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94th Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen - 1.HC

Belgium, April 12, 2006

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Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Anthony Tan

Live report

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

The start of the 94th Scheldeprijs
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
(Click for larger image)

14:30 CEST   
Well, we've anchored the Hindenburg V to a barge on the Schelde, and been towed up to Antwerp in time for the 94th Scheldeprijs, Flanders' oldest race. Today we have 200 km of flat racing around the northeastern part of Belgium, consisting of a long 150 km loop and three laps of a 17 km circuit around Schoten. It's a classic sprinters course, and the likes of Tom Boonen and Robbie McEwen will be aiming to put their name on the winners list again.

The weather today: moderately windy but dry, with a maximum of around 12 degrees Celsius.

14:36 CEST    138km/62km to go
At the moment, we have a group of 23 riders with a massive 5'40 on the peloton with 64 km to go. The group contains Tom Boonen, Wouter Weylandt and Wilfried Cretskens (Quick.Step) and Baden Cooke (Unibet.com), Graeme Brown (Rabobank), Enrico Gasparotto (Liquigas), Evert Verbist, Niko Eeckhout, Kurt Hovelynck, Frederik Willems, Jens Renders (all Chocolade Jacques), among others.

Peter Van Petegem is not here though - he crashed earlier in the race and was taken to hospital.

14:38 CEST    139km/61km to go
The big group is just rolling along at the moment, extending their gap to 6'20.

Bram De Groot (Rabobank) has crashed out of the lead group, one less teammate for Brown.

14:40 CEST    140km/60km to go
The leaders hit the 1700m cobbles of the Broekstraat, which aren't too bad to ride on. Jeremy Hunt (Unibet) gets to the front.

14:41 CEST   
Gert Steegmans is also in the front group - the only rider from Davitamon. He sits at the back, taking it easy. Kevin Hulsmans now does a turn on the second half of the cobbles. Looks like most of Quick.Step has made it into this lead group.

14:43 CEST    142km/58km to go
Boonen is doing his share of work, no complaints, as they ride along the Albertkanaal. The gap to the peloton is now over seven minutes, and it's clear that the winner will come from this group.

14:47 CEST    145km/55km to go
The full composition of the group: Tom Boonen, Wouter Weylandt, Kevin Hulsmans, Steven de Jongh, Geert Verheyen, Servais Knaven, Wilfried Cretskens (Quick.Step), Luis Pasamontes, Jeremy Hunt and Baden Cooke (Unibet.com), Graeme Brown, Jan Boven, Mathew Hayman (Rabobank), Enrico Gasparotto (Liquigas), Evert Verbist, Niko Eeckhout, Kurt Hovelynck, Frederik Willems, Jens Renders (all Chocolade Jacques), Gert Steegmans (Davitamon-Lotto), David Verheyen (Landbouwkrediet), Massimiliano Mori, Stephan Cohnen (Naturino), René Weissinger, Aart Vierhouten (Skil Shimano).

As you can see, Quick.Step has the numbers... The only rider who missed the break was Sebastian Rosseler. If they don't win this race, there will be questions asked. But it's not over yet.

14:52 CEST    149km/51km to go
The lead group passes the line for the first time with three laps to go, with Quick.Step leading them through. A massive crowd has turned out to watch this finish.

14:53 CEST    149km/51km to go
Jan Boven (Rabobank) has stopped in the feed zone, looking a little stressed. Possibly cramps, as he doesn't look like he crashed.

14:54 CEST   
We spoke to Rabobank's Graeme Brown before the start today, and the Australian sprinter wasn't sure what to expect.

CN: You've been riding well over the last few weeks, so are you looking for a big ride today?

GB: Yeah, I hope so - that's definitely the goal. It's the kind of race that suits me, I guess; but there's quite a few good riders (half-laughs) that could make it a bit hard.

CN: What your team is planning on today?

GB: Well, up until the last lap, it will be a bunch sprint for me, but we've got different cards to play and we'll just see how it pans out on the last lap.

14:57 CEST    152km/48km to go
Renders asks his team director for a bidon, and gets one. Weylandt also signals for the Quick.Step car. Chocolade Jacques has lost a man in Frederik Willems, reducing it to four riders. Normally that would seem to be a lot in a 22 man break, but not when there are seven Quick.Steps including Tom Boonen.

15:02 CEST    155km/45km to go
The leaders are now well into their first of three laps, and are working reasonably hard. The peloton is at 9'39 and will probably get pulled out of the race before the last lap. Here it comes through the start/finish, not riding that hard. Seb Rosseler looks a bit lost without all his teammates.

Baden Cooke (Unibet.com)
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
(Click for larger image)

15:04 CEST   
Baden Cooke (Unibet.com) is also in the front group. We cornered him this morning in Antwerp.

CN: Most times this race ends in a bunch sprint, so is that what your team is either planning or hoping for?

BC: Yeah - we've got Jeremy Hunt and myself here today, so we're hoping for a bunch sprint. We'll probably put guys in the breakaways to cover those, but we're hoping for a bunch sprint.

CN: Lately, you haven't had the chance to use your sprint, so have you been working on it during training?

BC: No, I haven't worked on it - I've just been working on getting strong for the classics and haven't trained my sprint all year, so it's probably not the sharpest it's ever been. But after this period when I have some time off, that's when I'll sharpen up for the racing at the end of the month.

15:08 CEST    159km/41km to go
The leaders complete the Broekstraat cobbles with Pasamontes doing some work for Hunt and Cooke. Now they're alongside the Albertkanaal again, punching along against the headwind. The cooperation is quite good.

Belgian television has confirmed that Van Petegem has broken his collarbone and will be operated on today.

15:13 CEST    162km/38km to go
There are quite a few sprinters in this front group, but none of them will be particularly keen to go head to head with Tom Boonen. Besides Tom, we have Weylandt and De Jongh (from his own team), Hunt and Cooke (Unibet), Brown (Rabobank), Vierhouten (Skil), Gasparotto (Liquigas), Eeckhout (Chocolade Jacques) and Steegmans (Davitamon).

The leaders turn off from the canal and are in the streets of Schoten.

David O'Louglin (Navigators Insurance)
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
(Click for larger image)

15:15 CEST   
David O'Loughlin (Navigators) spoke to us today at the start in Antwerp as well.

CN: What's the team plan today?

D'OL: A couple of us are going to try and get away early and get in the early move, and if it comes to the final, we'll help Hilton Clarke and Oleg Grishkine in the sprint.

CN: This race often does come down to a bunch sprint, so is that what your team is counting on?

D'OL: Oh, we've got good guys here for a breakaway; we've got Sergey Lagutin, [Valery] Kobzarenko and we've got good sprinters as well, so we can play both cards.

15:17 CEST    165km/35km to go
Hunt stops for a rear flat, and gets a pretty decent change and is on his way again. The leaders are at the finish line with two laps to travel. The fireworks might start on the next lap. Who will Quick.Step work for today? Probably Boonen, but if another of their riders has a chance, then Boonen would be happy as well.

15:19 CEST   
Hunt gets a little 'attention' on his brakes as he chases back onto the group. He's there now, eating, drinking and making merrie.

15:20 CEST   
The leaders again: Tom Boonen, Wouter Weylandt, Kevin Hulsmans, Steven de Jongh, Geert Verheyen, Servais Knaven, Wilfried Cretskens (Quick.Step), Luis Pasamontes, Jeremy Hunt and Baden Cooke (Unibet.com), Graeme Brown, Mathew Hayman (Rabobank), Enrico Gasparotto (Liquigas), Evert Verbist, Niko Eeckhout, Kurt Hovelynck, Jens Renders (all Chocolade Jacques), Gert Steegmans (Davitamon-Lotto), David Verheyen (Landbouwkrediet), Massimiliano Mori, Stephan Cohnen (Naturino), René Weissinger, Aart Vierhouten (Skil Shimano).

15:22 CEST    169km/31km to go
Boonen gets some assistance from a teammate to take a nature break. It's a relaxed sort of pace at the moment, but the start of the race was very hard, and no-one would have had a chance to relieve themselves. The break got away in the first 20 km.

15:24 CEST    170km/30km to go
Somewhat surprisingly, everyone is still working in the group, instead of letting Quick.Step do the whole lot. The slight problem with that tactic is that you allow one team to dictate the pace to suit their plans. It's likely that on the last lap, Quick.Step will up the tempo to prevent attacks.

15:27 CEST    173km/27km to go
The pace lifts a bit thanks to a turn by Steegmans, then Eeckhout comes through as they navigate the back streets of the suburb of Schoten.

The peloton is continually losing time to the 22 man break, and it's now languishing at 13'31. Even if they don't get pulled out at the end of this lap, then quite a few riders will still step off and watch the finish.

15:30 CEST    175km/25km to go
It is quite a pleasant circuit through the trees and grand houses in this part of Antwerp. The riders should be quite familiar with it by now.

The Broekstraat once again, with Cretskens on the front. Then Steegmans attacks!! Well, why not?

15:32 CEST    176km/24km to go
Steegmans looks quite good as he gets 5 seconds. Now the reactions start. Hovelynck is the first to catch him. Then the rest of the group.

Meanwhile, the peloton passes the line at 14'10 and is pulled out of the race.

15:33 CEST    177km/23km to go
Matt Hayman is another rider in the break, which is alongside the Albertkanaal being paced by a few tourists who haven't ridden the last 175 km.

"We've got to try and be in any breaks and then see what the tactics are from [Davitamon] Lotto and Quick.Step, how much faith [Davitamon-Lotto] has got in McEwen, whether he says he's good or not," said Hayman. "Quick.Step last year, they let it [the break] go - I don't think it'll happen again this year; if we get towards the end [in one bunch], then everything's for Graeme [Brown], but before that, I'll try and be in the offensive."

15:34 CEST    177km/23km to go
A Naturino rider attacks next, Stefan Cohnen (Naturino). No reaction.

15:36 CEST    178km/22km to go
Cohnen pedals a big gear against this stiff headwind, and opens up a 16 second gap to the uninterested lead group.

15:37 CEST    179km/21km to go
Cohnen doesn't have anyone to help, and with four Quick.Steps on the front it doesn't look good. He has 23 seconds, and they can get that back very quickly. But leaving him in front is a good idea - one less rider to worry about.

15:38 CEST    180km/20km to go
But full credit to Cohnen for taking the initiative. Otherwise it's all going to play into Quick.Step's hands for a group sprint. The Dutchman has half a minute.

15:40 CEST    181km/19km to go
Verheyen, Cretskens, Knaven and Hulsmans lead the peloton, while De Jongh and Weylandt stay back with Boonen. The gap is growing and it's now 36 seconds. That's impressive from Cohnen, as the pace isn't that slow.

15:43 CEST    183km/17km to go
Cohnen reaches the final kilometre and rides alone, cheered on by everyone lining the road. The 21 rider bunch strings out now in pursuit. Let's see how long he can hang on. He crosses the line with one 17 km lap to go.

Cohnen take the first left hander past the finish, as the blue and white train comes through at 27 seconds. Boonen is in about seventh wheel behind all of his teammates. Now the pace will be on.

15:45 CEST    185km/15km to go
Cretskens continues to lead as Boonen tightens his straps. Eeckhout is glued to the world champion's wheel. Probably a good one today.

Cohnen has 24 seconds and is working rather hard to keep them.

15:47 CEST    186km/14km to go
Cohnen pedals a huge gear, often getting out of the saddle to get a bit more power and ease the pressure. Cretskens keeps the gap at 26 seconds.

Brown is on Eeckhout's wheel. Steegmans sits right at the back with Weissinger.

15:48 CEST    187km/13km to go
Quick.Step definitely doesn't want to catch Cohnen too early, because that opens them up for counter attacks. For some reason, riders seem afraid to attack when there's already someone out there. Probably because they have to close the gap all by themselves in order to be in a winning position.

15:49 CEST    187km/13km to go
Verheyen now takes over, lifting the pace and knocking a few seconds off the Dutchman's lead. It's 21 seconds now.

15:50 CEST    188km/12km to go
Cretskens gets back on the front of the bunch, putting his head down and allowing Cohnen a few more seconds but then pegs them back. 19 seconds.

15:51 CEST    189km/11km to go
Cohnen checks behind him and sees a mass of blue and white chasing him. Boonen is in seventh wheel still, while Cooke and Hunt have moved up to position themselves for what could well be a group sprint. Let's see if Steegmans can do something soon.

15:53 CEST    190km/10km to go
Inside the final 10 kilometres and the leader is still Stefan Cohnen (Naturino). The Dutch rider is nearly at the Broekstraat for the last time, at the moment riding through the tree lined streets. 14 seconds. He's suffering.

15:54 CEST    192km/8km to go
Cohnen looks back again, and he has 12 seconds as he hits the Broekstraat. He's going to need more than that.

15:55 CEST   
Now Quick.Step hammers onto the cobbles, keeping the tempo high to stop the attacks. That could spell the end of Cohnen, but we'll see. Having him out there is still good for Boonen's team.

15:56 CEST    193km/7km to go
Cohnen reaches the smooth part in the middle of the cobbles. He's pretty tired, but he still has 12 seconds. Knaven finally comes through and he will be a bit fresher. 11 seconds.

15:56 CEST   
Pasamontes opens the attacks from behind. Now it should really be on. They're going to have to chase him.

15:58 CEST    194km/6km to go
They hit the kanaal with Pasamontes and Cohnen leading. But Quick.Step are very close behind them and it's clear that they are controlling the situation well. Cohnen gets the Spaniard's wheel and almost hopes that the bunch will catch them soon.

15:58 CEST    195km/5km to go
Cohnen does a turn with Pasamontes, and the pair get a little more of a gap. Quick.Step wants them out there. Cohnen suffers on a small hill and Pasamontes is alone.

15:59 CEST   
Pasamontes looks back and sees that he has five seconds. Five kilometres to go. He keeps looking back. He's back in the bunch.

16:00 CEST    196km/4km to go
All together at 4.5 km to go. Two Jacques riders are in last wheel, while Steegmans sits in third last, looking relaxed. Who will be next to attack?

16:01 CEST    196.5km/3.5km to go
Verheyen is back on the front with Cretskens as they near the end of the Albertkanaal headwind section. Steegmans is moving up. Vierhouten at the back.

16:03 CEST    197.5km/2.5km to go
Suddenly, the pace lifts as they exit the canal. Brown has Boonen's wheel, with Eeckhout behind him. Steegmans is trying to move up and has Brown's wheel. Cooke is also there - they're all fighting for Boonen's wheel. There looks to be only one result in that case.

16:03 CEST    198km/2km to go
Verheyen Cretskens and do big turns with 2.4 km to go, really hurting themselves to get this train in order. No-one can seem to challenge them yet. But maybe in the final kilometre.

16:05 CEST    198.5km/1.5km to go
2 km and Verheyen still hammers on the front. Then Cretskens.

Hayman moves up to shelter Brown, who has Boonen's wheel.

Mori attacks! Knaven marks him and the Italian is suddenly and quickly dropped.

16:05 CEST    199km/1km to go
Knaven drives the tempo up, then Hulsmans, Weylandt, De Jongh and Boonen. Then Vierhouten and Hayman and Brown. Hunt moves up behind Vierhouten.

Hulsmans does his turn, then Weylandt.

16:07 CEST    200km/0km to go
Weylandt starts the sprint from a long way out (and he can certainly do this!), then De Jongh, then Boonen takes over immediately and wins the Scheldeprijs!! De Jongh and impressive second. Steegmans third.

16:08 CEST   
Well, the pressure was on Quick.Step today, and they delivered in spades. Seven guys in the break, first and second at the finish. Very strong stuff. That's a good way for Boonen to finish off the first part of his season, where he has collected 13 wins. And that was a hell of a lead out from Weylandt, Hulsmans and Knaven.

16:19 CEST   
That's Boonen's second win in the Scheldeprijs (also in 2004), and a very polished one it was. Quick.Step rode extremely well to take the race in hand from the start, and none of the other teams had the strength to challenge.

Boonen himself was surprised at how good he felt today after Sunday, even after a Duvel last night. And he'll get a big bolleke (De Koninck) now to wash down the champagne. There's plenty of people to catch him when he falls off the podium.

Tot volgende keer: the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. Now where was that barge...


1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic
2 Steven De Jongh (Ned) Quickstep-Innergetic
3 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto
4 Nico Eeckhout (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen
5 Graeme Brown (Aus) Rabobank
6 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Liquigas
7 Jens Renders (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen
8 Aart Vierhouten (Ned) Skil-Shimano
9 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Unibet.com
10 René Weissinger (Ger) Skil-Shimano