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67th Gent-Wevelgem - PT

Belgium, April 6, 2005

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Commentary by Jeff Jones with additional reporting from Shane Stokes

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 14:00 CEST
Estimated finish time: 16:30 CEST

13:52 CEST   
Deinze's church
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Welcome to Deinze's Grote Markt (in a virtual sense) for the 67th edition of Gent-Wevelgem, the traditional mid-week classic between the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. This is a race for the real power riders, as it's mostly flat and windy, with just eight climbs to overcome in 208 km: twice up the Vidaigneberg and Rodeberg (137 and 160 km), twice up the Monteberg (148 and 169 km) and twice up the Kemmelberg (150 and 171 km). The latter is an 800m cobbled climb, averaging 9%, with the steepest section being 21.5% - similar to the Koppenberg in that respect. In the dry, it's bad. In the wet, it's treacherous, particularly the cobbled descent.

Before the riders reach that point, they head out to Oostende along the coast and then travel south east to De Panne, where they turn inland and towards the hill zone. After the last climb of the Kemmel, there are 37 km to go to the finish in Wevelgem.

It's a sprinters race, and riders like Tom Boonen (Quick.Step), Tom Steels (Davitamon-Lotto), Steven De Jongh (Rabobank), Andreas Klier and Erik Zabel (T-Mobile), George Hincapie (Discovery), Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), Nico Eeckhout (Jacques), Thor Hushovd (CA), Allan Davis (Liberty), Lars Michaelsen (CSC) and Baden Cooke (Francaise des Jeux) are all expected to do well.

14:12 CEST    106km/102km to go
There was a huge roar from the crowd as defending champion Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) rode up to the sign on in Deinze's Grote Markt. The big Belgian was as chirpy and relaxed as always, and hopes to have another good race today. He has been in excellent form of late, winning the E3 Prijs and then the Ronde van Vlaanderen. "Yes it's been fun," Boonen said. "It's the best period of the year and I could already win two races. I hope it stays that way."

After his efforts on Sunday, Boonen said that he has "recovered well, but I still have a little bit of pain in my hand, which hasn't really improved. My legs and condition are good."

Belgium being a predominantly Catholic country, a minute's silence was held for the death of Pope John Paul II at the start of the Ronde van Vlaanderen in Brugge. But Belgium is also a cycling and Tom Boonen-loving country, so the large crowd in Deinze was asked to hold a minute's noise for Tom Boonen at the start, which it did with vigour.

The sign on
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The weather at the start was cool (less than 10 degrees) and windy, with a moderately strong southerly wind blowing. No rain though. The peloton set off towards the coast and after just 12 km there was a big crash, which brought down Tom Steels, Roy Sentjens and Fabrizio Guidi, among others. Guidi broke his wrist and abandoned. The peloton split into several parts, and by the time it hit the coast with an average of 47 km/h, the two groups were 2 minutes apart. But the headwind along the coast saw the groups come back together, and at halfway, the peloton is still relatively compact.

14:19 CEST   
"It's not always as easy" said Quick.Step's team director Wilfried Peeters, to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad this morning, as there have been predictions that Boonen will win five races in a row. "Has anyone ever done that, win everything from Harelbeke till the Scheldeprijs? Let's remain serious about this. Gent-Wevelgem is a different race again. Nothing is necessary, everything is possible. That luxury we have. Our spring campaign is for 90 percent success. I think that other teams have more reasons to get nervous. That doesn't mean that the pressure is off in our team. On the contrary. It's about the same guys who stay on the job for RVV till the Scheldeprijs is ridden. Another three races, then a bit of rest. After our current successes they are more than motivated to make this a fun week again.

"This is not Paris-Roubaix. Everyone is talking about Boonen, but we have a few more riders suited to this race if too many teams are on Tom's wheel today. Nuyens, Hulsmans, Tankink can win here too. Look at the past winners; there's more than one domestique there: Van Bondt, Frison and even someone called Wilfried Peeters."

14:29 CEST    121km/87km to go
Stijn Devolder (Discovery)
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Stijn Devolder was cautious about his chances at the start. "Anything's possible," said the Discovery Channel rider. "Maybe the course is a bit easy for me. We'll see. It's really as preparation for Paris-Roubaix. I'll try to stay out of trouble today.

On Sunday we saw a very strong Quick.Step block. I'll certainly try to help George Hincapie today - I think he has set his sights on this race.

14:33 CEST    124km/84km to go
With 87 km to go, the peloton has split into three or four groups. In front, we have a group of 30-odd riders now with: Boonen, Cretskens, Hulsmans, Knaven (Quick.Step), De Jongh, Hayman, Kroon (Rabobank), Bennati, Eeckhout (Jacques), Walters (Navigators), Michaelsen, Breschel (CSC), Lemoine, Lequatre, Kirsipuu (CA), Steels, Mattan, Vogels (Davitamon Lotto), Cadamuro (Domina), Lang (Gerolsteiner), Cancellara, Flecha (Fassa), Adamsson (Barloworld), Cooke (FDJ), Gerosa (Liquigas) and Cruz (Discovery).

Notable absentees: Hincapie (is he waiting for the Kemmel? Joke - he punctured at a crucial moment and couldn't rejoin), T-Mobile (lost Klier to a crash), Hammond (crashed), O'Grady (Cofidis).

14:35 CEST   
Steven De Jongh, Rabobank, is one of the favourites for today. "I think I'm suited for this type of race," he told the VUM newspapers. "In 2003 I finished 29th, last year I had to abandon after a crash. But I'm eager to ride a good result today, really, the morale is good. I've recovered completely form the bad cold that I was suffering with since I won Nokere Koerse. Harelbeke and Flanders have shown me that my superform isn't far off.

"Of course it's going to be hard to beat Boonen. We knew that he could finish things off in the sprint, but Tom made it clear that he can attack too. The rider finishing in front of him in Wevelgem will be near the win, that much is sure. But I'm not going to accept his reign here already. We haven't spoken yet about a plan to beat him in the team as yet. But there are always the coincidences (probabilities) in the race. Boonen can also get a flat tyre for example."

14:38 CEST    128km/80km to go
Nico Eeckhout, Chocolade Jacques, is planning to do well today, he told the Belgian press. "Just like everyone else I saw a very strong Boonen on Sunday, but that's not always a good thing in the races that follow. Because of the fact that he's the man to beat today, he might be beatable. The question is how big Tom's ambition for the race is. Whether he wants to go for the victory or if he's already thinking about Sunday?

"It's enough for Boonen to feel a bit less, that much was clear in Waregem. I'm not going to throw the towel in as yet. The form is good and the team is good. Now all we need to hope for is that I'm in the right place at the right rime. I've saved my efforts on Sunday having this in mind." (Eeckhout abandoned the RVV early last Sunday)

The first group is still holding peloton 2 at 28 seconds, as it approaches the hill zone.

14:43 CEST   
We'll be providing one or two updates (trying not to overdo it) from the Vuelta a Pais Vasco as well, courtesy of our correspondent Martin Hardie.

To the south in the other Pro Tour race that is on today, 179 riders set of from the start at the Maeztegi golf club in Ortuella for the 176 km run to Vitoria on the Vuelta Pais Vasco's longest stage. The day was clearing and a very pleasant 20 degrees at the start. There were the usual frantic attempts to get away in the opening kilometres until at 20 km, Luis Pasamontes (Relax) managed to make himself a 15 second gap. But within 15 km, the bunch was all back to together, minus José Angel Gómez (Saunier Duval-Prodir) who decided to climb off his bike. The Meta Volantes leader, Iban Mayoz, attacked at the 50 km mark and quickly built up a 1.50 advantage on the road from Amurrio to Orduña. His intention is not quite clear as the first meta volante was still over 60 kms away in the capital, Vitoria-Gatseiz. Maybe he is trying to take advantage of the Cat. 2 Alto de la Barrerilla which commences quite soon and takes the riders up onto the plateau of Araba.

Whatever Mayoz was up to, he managed to get tot he top of the climb with only a 4 second lead over 3 chasers, The Kaiku milkmen's Mosquera, Carlos Garcia Quesada and Saunier's Elvira. All were quickly caught by the peloton and it is all back together again for the first of the days passes into Vitoria.

14:44 CEST    132km/76km to go
The second peloton is now at 50 seconds. The front group, with a few more names: Boonen, Cretskens, Hulsmans, Knaven (Quick.Step), De Jongh, Hayman, Kroon (Rabobank), Bennati (Lampre), Eeckhout (Jacques), Walters (Navigators), Bäckstedt (Liquigas), Michaelsen, Breschel (CSC), Lemoine, Lequatre, Kirsipuu (CA), Steels, Mattan, Steegmans, Vogels (Davitamon Lotto), Cadamuro (Domina), Lang (Gerolsteiner), Cancellara, Flecha (Fassa), Adamsson (Barloworld), Cooke (FDJ), Gerosa (Liquigas) and Cruz (Discovery).

14:47 CEST   
Ludovic Capelle has abandoned, as have Ludovic Auger (FDJ), Alberto Ongarato (Fassa) and Mikel Pradera (Liberty).

The crash involving Andreas Klier has essentially destroyed T-Mobile's chances, as four of his teammates waited for him. He was more positive in Het Nieuwsblad this morning: "To beat Boonen, it appears best to me that you don't take him with you in an attack. There's enough men who'll want to do that: Eeckhout, Mattan, Hoste, Devolder. I'll try and hop on the right train. On top of that we've got a second card to play: Zabel. I won't be saving my efforts for next Sunday, that leads to nothing. Gent-Wevelgem is a pro-tour race now and has gained prestige.

"I won't hang my head after Sunday. Peter and I weren't much less than Boonen, one of us could have gotten away like he did and won. Tom just picked the right moment and was super strong. The way he won makes him a big rider. I didn't lay awake that evening. I was very happy finishing second, because in the finale I surely wasn't as good as the third guy (Van Petegem)."

14:48 CEST    136km/72km to go
Thor Hushovd (CA) is also in the front group - Credit Agricole has four men up here, just like Quick.Step and Lotto.

Magnus Bäckstedt (Liquigas-Bianchi) was involved in the long break in Flanders on Sunday, but ran out of gas after about 200 kilometres. At the start of Gent-Wevelgem in Deinze, he said he would try again and aim for the win. Well, he's in the right group for it.

The second group is at 1'06 - it's pretty much over for them.

14:50 CEST    136km/72km to go
The second group is now being passed by the team cars, as the gap is over a minute. There are nowhere near enough strong riders to organise a chase here.

14:51 CEST    138km/70km to go
The first climb of the Vidaigneberg (forgot to mention that earlier) is now just 3 km hence. Then it's the Monteberg and Kemmelberg.

14:53 CEST    139km/69km to go
Matti Breschel takes a couple of drinks from the CSC team car, and rides back up to Michaelsen to give them to him. Michaelsen won this race in 1995.

Hushovd is lurking at the back, looking a bit knackered. Boonen is doing turns in front, looking good.

14:54 CEST   
Current Belgian champion Tom Steels (Davitamon-Lotto) has no idea how he'll go today, when asked if he could win. "Maybe, we'll see. It's a long way to go."

Servais Knaven (Quick.Step) came close to winning Gent-Wevelgem a couple of years ago, when Klier beat Vogels and Boonen in their small group sprint. Knaven had put in a solo attack in the finale, but didn't have the gas to make it to the finish. "I did come very close, perhaps another chance will come," he said.

Contrary to what was in the press today, Knaven said he was delighted with the outcome of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and his role in helping Tom Boonen win. "I put the guys in the right place to give them the best possible chance in the finale," he explained.

14:55 CEST   
Hincapie and Aldag have abandoned.

14:56 CEST    140km/68km to go
Magnus leads the bunch on the cobbles at Westouter, just before the Vidaigneberg. He looks like a big green fluoro giant.

Random thought: I wonder whether we'll see Tintin the pony today?

14:58 CEST   
The Quick.Step boys set a steady pace on the Vidaigneberg, then Vogels comes through and does a turn. Cretskens is now back at the front. This is a 1 km climb averaging 5.8%.

14:59 CEST    142km/66km to go
Now Hayman takes over, looking fairly comfortable. Cretskens is always there though, allowing Boonen to relax a bit. Michaelsen is close behind, the canny Dane leading over the top. Then Vogels, Bäckstedt and Cruz.

The gap to group 2 is 1'10.

15:01 CEST    143km/65km to go
The front bunch is now on the Rodeberg, with Boonen doing the hard yards in front. Michaelsen again in second wheel, then Hayman, Knaven and Vogels.

15:05 CEST    146km/62km to go
The second peloton has a Euskaltel rider powering on the front, and has pulled the gap back to 50 seconds. But he has a Rabo rider on his wheel, who won't do a turn.

In front, Lequatre nearly crashes in a ditch as he goes off the side of the road.

Quick.Step ups the tempo a bit to keep the gap at 49 seconds.

15:07 CEST    147km/61km to go
The peloton is splitting in pursuit of the front group, which is just about on the Monteberg. Then another 2 km before Kemmelberg #1. Burghardt (T-Mobile) is now leading the chase group with Uros Murn (Phonak).

Nico Eeckhout (Jacques) is riding a smart race at the back of the lead group.

15:08 CEST    148km/60km to go
Cretskens leads the front group on the Monteberg, a 300m climb at 5.5%. It's not much of a hill, but the Kemmel comes soon after.

It's starting to rain really, really lightly.

15:08 CEST   
The chasers are re-passing the team cars, led by Murn and a Euskaltel rider. The gap is back to 30 seconds!

15:10 CEST    149km/59km to go
Knaven lifts the pace again in front, with Boonen on his wheel. They probably don't want the gap to close.

15:13 CEST    150km/58km to go
Knaven leads onto the Kemmel, and immediately goes backwards. This is a nasty climb. Hushovd is up front with the Quick.Steps. Boonen is leading, and Flecha.

Bäckstedt, Vogels, Steegmans, De Jongh, Lemoine and Lequatre are in difficulties.

Pozzato has jumped across from the chase group to the leaders - nice riding by the Quick.Step rider.

15:14 CEST    150km/58km to go
Hushovd leads on the cobbled descent of the Kemmel. Steels, Eeckhout, Cretskens, Lang are in a second group, then Pozzato, Knaven, Lemoine, Lequatre and a couple of others in group 3.

15:15 CEST    152km/56km to go
After the descent of the Kemmel, there's a bit of regrouping. Flecha, Boonen, Hushovd, Cruz, Cadamuro, Kirsipuu are all there in a group of 15. Steels is chasing with 5 others, then another eight with Pozzato, Bäckstedt and Eeckhout.

15:22 CEST    156km/52km to go
The front group is now: Boonen, Cretskens, Hulsmans (Quick.Step), Hayman, Kroon (Rabobank), Bennati (Lampre), Walters (Navigators), Bäckstedt (Liquigas), Michaelsen, Breschel (CSC), Kirsipuu, Hushovd (CA), Eeckhout (Jacques), Steels, Mattan, (Davitamon Lotto), Cadamuro (Domina), Lang (Gerolsteiner), Cancellara, Flecha (Fassa), Adamsson (Barloworld), Cooke (FDJ) and Cruz (Discovery).

Group 2 has De Jongh (Rabobank), Steegmans, Vogels (Davitamon Lotto), Pozzato, Knaven (QSD), Lemoine, Lequatre (CA), has been joined by bits of the peloton, including Quick.Step's Bram Tankink. It's at 42 seconds.

15:23 CEST    158km/50km to go
The leading group is battling the wind again, as Cooke signals for his team car. He gets a drink. The gap to group 2 is 44 seconds. Early on in the race, Cooke punctured and ended up in the second group along with Boonen, but they got back to the front.

15:26 CEST    160km/48km to go
Cooke gets some food at last, and tries to eat it as he sits in the gutter. It's pretty windy here, and the break is flying along. 51 seconds to group 2, which seems to have grown in size. Zabel is here, as is Uros Murn, Baumann, Burghardt, Vogels, Steegmans and about 40 others.

15:27 CEST    161km/47km to go
The second group is trying to organise itself into a chase, as the gap goes up towards the magic minute mark. Meanwhile in front, Matti Breschel leads over the cobbles in Westouter, towards the second climb of the Vidaigneberg.

15:31 CEST    162km/46km to go
Bäckstedt leads over the top of the Vidaigneberg, so he's obviously feeling reasonably good. Either that or he's just riding smartly - it's hard to get dropped when you're the one setting tempo. Cadamuro is having problems holding the big Swede's wheel.

The second group refuses to give up, courtesy of Murn as Rast (Phonak). It's 36 seconds. Look out for Pozzato and Tankink, who will probably try to jump across if it goes down more.

15:32 CEST    163km/45km to go
The lead group had better wake up again or it will be caught by group 2 before the Kemmel. They're fighting the headwind again, 35 seconds ahead of the big second group. The Rodeberg is next, a 730m climb at 5.6%.

15:33 CEST    164km/44km to go
Mattan, Cancellara and Michaelsen try a pre-emptive attack from group 1, as group 2 gets within 27 seconds...

There is a reaction, and the front group comes back together.

15:34 CEST   
The second group is getting very close now - 26 seconds.

15:35 CEST    166km/42km to go
The gap is closing fairly quickly, as the lead group still hasn't lifted to match the tempo. The chasing snake is hungry.

15:36 CEST   
A Pais Vasco update, thanks to Martin Hardie.

Even before reaching the meta volante in Vitoria the list of abandons grew quickly – Kaiku's Dioni Galparsoro, Fabien Sanchez (Francaise des Jeux), Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel), Andreas Klöden (t-Mobile) and Koldo Gil (Liberty) all jumped off the bike. Meanwhile at the around the stage's halfway mark, a group escaped consisting of Ruben Lobato Elvira (Saunier Duval), Alexandre Kolobnev (Rabobank), Iker Camaño (Euskaltel Euskadi), Javier Rodriguez Pascual (Comunitat Valenciana) and Kaiku's Ruben Oarbescoa. The quintet quickly opened up a gap of 1.44 whilst Illes Baleares controlled the rhythm of the peloton. By the time they reached the meta volante in Vitoria the escapees had managed to increase their gap to 2.15 with 64 kms to go. Oarbescoa, took the main points followed by Kolobnev and Lobato Elvira. The race now heads south for two crossings of the Cat. 2 Zaldiaran and into a zone that is typically treacherous for its cross winds.

15:37 CEST    167km/41km to go
Eeckhout and Lang are dropped off the front group, but they ride hard to get back on by the next corner. 23 seconds to group 2, which is led by T-Mobile's lanky giant, Markus Burghardt.

15:38 CEST    168km/40km to go
The gap is hovering at 20, 21, 22 seconds between the front group of 20 and the chase group of 40. The front has many of the favourites in it, including Boonen, but Erik Zabel can be seen at the front of group 2.

They are at the Monteberg now, and the gap is 14 seconds!

15:40 CEST    169km/39km to go
Eeckhout is dropped again as Flecha attacks . Mattan counters, with Boonen on his wheel. Mattan will close it. Bäckstedt is also up there. Half of the group is dropped.

Flecha still has a lead though, as he goes over the top.

15:41 CEST    169km/39km to go
Flecha leads over the top of the Monteberg, with 10 seconds lead over Bäckstedt, Mattan, Boonen, Kirsipuu, Cooke, Hushovd, Cancellara, Michaelsen...

Kroon sets off in pursuit. Then Bäckstedt lifts the pace behind.

15:44 CEST    170km/38km to go
Flecha hits the Kemmel for the last time, losing a lot of speed but then getting going again. The next group is closing. Kirsipuu is in a bit of trouble at the back as Hushovd leads Bäckstedt, Boonen and Cancellara. Cruz, Bennati, Kroon are all there.

Flecha drives up the steepest part, 10 seconds to Hushovd and co. Cooke is also there. Mattan, Hulsmans, Cretskens. Then Hayman leads a second group, which has the front bit of the peloton: Zabel, O'Grady there.

15:49 CEST    172km/36km to go
Flecha survives the descent and it time trialling on the tops of the bars, looking smooth. The chase group will get organised now, and is about 10 seconds back. Pozzato comes up to Flecha - he managed to jump across from the second peloton on the Kemmel. Nice work!

Boonen, Kirsipuu, Breschel, Cruz, Kroon, Cretskens are about 15 seconds behind the front group, which has Bennati, Flecha, Cancellara, Pozzato, Hushovd, Bäckstedt, Mattan and Cooke.

15:51 CEST    176km/32km to go
This front group is now powering along with a tailwind. Looks like Boonen doesn't really have it today, as his group is at 15 seconds. Bäckstedt now does a big turn in front. Two Fassas here - Flecha and Cancellara. That's dangerous for the rest.

15:55 CEST    180km/28km to go
It's not over yet, as the peloton is at 52 seconds. Boonen's group is at 18 seconds.

Filippo Pozzato (Quick.Step) said this morning that he might have a chance today: "My form is improving and I hope for a nice result today." Pozzato refuses to work, with Boonen behind. Mattan yells at him, but Pozzato says "nope".

15:56 CEST    181km/27km to go
The peloton is getting itself sorted out again, and Rabo is chasing. 49 seconds to the leaders. Boonen's group is at 25 seconds.

15:58 CEST    183km/25km to go
The lead group: Bennati (Lampre), Flecha, Cancellara (Fassa), Pozzato (QS), Hushovd (CA), Bäckstedt (Liqui), Mattan (Lotto) and Cooke (FdJ). The next chasers are at 28 seconds: Boonen, Cretskens (QS), Kirsipuu (CA), Breschel (CSC), Cruz (Disco), Kroon (Rabo). The peloton is still at 50 seconds.

In front, there are some good sprinters in Cooke, Hushovd, Bäckstedt and even Cancellara. Look out for some late moves by the Fassa riders.

15:59 CEST    184km/24km to go
Boonen is doing the most work in the chase group - but he's better off sitting up and letting the peloton come back. The peloton is at 40 seconds, Boonen's group at 31 seconds. We'll soon have two groups instead of three.

16:00 CEST    185km/23km to go
Boonen's group sits up and waits. It has no choice. The peloton is motoring, and is at 38 seconds behind the leaders. But there's only 23 km to go.

16:02 CEST    186km/22km to go
The lead group is hammering now, as Flecha attacks. Bäckstedt counters, but it's more of a big turn. Pozzato looks strong in third wheel. Really strong. 45 seconds back to the peloton, where a tired Michaelsen is working with Rabobank. 48 seconds.

16:05 CEST    189km/19km to go
The lead group has eight riders in it, as Cooke gets a drink from the neutral car, driven by Pol de Baeremaecker. Mattan gets one too, and squirts some of it back, direction Pol.

There's a crash in the peloton. Not sure who's involved. The gap is still 50 seconds, with Rabobank towing.

16:06 CEST   
Bennati is a pretty handy sprinter too! This will be interesting, but more than likely it'll come down to the attacks in the finale.

16:07 CEST    190km/18km to go
The Rabo chase has had an effect. The gap is back to 40 seconds and falling again. This peloton is about 35-40 riders strong. Boonen and Steels are in it, as are Zabel and Kirsipuu.

16:09 CEST    191km/17km to go
Davitamon-Lotto has got a couple of men on the front of the peloton, despite the fact that Mattan is up the road. Maybe they are counting on Steels in a bunch sprint, as Mattan is seriously outnumbered by the sprinters. 43 seconds.

Pozzato marks a move by Bäckstedt. Easily.

16:11 CEST    193km/15km to go
The peloton is splitting to bits thanks to the crosswinds. But the gap to the leaders is still 40 seconds. Voeckler is in about 3rd last wheel. Bortolami and Roesems are also here.

Now 32 seconds...

16:12 CEST    194km/14km to go
O'Grady has placed himself well behind the Rabobank chasers. Michaelsen is working with them, as is De Vocht. Zabel, Boonen and Steels are all there.

35 seconds to the leaders with 14 km to go. It's coming down, but slowly.

16:13 CEST    195km/13km to go
The leaders are still working well - Mattan also, but not Pozzato, who is essentially playing a spoiler role with Boonen behind. 31 seconds.

It's now raining a bit, as was forecast. Bennati looks back, and is concerned. 27 seconds.

16:15 CEST   
Rabobank, De Vocht (Lotto), Michaelsen and Breschel (CSC) are working in the peloton, which is some 25 riders strong now. Cruz is still there - the only Discovery rider to make it today.

The leaders: Bennati (Lampre), Flecha, Cancellara (Fassa), Pozzato (QS), Hushovd (CA), Bäckstedt (Liqui), Mattan (Lotto) and Cooke (FdJ). They have 22 seconds. The roads are wet now.

16:17 CEST    198km/10km to go
The Rabo chase is always making ground on the leaders. It's 20 seconds. Bennati attacks, with Hushovd and Cancellara in pursuit. Pozzato closes the gap easily. Then it slows down and regroups. 19 seconds...

Hayman does a monster turn in the peloton. The chase is relentless.

16:18 CEST    199km/9km to go
Mattan is the next to attack, then Hushovd gets him back. All together. Still 19 seconds. Mattan attacks a second time and no-one reacts immediately. Then Bennati and Cancellara drag the group back to Mattan. Pozzato finds himself at the front and slows. Mattan is still away...

16:20 CEST    200km/8km to go
Mattan sees he has a gap and hammers. He has a big gap now. Bennati is chasing him, and the rest of the group. Still 20 seconds to the peloton.

Pozzato and Bäckstedt crash on a corner!! End of race for them, essentially. But Bäckstedt is back on his bike and chasing.

Mattan still has 30m. Then Bennati, Flecha, Hushovd and Cooke behind.

16:21 CEST    201km/7km to go
Mattan is driving, chased by Bennati (Lampre), Flecha, Cancellara (Fassa), Hushovd (CA) and Cooke (FdJ). He has 6 seconds. The bunch is at 24 seconds.

16:22 CEST    203km/5km to go
Hulsmans punctures out of the peloton. He just holds it up on a corner.

Nico Mattan has 6 seconds on the chase group, which has Cooke and Hushovd in it, as well as Bennati, Flecha and Cancellara. 25 seconds to the peloton, which looks out of it.

16:23 CEST    203km/5km to go
The chasers are coming back to Mattan, slowly. 5 seconds. 4 seconds. They hit a bridge. Ouch, this is really painful for Mattan.

16:24 CEST    204km/4km to go
Flecha jumps across to Mattan on the bridge, then Cooke gets across! He told us that he was focusing on this race...

The other three have to chase hard.

16:25 CEST    205km/3km to go
Cooke, Mattan, and Flecha have 5 seconds on Bennati, Cancellara and Hushovd. Flecha does a massive turn as Cooke gets on. Flecha is now solo. Mattan second. Cooke third. All separate.

16:26 CEST    206km/2km to go
Flecha has 3 km to go and has a gap on Mattan and Cooke. The three are all separated by 30 metres. The chasers are not far behind either.

Flecha has 2 km. He must win, surely.

16:27 CEST    207km/1km to go
Flecha has got his arms over the tops, searching for maximum power. Mattan is at 5 seconds. He won't get Flecha. Then Cooke at another 10 seconds. The peloton is at half a minute.

16:28 CEST    208km/0km to go
Flecha drives it up the last straight, but Mattan puts in a massive surge, using all the motorbikes to his advantage. Mattan wins!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

16:30 CEST   
Bennati takes third ahead of Cancellara and Hushovd, then Cooke sixth and Steels wins the group sprint for seventh.

What an amazing ride by Mattan, who launched his sprint with 700m to go. He closed a relatively huge gap to Flecha, who had nothing left when Mattan blew by him with 200m to go. Fantastic finish.


1 Nico Mattan (Bel) Davitamon - Lotto                4.57.23
2 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Fassa Bortolo
3 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre - Caffita
4 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo
5 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole
6 Baden Cooke (Aus) Française des Jeux
7 Tom Steels (Bel) Davitamon - Lotto
8 Simone Cadamuro (Ita) Domina Vacanze
9 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile
10 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone

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