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49th E3 Prijs Vlaanderen

Belgium, March 25, 2006

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Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Brecht Decaluwé

Live report

Live coverage starts: 14:30 CET
Estimated finish: 17:00 CET

The start
Photo ©: Jeff Jones
(Click for larger image)

14:09 CET   
Welcome to sunny (yes, you read that correctly) Harelbeke for Cyclingnews' live coverage of the 49th E3 Prijs Vlaanderen. The weather is surprisingly good today, with a strong southwesterly wind blowing all the overnight rain away, and the riders could start in dry conditions with temperatures actually above 10 degrees.

The wind today will make the race even tougher, although there are also 12 climbs, starting with La Houppe after 117 km, and ending with the Tiegemberg with 14 km to go. And of course there are a few cobbled sections, including the Holleweg, Paddestraat, Kaperij and Varent stones. No-one is going to get an easy ride to the finish today.

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) was a non-starter this morning, but most of the other classics stars were there in Harelbeke's Grote Markt: double winner Tom Boonen (Quick.Step), his teammate and 2003 winner Steven de Jongh, Peter Van Petegem, Gert Steegmans an Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto), Roger Hammond, Leif Hoste and Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel), Andreas Klier, Serguei Ivanov and Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile), Nico Eeckhout (Chocolade Jacques) and plenty more.

There was talk about Tom Boonen having a beefed up bike ready for this race, but the world champion told Cyclingnews that it wasn't ready yet. It should be for the big classics though.

The start was at noon, with Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Fabio Sacchi (Milram), and Ben Johnson (Agritubel) not starting. After 15 km, a group of 26 riders got clear, including Wilfried Cretskens, Servais Knaven (Quick.Step), Henk Vogels (Davitamon), Fabian Cancellara (CSC), Anthony Geslin, Rony Martias, Alexandre Pichot (Bouygues), Sébastien Minard, Thierry Marichal (Cofidis), Marcus Burghardt, Andreas Klier, Stephan Schreck (T-Mobile), David Loosli, Daniele Righi (Lampre), Daniele Colli (Liquigas), Fumiyuki Beppu, Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Discovery), Steven Kleynen (Landbouwkrediet), Jeremy Hunt, Matthew Wilson (Unibet.com), Torsten Schmidt, Lars Wackernagel (Wiesenhof), Marlon Perez (Tenax), Dmitri Konyshev, Michele Maccanti (LPR), and Christian Murro (Tenax).

After 40 km, the group had a minute with the race speed very high: 47 km in the first hour. Loosli was dropped, and Minard had to let go after a mechanical, leaving 24 in front. In the peloton, it wasn't easy either: Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) was dropped, suffering stomach problems, while Marc Wauters and Jukka Vastaranta (Rabobank) were also in trouble. Yukihiro Doi (Skil Shimano) crashed after 61 km and was taken to hospital.

Tom Boonen flatted just before the Paddestraat, but was able to rejoin the peloton. Alessandro Petacchi had similar luck, as did Sébastien Hinault, who punctured on the Paddestraat. Unfortunately, when he did, Niko Eeckhout and Franck Renier rode into him.

After 70 km, a group of nine countered in pursuit of the 24 leaders: Peter Van Petegem, Robbie McEwen, Gert Steegmans (Davitamon), Alessandro Petacchi (Milram), Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile) were all present, but the group came back after 8 km. The gap to the leaders with 120 km to go was half a minute, as the riders covered 44 km in the second hour. Servais Knaven flatted in front, but was able to rejoin.

14:15 CET   
Andreas Klier (T-Mobile) - who is in the lead group - finished second in the E3-Prijs Harelbeke last year. What does he expect of the race today? "I'd like to move up one spot. The opponents will be the same and I feel I'm on the same level also. It will be hard to beat Boonen, one on one. But I'm not the only one with that problem," he remarked in HNB. "I heard that Boonen rode aggressively in Waregem on Wednesday. I like that; I'll join him. If Tom remains passive, I'll shake the tree myself.

"Wesemann, Ivanov and myself were there already last year." he explained to HLN "With Bernucci and Burghardt in a supportive role, we're off well collectively. Boonen will be the biggest obstacle. The pressure of the rainbow jersey. Ah well, he's too young and too good to have problems with that!"

14:22 CET    101km/97km to go
Servais Knaven has been dropped from the lead group, which now numbers 23 and has a 1'14 lead. He's back in the bunch now.

14:24 CET    104km/94km to go
The gap goes up to 1'34 as the leaders hit the feed zone. Klier is the most dangerous man in the break. Gerolsteiner and Milram have been chasing.

14:29 CET   
Dirk Demol, director of the Discovery team, told Cyclingnews before the start today that, "We were never a team of early victories. But since we are
leading in the Pro-Tour ranking for teams, we are very pleased. It proves that we have no single top riders, but a whole team of them. Today, our leaders are the local boys, being young Stijn Devolder and the more experienced Leif Hoste. Not like last year, Devolder has to be in top form from now on. He will do most races from the Tour of Flanders until Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Hoste should be a bit stronger than Devolder, as he isn't showing up at the Wallonian races. We aim to win a big classic. Of course, later on, we want to perform well in the Giro
d'Italia and Tour de France."

Leif Hoste will be racing on home-turf today, as he grew up in Bavikhove, near Harelbeke. "This is more than just coming home to me," he was quoted in HNB. "I should be able to go higher than the level I was on in 2004. I'm virtually riding every race there is from Harelbeke onwards and I consider myself able to play a role in every finale.

"Everything that went wrong last year has been turned around. I hope that this can last another three weeks. No, the big results aren't there yet. But the feeling that things are heading the right way is most important. If I'm afraid of Boonen? On the contrary..."

14:30 CET    108km/90km to go
Rabobank has lost most of its riders already: Oscar Freire (DNS), Joost Posthuma, and Marc Wauters are all out. Jan Boven and Jukka Vastaranta were also struggling earlier.

Roger Hammond (Discovery Channel)
Photo ©: Jeff Jones
(Click for larger image)

14:36 CET   
Roger Hammond won't be one of Discovery Channel's leaders, despite being in good form at the moment. "No, no," he said, when we asked him. Why? "Because I hate this race! Even the year I was third, I was hanging on in this race. There was always a time when my parents used to come over and watch me, and every year I was in the bus."

But now, Hammond admitted, "I have good legs. I feel different to other years now. I just have a free role - I'm just not a leader."

And maybe back in a captain's role for the Ronde van Vlaanderen? "We'll see, we have a few other guys coming there. We just have to see how the next days go. If I keep pulling up, recovering well after the races, then hopefully I'll be given another free role. I don't expect protection, I'd just like the free role idea. Then I can make a decision in the race how I feel, whether to help or to go for it."

14:44 CET    119km/79km to go
The leaders have reached the first climb, La Houppe, a 2.8 km hill averaging 3.3%. It's a gentle aperitif to the cobbled monsters coming up. The gap is still a minute.

14:44 CET   
Fabian Cancellara (CSC) is part of the break away. He's happy with his form and says on the team's website that the TT win in Tirreno-Adriatico was good for the confidence: "It was very important to win that one – both for me and the team. It was good for morale to show that we've prepared for the big races in the right way. I feel totally ready and I look forward to hitting the cobblestones. There are two good races this weekend and I'm initially going to try to sit up front in the E3 Prijs on Saturday. It will prove a good test of my form even though primarily it's all about getting ready for Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix."

14:54 CET   
Wackernagel is dropped from the lead group on La Houppe and is absorbed by the bunch. 22 left in front.

In the bunch, Rik Reinerink (Skil - Shimano), Francesco Planckaert (Jartazi) and Simone Cadamuro (Team Milram) are all in trouble.

Crash! Peter Van Petegem and Michael Blanchy collide in the peloton, and Fumiyuki Beppu comes down in the front group. He abandons.

14:56 CET    124km/74km to go
The leaders have now 51 seconds of their advantage left as they race towards Berg Stene, the second climb of the day. They're on it now.

14:59 CET    127km/71km to go
T-Mobile is working hard in the lead group, but they're losing the battle against the peloton. It's half a minute as they hit the Boigneberg.

15:00 CET   
Philippe Gilbert won the Omloop Het Volk early in the season. We talked
with him before the E3-prijs Harelbeke got under way. "This race suits me
well enough, but the Tour of Flanders and Liège are more important," he said. "Choosing between those two is impossible, they are both top classics.
This morning I was a bit scared of the rain, but like things are
unfolding it looks like we will race in dry conditions. My health is ok,
though I protect my knees to avoid tendonitis."

Gilbert also commented on his performance in Milano-Sanremo: "Last year I finished as second and I hoped to do better this year. I was there in the front group and
wanted to attack. But, I was to far away to try it. Same thing at the finish line, so I wasn't able to get a top-10 result."

Gilbert was in trouble, though, earlier on in the race.

15:02 CET    130km/68km to go
The peloton slows down on the Boigneberg, as McEwen gets to the front with Boonen. One of their teammates has punctured, we think. The gap goes out to over a minute again.

In front, Burghardt, Van den Broeck and Perez push the pace on the climb, opening up a gap to the rest of the break.

15:05 CET    132km/66km to go
Perez, Burghardt and Van den Broeck take the descent of the Boigneberg and are en route to climb 4, the Eikenberg. The break is a little disorganised behind them. Maccanti tries to bridge on his own, but fails.

15:05 CET   
Sergey Ivanov is not a team leader for T-Mobile: "Our man is Andreas Klier,
but these are my races too. I hope to do well because I know these hard
and physical races suit me very well."

15:06 CET   
The three leaders hit the Eikenberg cobbles, with Van den Broeck pushing the pace, before Perez (not Colli) takes over.

15:08 CET    134km/64km to go
Perez seems the strongest of the three leaders at the moment.

In the bunch, it's McEwen, Boonen and Ivanov in that order on the Eikenberg. The pace isn't that hot at the moment.

15:10 CET    135km/63km to go
Vogels is suffering in the peloton (one of many to be struggling today). He's leading a small group in pursuit of the bunch over the top of the Eikenberg.

Burghardt and Van den Broeck catch Perez. They are 12 seconds in front of the rest of the early break.

Marichal is dropped from the break.

15:12 CET    137km/61km to go
The three leaders are caught again, as Marichal, Maccanti and Konyshev are all dropped. That leaves us with:

Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Discovery), Marlon Perez (Tenax), Wilfried Cretskens (Quick.Step), Henk Vogels (Davitamon), Fabian Cancellara (CSC), Anthony Geslin, Rony Martias, Alexandre Pichot (Bouygues), Andreas Klier, Stephan Schreck, Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile), Daniele Righi (Lampre), Daniele Colli (Liquigas), Steven Kleynen (Landbouwkrediet), Jeremy Hunt, Matthew Wilson (Unibet.com), Torsten Schmidt, Lars Wackernagel (Wiesenhof), and Christian Murro (Tenax).

15:13 CET   
"I urgently need to learn to control myself," Stijn Devolder told Het Laatste Nieuws. "I don't like anything more than to race according to my own temperament. It's just that that isn't as profitable." His 2005 season is the proof of that. Devolder raced aggressively in Qatar, the Ruta del Sol, Het Volk, K-B-K, Tirreno-Adriatico, E3-Prijs, with a stage win in the Three Days de Panne as a the nicest result.

"But by then I had already had the best days. In the Tour of Flanders and P-R, my favourite races, I was as dead as mutton. Painful."

In agreement with Demol and Bruyneel, Devolder tried a different approach, of which the base was laid in the Vuelta. "Just before the hardest mountain stages I had him racing with the brakes on," Demol commented "He (Devolder) was angry. 'Come on Dirk, not going all out in a time-trial? You can't be serious' he said. 'I am' I said. Because on Cerler, I want to see what you're really worth. He became a big revelation."

"I have to avoid going into the red too much," added Devolder. "Make the difference between the important and trivial stuff. And dose my energy better during the race, attack at the right moment. That's what I'm keeping in mind. With only one goal: to win more often in the period between Dwars door Vlaanderen en Paris-Roubaix. For now, I'm below Hincapie in the classics; in a free role."

For today, Devolder sees Boonen as the man to beat. "At the moment, he's wiping everything and everybody off the map. A combination of power and cleverness will be needed to beat him. But hey, he won't win every race, will he?"

15:15 CET    138km/60km to go
Maarten den Bakker is now on the front of the bunch, pegging the gap back to 45 seconds as the leaders hit the cobbled Sationsberg (700m). This is a tougher climb than it looks. Jeremy Hunt is hanging on the back.

Now McEwen and Zberg work in the peloton, driving the pace up.

15:16 CET   
Matt Wilson and Jeremy Hunt are both out of the lead group. It's been a tough couple of days for the Unibet team. Frank Vandenbroucke was in trouble earlier.

15:18 CET    139km/59km to go
The peloton swallows Maccanti and Konyshev, as Leif Hoste attacks with McEwen and a few others, stringing out the peloton in a very long line and knocking 10 seconds off the gap to the leaders. 27 seconds now.

15:19 CET   
Hunt comes back as Devolder, Tankink and Ballan attack. Hunt hangs onto them. They're approaching the Taaienberg.

15:21 CET    142km/56km to go
The peloton is strong out with gaps appearing everywhere. The four chasers twist their way through the back roads, avoiding the mud, as they tack onto the break. That was quick.

15:24 CET   
As he did last year, Andreas Klier hammers away from the rest of the break on the Taaienberg. Mengin (FDJ) tries to follow the German, and is 50m off his back wheel. The rest of the break is shattered.

15:27 CET    146km/52km to go
Klier and Mengin are together now, with the next group containing Devolder, Burghardt, Cretskens, Geslin, Perez, and Murro. The peloton is still 1'04 back. Klier eases off the pedals to let the chasers come back. Two T-Mobiles up there.

A chasing group has formed from the peloton with Van Petegem, Tankink, Cooke and quite a few more.

15:30 CET    147km/51km to go
The leaders: Klier, Burghardt (T-Mobile), Mengin (FDJ), Devolder (Discovery), Cretskens (Quick.Step), Geslin (Bouygues), Perez and Murro (Tenax). They have 40 seconds on a group containing Boonen, Van Petegem, Steegmans, McEwen and about 20 more. They are almost at the Oude Kruiskens, climb 7.

15:33 CET   
Lampre-Fondital is working hard in the chase group now, but isn't getting much help. The group is may 30 riders strong. Cancellara breaks his chain - bad luck for the CSC rider. He has to wait ages for a spare bike, and is shaking his head.

15:35 CET    151km/47km to go
The chase group is very nervous as De Jongh appears in front. The gap comes down to 22 seconds with the eight leaders still away. Burghardt is doing a lot of work, as is Devolder. They hit the cobbled Oude Kruiskens.

15:37 CET   
Klier, Burghardt lead the way in the break, as Lampre and Liquigas chase behind. Cretskens is in trouble in the break, which means Quick.Step might have to start chasing now. Yes, he's dropped. Over the top, Devolder hangs onto the two leaders.

Boonen attacks...

15:38 CET    153km/45km to go
Scheirlinckx follows Boonen, as does Van Petegem on the Oude Kruiskens. They're over the top with a bit of a gap to the peloton. PVP has to work hard but he's there. The gap melts to 15 seconds.

Steegmans and Hoste join Boonen's group, which has caught Cretskens.

It's getting messy.

15:43 CET    156km/42km to go
Ballan is also in the chase group, which has caught four of the eight leaders. Still Burghardt, Klier, Geslin, Murro in front, then at 15 seconds: Boonen, Cretskens (Quick.Step), Mengin (FDJ), Devolder, Hoste (Discovery), Perez, (Tenax), Steegmans, Van Petegem (Davitamon), Ballan (Lampre), and Scheirlinckx (Cofidis). Not sure where the peloton is (or isn't).

The four leaders are on the Kapelberg, climb 8, which averages 7.1 percent for 750m. The chase group is catching them, but are in turn being caught by a bigger group, also known as the peloton. It's all going to come together, it looks like. Petacchi has made it to the front group.

15:46 CET    158km/40km to go
Burghardt tries to keep it going as the bunch regroups with 41 km to go, but Devolder, Geslin and Boonen mark him. The attacks rain one after the other now. Cooke has a go, then Burghardt again. The T-Mobile rider is alone. He's had a pretty good race, you might say.

McEwen accelerates behind, gapping Boonen. They are almost at the Paterberg.

15:47 CET   
Burghardt returns to the peloton as it descends to the Paterberg. This is only 400m, but it averages 12.5 percent and it's cobbled. It's difficult. Boonen is in third wheel as they near the corner.

15:49 CET    159km/39km to go
McEwen, Klier then Boonen in that order on the Paterberg. McEwen has the gutter, and Klier can't take it away from him. That's the order now. Cooke is in fourth wheel. Position is so important on this climb. It starts to bite and Ballan attacks around McEwen with Boonen driving after him. That was 1'10. Boonen did it faster mid-week (1'02).

15:50 CET    160km/38km to go
The bunch files over the top of the Paterberg, but already Boonen and Ballan are away. Schreck is off the back, as he had to put his foot down.

15:51 CET    162km/36km to go
Boonen and Ballan do some big turns to keep their gap. Ballan looks good. Steegmans, Burghardt, Hoste, Vierhouten and 25 others are chasing at 36 seconds. That's a huge gap very suddenly!

15:53 CET    163km/35km to go
The two leaders are now at the foot of the Kwaremont, with 26 seconds on the chasing peloton. This will be a critical climb. McEWen is back on the front, chasing for Van Petegem. McEwen was the one who blew up on the Paterberg and allowed that gap.

PVP moves in front with Klier on his wheel.

Boonen leads Ballan on the Kwaremont, as the cobbles start.

15:54 CET   
Ballan pedals up the climb behind the World Champ, clinging to his wheel. Boonen is in a big gear, grinding away. Klier leads the peloton, looking for help. Flecha moves up to second wheel. PVP drops back.

15:56 CET    164km/34km to go
It's Klier with a small gap over Flecha and Van Petegem in the peloton, trying to limit the damage to Boonen and Ballan. 32 seconds.

15:57 CET    164km/34km to go
It's Klier with a small gap over Flecha and Van Petegem in the peloton, trying to limit the damage to Boonen and Ballan. 32 seconds.

15:58 CET    164km/34km to go
Bad news for Davitamon: Steegmans is dropped from the bunch. Klier doesn't have many with him now. PVP is the only one. They cross the mighty summit at 26 seconds. Deja vu all over again?

16:00 CET    166km/32km to go
Boonen and Ballan, the two Bs, have 32 seconds over Klier and Van Petegem, who are joined by Hoste, De Waele, Scheirlinckx, Cooke, Flecha, Carrara, Cooke, Zabel, Ljungqvist, Johansen and Guesdon.

16:05 CET   
The chasers, now at 42 seconds, consist of Van Petegem (Davitamon), Klier, Ivanov (T-Mobile), Hoste and Hammond (Discovery), De Waele (Landbouwkrediet), Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), Cooke (Unibet), Flecha (Rabobank), Carrara (Lampre), Zabel (Milram), Ljungqvist, Johansen (CSC), Paolini (Liquigas), Murro and Petito (Tenax), Mourey and Guesdon (FDJ), Vierhouten (Skil).

16:06 CET    171km/27km to go
The gap is 37 seconds as the two leaders hit the flat before the Knokteberg. Boonen is giving it the full horsepower treatment, looking very powerful in his world champion's jersey. Ballan is good too today - don't underestimate him. He must fancy himself more than Klier did last year.

16:07 CET    172km/26km to go
Another group is trying to close to the chasers with Van Impe, Tankink and Devolder. No chance before the Knokteberg/Trieu.

16:09 CET    172km/26km to go
Ballan takes a turn at the foot of the Trieu, as they increase their gap to 44 seconds! Incredible riding, but Boonen isn't world champ for nothing. However, it's not over yet. The chase is surprisingly disorganised. It should be fairly obvious what has to be done to win this bike race...

16:10 CET    25km/173km to go
Ivanov leads the chasers at 50 seconds now, with Hammond and PVP following. No Quick.Steps left, but they've got their man in front. Boonen is powering away at the top of the Trieu, with Ballan suffering in his wake. The time, from the white farmhouse: 2'45.

16:12 CET    174km/24km to go
PVP takes over in the chase group with Klier on his wheel, but they're close to a minute behind at the top. 55 seconds. They had better get a proverbial wriggle on.

Boonen and Ballan refuel at 50 km/h over the top. One more climb to come.

16:14 CET    176km/22km to go
The chasers make the best use of the descent as the leaders hit 80km/h down it into Berchem. They have a bit of a tailwind now, and it's going to be very hard to get 'em back. Johansen rolls through, then the impressive Klier.

16:16 CET    177km/21km to go
The chase group hits 70km/h at the bottom of the descent into Berchem, still nearly a minute down on the two leaders. The Varent cobbles are approaching, which will help the two in front rather than the 19 behind.

Ballan's saddle looks to be in a rather painful position. That can't be good for you.

16:17 CET    178km/20km to go
Ballan has won just one race this season: Trofeo Laigueglia. He also won a stage of De Panne last year.

Hammond does a rather tired looking turn in front of the chase group as the gap goes up again, now it's 1'06.

16:18 CET    179km/19km to go
Boonen leads on the slick cobbles of the Varentstraat. Ballan tries to follow him the best he can. The gap continues to grow, now 1'10.

16:19 CET   
Johansen tows the chase group over the cobbles, with Klier on his wheel. He nearly overcooks it on the corner. This is a treacherous section.

16:21 CET    181km/17km to go
Johansen and Klier lead all the way, as the two leaders exit the cobbles at last with 1'20. Van Petegem now on the front, looking relaxed but clearly suffering.

Boonen gets some encouragement from the team car.

16:22 CET    182km/16km to go
Ballan's saddle is being fixed. It was pointing upwards.

Murro punctures on the cobbles. He's now chasing.

Cooke in front, looking frustrated at the lack of organisation. It's fairly ordinary. The gap hovers at 1'17.

16:24 CET    183km/15km to go
Ballan leads Boonen through Tiegem, towards the last climb of the day: Tiegemberg. Ballan's saddle problems have cost the break time. Boonen goes pretty hard on the climb, but Ballan hangs on.

16:24 CET   
Hoste attacks the chase group. 1'14 is going to be hard to close by himself.

16:26 CET    184km/14km to go
The pair reach the top of the Tiegemberg and take the left hander with 1'25 on the peloton. Hoste is chasing alone, but is being caught by Klier and Van Petegem.

16:27 CET   
De Waele pushes it behind and Hoste is caught at the top. Vierhouten is also there. 1'17 to the leading pair though.

16:29 CET    186km/12km to go
Hoste, Vierhouten, and De Waele are in pursuit of Tom Boonen and Alessandro Ballan, with the rest of the bunch riding 5 seconds behind them. The two leaders are holding their 1'15 gap, which looks to be enough to stay clear.

16:30 CET   
Johansen is chasing the three chasers alone. The CSC rider is hanging off the back as Klier, Zabel, PVP and a couple of others come back to him.

16:33 CET    190km/8km to go
The situation is stable as Boonen and Ballan keep their 1'13 gap over the next three. Klier is the next to try to bridge up to Hoste, De Waele and Vierhouten.

16:34 CET    191.5km/6.5km to go
At the moment, I'd put Tom Boonen at 90 percent chance of winning this race for the third time in a row. Ballan has got a chance, for sure, as he can sprint. But it ain't over yet.

16:35 CET    192km/6km to go
Hoste powers the chasing trio, which is 1'35 behind the two leaders. Boonen does another massive turn. Full credit to Ballan, who is not sitting on the world champion's wheel at all.

16:37 CET    193.5km/4.5km to go
The leading pair are rapidly approaching Harelbeke, with a 53 second gap to the three chasers. It's enough.

16:38 CET   
The leaders can't afford to fool around too much. Boonen tightens his straps, then comes through for another powerful turn. The gap is up to 1'18 at 4 km to go. Forget about that last time check of 53 seconds.

16:39 CET    195km/3km to go
Boonen drives it with Ballan still lookin' good on his wheel. They're sharing the load, that's for sure. It'll be the best man winning today. You'd have to put a few euros on Boonen though. Three in a row?

16:40 CET   
Jaan Raas also won this race three times in a row (1979-1981). As a world champ, too.

16:41 CET    196km/2km to go
The leaders hit 2 km to go. No chance of getting caught now. Who will be third? Hoste, Vierhouten or De Waele?

16:41 CET    196.5km/1.5km to go
No games yet. The lead pair want to get to the finish. Ballan leads. Boonen looks relaxed as he stretches out of the saddle.

16:42 CET    197km/1km to go
Boonen lets Ballan to a long turn up until 1 km to go, but stays on the Italian's wheel. Surely he won't come through now.

16:43 CET   
As the bells in Harelbeke toll, Alessandro Ballan is leading world champ Tom Boonen with 600m to go. They can sense the finish. There can only be one result now.

16:44 CET    198km/0km to go
Ballan eases off a bit but Boonen is ready to pounce. It's a tailwind finish. He pounces and Ballan is destroyed. Boonen wins the E3 Prijs for the third year in a row!!!! Another very impressive ride.

16:45 CET   
Crowd goes wild.

The chasing trio come in now, slowing - they can't afford to wait too long. They look back. Hoste in third wheel, he's the slowest. Vierhouten in front as the fastest. Hoste jumps first, then Vierhouten takes his wheel and comes past the Discovery rider to take third place. De Waele fourth. Ljungqvist next for sixth.

16:51 CET   
Well, Tom Boonen has done it again, winning the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen and marking himself as a favourite for next week's Ronde van Vlaanderen. Rik Van Looy won it four times, so Boonen still has to be pro for a couple more years to beat that record.

The key moment was on the Paterberg, when McEwen slowed down and Ballan and Boonen went around him, opening up a big gap over the top. That was at 40 km to go and the chase bunch never saw them again.

Thanks for following our live coverage today. We'll be back tomorrow with the Brabantse Pijl. Tot straks!


1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic
2 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
3 Aart Vierhouten (Ned) Skil-Shimano
4 Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago
5 Leif Hoste (Bel) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team
6 Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe) Team CSC
7 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas
8 Roger Hammond (GBr) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team