there. The peloton is in one long line.

In front, Marichal places and attack at the top of Tenbosse through the massive crowds. But Ludewig chases.

Van Petegem attacks on Tenbosse. Bettini is right on this wheel as are Klier and Ivanov and Bruylandts. Bettini hammers over the top.

16:10 CEST    231 km/26 km to go
The eight leaders are being chased by PVP, Bruylandts, Bettini, Klier, Freire, Ivanov and Kirsipuu! This is an important group. The gap between the two groups is less than a minute on the descent towards Parike.

16:11 CEST    232 km/25 km to go
Nine men are chasing the Bettini group, including Hincapie and Museeuw. They catch them at the bottom of the descent, and we now have 15 odd chasers. Bettini and Van Petegem keep the tempo high.

VDB is not there.

16:13 CEST    234 km/23 km to go
Dekker and Van Bon are leading the first chase group behind the eight leaders. Museeuw, Van Petegem are there, as are Ivanov, Hincapie, Nardello, Kirsipuu, Freire, Celestino.

Ivanov attacks.

Baden Cooke (FDJ) crashed earlier and is in hospital, it's been reported.

16:15 CEST    235 km/22 km to go
The eight leaders are caught just before Geraardsbergen by Ivanov, Van Bon and Hincapie. Now we have: Hoste, Marichal, Van Bon (Lotto), Zanini (Quick.Step), Schaffrath, Ivanov (T-Mobile), Ludewig (Saeco), De Jongh (Rabobank) and Elmiger (Phonak), Hincapie (USPS) and Dierckxsens (Landbouwkrediet).

The next group is close behind - looks like Wauters and Boogerd are closing the gap.

16:17 CEST    237 km/20 km to go
Boogerd, Wauters and Petito have now closed the gap to the lead group. Three Rabos and three Lottos in front.

Boonen is leading the Museeuw, Wesemann, Freire, Bettini group at 15 seconds.

16:19 CEST    239 km/18 km to go
Schaffrath does a big turn on the front as they head into Geraardsbergen. Behind, Quick.Step is working hard. Knaven, Paolini, Museeuw, Boonen, Bettini are all there.

VDB is closing the gap to this first chase group. He gets them, with some help from a teammate.

16:20 CEST    240 km/17 km to go
The 14 leaders hit the foot of the Muur, with Schaffrath and De Jongh leading. But they are being caught by the rest of the chasers. It's all together on the Muur.

16:23 CEST    241 km/16 km to go
The first part has been completed, and Hincapie gets to the front on the second part. Bruylandts is well placed and hammers on the really steep part with Hoste on his wheel. Wesemann, Hincapie, Boogerd, Bettini are all there. Museeuw is a bit further back.

At the top, it's Bruylandts, Wesemann and Hoste leading Hincapie. VDB is not there.

16:25 CEST    243 km/14 km to go
Flecha leads the chase, 10 seconds behind Hoste, Bruylandts and Wesemann. Klier, Van Bon and Dekker are there with Flecha. The rest of the bunch is a little way behind.

One more climb to come - the Bosberg.

16:26 CEST    243 km/14 km to go
Hoste, Wesemann and Bruylandts have 12 seconds lead on Flecha, Van Bon, Klier and Dekker. The main group is at 22 seconds. It's very tight.

16:27 CEST    244 km/13 km to go
Leif Hoste is sitting on the break, perhaps waiting for Van Bon. That means Wesemann and Bruylandts have to do all the work. They hit the Bosberg, which is 475m at 8.4 percent and cobbled.

16:29 CEST    245 km/12 km to go
Flecha is dropped from the Dekker chase group on the Bosberg. The gap is still 12 seconds. The three leaders stick together with no-one attacking.

Dekker, Van Bon and Klier are the chasers, then Bettini leads the main group with Van Petegem, Ivanov, Museeuw, Boogerd etc. It's 40 seconds to them, and they're going to have a hard time getting the leaders.

16:30 CEST    247 km/10 km to go
Bettini is trying to close to Dekker's group, which is in turn trying to get the three leaders. But Bettini is not allowed to go clear.

Wesemann, Bruylandts and Hoste in the lead, then Dekker, Klier, Van Bon at 12 seconds, then Flecha at 21 seconds and then the peloton at 38 seconds.

16:33 CEST    249 km/8 km to go
Hoste is still sitting on the break, and Wesemann and Bruylandts are letting him. Hoste will try to profit from this. Dekker's group is at 15 seconds, while Flecha is further behind. Quick.Step has really missed it. Van Petegem, Marichal, Brochard, Aldag, Boogerd, Petito, Museeuw, Bettini and Hincapie are all in that group.

The speed in the break is 61 km/h, due to the tailwind.

16:34 CEST    250 km/7 km to go
The three leaders are holding their 14 second gap steady to Dekker, Van Bon and Klier. Each group has a Lotto and a T-Mobile rider in it.

Bettini's group is at 38 seconds. They're not coming back.

16:37 CEST    252 km/5 km to go
Bruylandts, Wesemann and Hoste take the corner with 5 km to go and have 22 seconds on the Dekker group. Surely one of these three will win.

Hincapie is in the Museeuw/Bettini group at 1'04.

Wesemann is probably the best sprinter in front, but Hoste is fresh, having sat on.

16:38 CEST    254 km/3 km to go
Bruylandts and Wesemann are letting Hoste sit on. They won't be too happy at him though. Dekker, Van Bon and Klier are not getting any closer.

3 km to go...Now the tactics start.

16:39 CEST    255 km/2 km to go
Hoste has been on the attack all day, which could also explain his tiredness. Wesemann and Bruylandts look great. Now the gap to Dekker's group is 24 seconds. Dekker's group is racing for fourth.

16:40 CEST    256 km/1 km to go
They're on the descent into Ninove, and still Hoste is at the rear. He looks comfy and pushes Bruylandts into second place. But Dave won't have a bar of it and Hoste is now in second. Smart.

1 km to go... Bruylandts attacks ... Hoste closes the gap. Wesemann in third wheel.

16:42 CEST    257 km/0 km to go
Bruylandts leads into the final corner, followed by Hoste and Wesemann. They're looking at each other, and behind. Bruylandts keeps the lead, then Hoste attacks with 250m to go. Wesemann is too strong and wins the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the second German to do so! Hoste is second, followed by Bruylandts.

For fourth, it's Van Bon in front of Dekker and Klier.

Rolf Aldag takes 7th, alone. Then Hoj, Bettini and Hincapie and Marichal. Then the rest of the front group.

That was certainly an interesting edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen - Wesemann was very strong today, as was Bruylandts. But Hoste was in that early break and spent most of the day in front! The other "big names" cancelled each other out today, or perhaps just weren't strong enough to follow.

Thanks for tuning into our live coverage. Please join us next Wednesday again for Gent-Wevelgem, and of course Paris-Roubaix next Sunday.


1 Steffen Wesemann (Ger) T-Mobile
2 Leif Hoste (Bel) Lotto-Domo
3 Dave Bruylandts (Bel) Jacques
4 Leon Van Bon (Ned) Lotto-Domo
5 Erik Dekker (Ned) Rabobank
6 Andreas Klier (Ger) T-Mobile
7 Rolf Aldag (Ger) T-Mobile
8 Frank Hoj (Den) CSC
9 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick.Step-Davitamon
10 George Hincapie (USA) US Postal-Berry Floor
11 Thierry Marichal (Bel) Lotto-Domo


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