Recently on Cyclingnews.com

Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

91st Ronde van Vlaanderen - PT

Belgium, April 8, 2007

Live schedule

Live commentary by Hedwig Kröner

This Sunday Cyclingnews will be covering the 91st Ronde van Vlaanderen live. Coverage begins around 9:30 local European time (CEST)/ 3:30 (USA East)/ 19:30 Australia (EST) - also on WAP-enabled mobile devices at http://live.cyclingnews.com/wap/

09:30 CEST   
Hello and good morning to all you cycling fans around the world - it's Ronde time again! The great day of "Vlaanderens Mooiste" ("Flanders' most beautiful one") has dawned upon us, and surely the spectacle will hold all of the expectations it has been building up these last few weeks in the heartland of Classic cycling.

Yesterday already, thousands of bike aficionados took to the roads of Northern Belgium and tested their own legs on the mythical climbs of the Ronde - today, many more people will stand beside the cobbled hellingen and cheer the stars on as they push towards a glorious victory or disappointing defeat...

09:34 CEST   
The riders have gathered at the "Oude Markt" ("Old Marketplace") in Brugge and are preparing for the start at 9.45am. It's still a bit chilly on this Easter Sunday morning, but with the sun only barely covered by some haze, temps are predicted to rise to about 17° Celsius during the day. Practically no wind, and surely no rain will make this a perfect day out for the pros - were it not for those darn climbs...

09:53 CEST   
And the race is about to begin! All 200 participants have signed in, and are on their way now towards the official start in Sint Michiels at 10am. The crowds are huge as always in the small Belgian town full of canals and bridges, with its typical red brick Flandrian houses and cobbles roads...

10:07 CEST   
This morning, the following teams were visited by UCI anti-doping officials: Liquigas, Lampre-Fondital, Team CSC, Discovery Channel and Saunier Duval-Prodir. But all riders were apt to start.

Here comes the flag: The 2007 Ronde van Vlaanderen is go!

10:13 CEST   
One name of course sticks out of the list of favourites for this 91st Ronde: Tom Boonen. The Belgian superstar has won the last two editions of the race, and is looking out for a triplé last achieved by Italian Fiorenzo Magni in 1951. But the 26 year-old is up against a load of challengers: Allessandro Ballan (Lampre), Luca Paolini and Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel), Karsten Kroon, Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O'Grady (CSC), Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux), Nick Nuyens (Cofidis) and - last but not least, and this list is not exhaustive - Boonen's Quick-Step teammates Peter Van Petegem and World Champion Paolo Bettini, always hungry for a prestigious win!

The first attack comes not even after two kilometres raced: Niko Eeckhout (Chocolade Jacques), Laszlo Bodrogi (Crédit Agricole) and Anton Mindlin (Tinkoff) jump away! Quick-Step's Steven de Jongh and David Deroo from Skil-Shimano join them, but the peloton is quick to react and destroy the break attempt.

10:20 CEST   
Olaf Pollack (Wiesenhof-Felt) has some technical difficulties, but gets help from his team car. It's a fast start into the 259km-long race!

Russian neo-pro Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff) now takes his chances and rides away.

10:30 CEST    17km/242km to go
Ignatiev pursues his efforts and now has 15 seconds over the bunch, but nobody joins him at the moment. Behind, Roger Hammond (T-Mobile) has a flat but gets an exchange quickly and is able to get back on.

By the way, we will try and give you some updates on the Women's Ronde as it will unfold later on. Without the winner of the last two editions, Mirjam Melchers van Poppel, one of the race's favourites is World Cup leader Nicole Cooke and the ladies of the powerful T-Mobile team.

10:37 CEST   
José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne) tries to bridge across, but only leads out the bunch behind him. It's all back ogether now.

10:46 CEST    30km/229km to go
The next break attempt comes from Lloyd Mondory (AG2R), Elio Aggiano (Tinkoff) and Eric Berthou (Caisse d'Epargne). But this one is also quickly undone as the pace ist still equally high. The bunch even temporarily split in two parts, but the second group managed to come across again.

10:51 CEST   
Garcia Acosta makes another move, together with Laurent Mangel (AG2R) and Enrico Franzoi (Lampre). Soon after, Maarten Tjallingii (Skil-Shimano) bridges up to them. The four have 15 tiny seconds, but will that be enough?

10:57 CEST   
As you may already know, the route of this year's race has been altered slightly as the famous Koppenberg has been omitted. Instead, the bunch will tackle the Kortekeer, a smaller ascent located on the same hill, which is less fateful than its bigger brother, which has created big discussions in Belgium - and not only there.

Nevertheless, with its 18 hellingen and 21 pavé sections - some of which coincide - the Tour of Flanders remains a tough business where not only muscle power, but also race intelligence and some luck are needed for the victory.

11:03 CEST    45km/214km to go
30 seconds for the four leaders now. The peloton has been racing at 60 km/h through the flat lands of West Flanders but the breakaway is gaining time now as the chasers eased up a bit.

11:09 CEST   
38 kilometres were covered in the first hour of racing. Still 86 kilometres to go before the first climbs begin with the Molenberg, a 463m long cobbled ascent averaging 7 percent gradient (max. 14.2 percent). That's where the real fun starts!!

11:18 CEST   
Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Evert Verbist (Chocolade Jacques) and David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet) try to get across to the leaders now.

Markel Irizar of Euskaltel-Euskadi is very impressed with the spirit of the race. He told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé at the start this morning, "This is the biggest race around in terms of atmosphere. I always tell my friends in Spain: if you like cycling, then you should come over here at least once in your career."

11:23 CEST    60km/199km to go
The three chasers are getting about to make contact with the lead group, while the bunch is about 1.30 minutes behind. We now have a 7-men breakaway with José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne), Laurent Mangel (AG2R), Enrico Franzoi (Lampre), Maarten Tjallingii (Skil-Shimano), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Evert Verbist (Chocolade Jacques) and David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet).

11:29 CEST   
Also racing is T-Mobile's Marcus Burghardt, the young revelation of this spring. The German was catching up with some of his fans in Brugge this morning. "It's great to see them around following me, it's a big motivation for me. I'm not nervous, just very motivated to do well," Burghardt said.

11:34 CEST    65km/194km to go
Another AG2R rider, Alexandre Usov tries to get across to the leaders, as this is definitely a break that the bunch can tolerate: they have about four minutes now.

But the course just featured several tricky corners, and the peloton broke into two groups. Paolo Bettini (Quick-Step) and Philippe Gilbert (FdJeux) are cirrently trapped in the second group.

11:36 CEST   
It's fair to describe the RVV as 'flat then flat-out', and a sequence of 18 tough climbs all in a row will sap the legs of all but the strongest riders. So what's it like to tackle these climbs? Ben Atkins from CN set off with camera, notepad and bicycle, of course, to provide you with a detailed rundown of these tasty bergs.

11:44 CEST    91km/168km to go
The seven leaders have extended their advantage to 7.25 minutes. Usov, meanwhile, is back in the bunch.

At the start this morning, Cyclingnews also asked current top performer Oscar Freire if a Spanish rider can win the Tour of Flanders: "It's not impossible," was his short answer...

Title defender Tom Boonen didn't give away his picks before the race, actually he never does. "I think it's useless to do it as the race still needs to be ridden," the very approachable Boonen dryly said.

11:58 CEST   
With the race situation now pretty stable, you can take a look at some of the interviews Cyclingnews has done these last few days. Gregor Brown spoke to Alessandro Ballan, who is back in winning form, Brecht Decaluwé met up with Tom Boonen, ready to set Flanders on fire, and Susan Westemeyer caught up with the mentioned young prodigy Marcus Burghardt, an up-and-coming Classics specialist.

An also interesting read is Saturday's Team CSC press conference with comments from Fabian Cancellara, Stuart O'Grady and Karsten Kroon - Spring Classics: More important than ever for CSC

12:03 CEST    84km/175km to go
And the gap to the breakaway keeps on growing! The group of seven - José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne), Laurent Mangel (AG2R), Enrico Franzoi (Lampre), Maarten Tjallingii (Skil-Shimano), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Evert Verbist (Chocolade Jacques), David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet) - are now eight kilometers ahead of the bunch, which follows them 11.25 minutes off.

The race is now moving from West to East Flanders.

12:17 CEST   
The leaders have raced 91 kilometres in two hours, setting the average speed to 45 km/h at the moment. They're approaching the first cobblestone sections of the parcours, the flat Wannegem-Ledestraat (400m), Lededorp (200m) and Doorn (1700m) pavé roads. Lots of people came to watch the spectacle here as the weather is still perfect - and that is not predicted to change.

12:25 CEST   
Liquigas' Luca Paolini has a lot of pressure on his shoulders but was very calm at the start. "I feel calm because I know I am in good condition," he explained to Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews.

"This is the fifth time for me to race here in Flanders. The team will be competitive, and Pippo is going so well. The only thing is we need a little bit of good luck, and then, how it goes it goes. Especially against Quick-Step - they the strongest team. We will have to study them and see how they go today, following some of their attacks.

"There is really good temperature here. I really prefer temperatures like this, as opposed to the typical Belgian temperatures. Maybe I would have liked a few of the pavé sections to be damp but it will be good how it is."

12:35 CEST   
Tom Boonen is getting some treatment from the in-race doctor. It is not clear whether he has crashed or what exactly happened, but he seems to have some pain in his arm and wrist.

12:47 CEST   
20 kilometres to go until the first climb, the Molenberg. The gap is stable around 12 minutes, so the favourites will have to speed things up a bit soon...

Would you like some pictures? Cyclingnews' reporters Gregor Brown and Brecht Decaluwé were at the start this morning in Brugge and have produced this photo gallery of the sunny scenes - the riders all looked so optimistic at this point...

12:57 CEST    127km/132km to go
There's been a crash in the bunch; one of the riders to fall is Greg Van Avermaet (Predictor-Lotto).

13:01 CEST   
Murilo Fischer of Liquigas was a picture of calmness before the start, in contrast to his leader Filippo Pozzato. The Brazilian explained, "I did two hours of training yesterday, and I saw all the climbs the day before yesterday. I think Pozzato and Paolini are going good and I will try to help them. The goal for me is to try to go into an escape; then I will be up front to help Pozzato and Paolini when they arrive. I will then give all I can to help them.

"The Belgian fans are great, there are so many. It is really a nice atmosphere."

13:04 CEST   
The gap to the leaders has been reduced to 9.30 minutes by the bunch, which is now strung out on the Paddestraat cobble section.

13:07 CEST    138km/121km to go
Quick-Step and Rabobank are driving the bunch, as expected. They're not flat out yet, though. Riding over a two-lane street through the countryside, taking all the width. Positioning before the Molenberg has begun...

13:10 CEST   
Bernhard Eisel (T-Mobile) seemed a more serious than normal at the start of a race. "It is always good racing amongst the Belgian fans," he said to Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews. "The atmosphere is really great and the fans here are very supportive.

"My goal will be to get into the right move. I am a little bit nervous, it is normal before a big race like this, but you know, I am not that nervous."

13:13 CEST   
Bettini is the first to tackle the Molenberg, followed by Burghardt. CSC riders are just behind, with Boonen.

Just before the first climb, a Bouygues Telecom rider crashed.

The leader's advantage is shrinking to 8.20 at the moment.

13:18 CEST    146km/113km to go
Wiesenhof is also helping out at the front of the bunch, while riders get some energy bars and drinks and ease up a little after this first climb. In the breakaway, Garcia Acosta has punctured... The others are not waiting for him.

13:20 CEST   
Italian Pietro Algeri, Directeur Sportif for Saunier Duval-Prodir, recalled his years in Flanders this morning. "I did this race three times as a professional, and it is always a beautiful atmosphere. I don't recall ever having weather like this when I raced," said the Bergamasco, thinking back to his past racing days with Bianchi.

"The temperature is good for the team - a group of Spaniards - because with the rain and wind of Belgium it can be difficult. So, with the good weather, we hope to have a positive race. Ventoso has great condition and we will try to protect him as much as possible. Then there is Mori, Ángel Gomez and Raivis Belohvosciks. We will try to have these guys up front in the second part, after 200 kilometres, to give a hand to Ventoso.

"It is too bad for David Millar because he was going well; he had great form in the Three Days of De Panne but then came down with a cough and sore throat. He will start but it does not look good for him."

13:21 CEST   
Heinrich Haussler of Gerolsteiner crashed. He's standing again, but doesn't look like he'll pursue the race, touching his right leg in pain.

13:26 CEST   
The roads are packed with spectators on this beautiful day... All the riders enjoy the cheers of the public. "It is good to be back here amongst the Belgian fans," said Antonio Cruz (Discovery Channel) to Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown at the start line. "It is good weather and pretty much the whole of Belgium is out.

"I feel really good, I felt great yesterday on my training ride. We did not really hit a lot of the climbs but I know them all pretty well. Sometimes the organiser changes the order but you can tell when they are coming because once you get to a certain little area and everyone is moving up, then the climbs will follow."

The organisers have taken out some of the bigger roads before the Oude Kwaremont climb and in the final 10 kilometres. "The smaller roads at the end this year should not make that much of a difference because it is usually already a select group by that point.

"Our main guys today are Stijn Devolder, Tomas Vaitkus and Vladimir Gusev. I will guide Devolder around. He has so much power but sometimes he misuses it; I wil try to pull the reins on him a little bit."

Then the gun fired for the start of the race. Cruz quickly added, "The weather lifts my spirits because to be here for a month and have bad weather every day brings you down."

13:35 CEST    156km/103km to go
The next-up climb is the Kluisberg, a non-cobbled 925m long climb averaging 6.8 percent - with a max. gradient of 14.5 percent. The bunch is crossing the Schelde river now, a Rabobank rider in front, followed by Wiesenhof, T-Mobile and Quick-Step.

13:45 CEST   
José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne) actually did manage to get back to the breakaway after he punctured earlier, so we still have seven riders in front, currently racing at 7.37 minutes before the peloton.

13:50 CEST    167km/92km to go
Another crash happened, which involved three CSC riders, including Cancellara who is chasing now with the help of Ljungqvist. 30 seconds later, a handful of riders crash again. Reynes (Caisse d'Epargen) is down, and another CSC rider, who is holding his wrist...

13:55 CEST   
Bad luck for CSC, which "lost" at least four riders, who should be chasing the bunch now. Even if they make it, this will drain a lot of energy just before the crucial part of the race begins. The peloton is now on the Kluisberg, fortunately covered with tarmac.

13:57 CEST   
The leaders continue to lose time: less than 6 minutes left now.

Andrea Tafi commented in La Gazzetta dello Sport yesterday that it is too bad that Riccardo Riccò is not here to race. "He is going well and the idea for the future is that he will come here and race," Algeri said. "Now he will focus on Ardennes Classics - Amstel, Flèche and Liège. Gilberto Simoni will join him to race Flèche and Liège."

14:02 CEST    174km/85km to go
Renaud Dion (AG2R) crashed and is out of the race, holding his wrist, too. He's standing up, though. The breakaway is on the Knokteberg, getting massive support from the spectators.

14:08 CEST   
Some names from the first row of the bunch: Zabel, Bettini, Flecha, Boogerd, Gilbert, Eisel, Burghardt... they're all there. In the back of the bunch, riders keep having 'traffic jam' difficulties on these narrow roads. If you're in a bad position, there is no way to get back to the front at this point.

14:12 CEST   
The leaders are riding up the Oude Kwaremont. Back in the peloton, another crash took Erik Zabel (Milram), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) and a few other riders down. Zabel doen't look like he'll be able to continue; his left shoulder is hurting.

14:16 CEST   
That's a lot of crashes for the nice weather - just goes to show how nervous this race is, and the Women's Ronde van Vlaanderen is no different.

An update on the ladies: While there is extensive TV coverage of the men's race, there is not much information coming out about the women's race. However, our reporters on the ground tell us there was a major crash about 30km into the 122km event and that caused a major split in the bunch, so that only 80 riders were left after 40km race distance.

The climbs were starting to take their toll on the remainder of the field and riders have been gradually been dropping off the back, but apparently the favourites are still all in the lead group. At the time of writing there was only 20 minutes remaining. We will come back to you with an update as soon as they cross the line.

14:20 CEST   
On the Kwaremont, Burghardt launched a little attack to test his rivals, while the lead group has already reached the Paterberg. Good news for CSC: Cancellara is spotted in the bunch, so he still has all his options.

The gap to the break is 4.30 minutes.

14:23 CEST   
And we just get the news that Nicole Cooke has won the women's race! No other information is available at the moment - we'll get back to you as soon as we hear more.

14:25 CEST   
Ouch - this Paterberg hurts. Riders at the back get a little help from the spectators on the steepest parts of this climb, as there can be no more talk of 'smooth' pedalling...

14:34 CEST    194km/65km to go
The bunch is now on the Kortekeer climb, taking it relatively easy. 'Lion of Flanders' flags are being waved at them...

14:38 CEST   
A Unibet rider is attacking out of the bunch - he gets a little gap. It's Arnaud Coyot.

We now have a few more placings from the women's race: Behind Cooke, Sabirova placed second, followed by Marianne Vos, Trixi Worrack and Karin Thürig.

14:44 CEST   
Coyot is caught on the Taaienberg, as Bettini reels him in. Peter Van Petegem, two-times winner of the RVV, is riding at the back of the bunch; he doesn't look like he has a lot of strength left.

Just a little over three minutes left for the breakaway.

14:48 CEST    <    205km/54km to go
The bunch takes on the Boigneberg - it looks less painful than the others, also because of its smooth tarmac surface. Paolini is back in the peloton; sitting in last position, but he's there.

15:05 CEST   
Cancellara, with O'Grady and two Quick-Step riders in tow gets a little gap, but now the bunch is back together. But that sure hurt, and tested the legs of the other favourites.

15:10 CEST    216km/43km to go
Bennati, Steegmans, Boogerd and O'Grady are now catching up with Vansummeren and Hulsmans and form a little group, but they're not going flat out. Meanwhile, in front, Maarten Tjallingii (Skil-Shimano) has made a move.

15:18 CEST   
Garcia Acosta falls back into the chase group, as a minor crash back in the bunch slowed it down.

Bettini, Roesems, Kroon and Gilbert have countered and are with the chasers now. Discovery Channel and T-Mobile are leading the bunch out.

15:21 CEST    222km/37km to go
Stijn Devolder bridged up to the chasers, who are now merely 30 seconds away from the leaders. It's coming together now, and a new race will start soon!

O'Grady leads Bettini, Boogerd and the rest... The riders look at each other. Who will make the first move?

15:26 CEST    225km/34km to go
Cancellara puts in a mighty attack on a descent, and takes Gert Steegmans (Quick-Step) in tow. They have caught the former breakaway, and are now leading the race. Behind, Wim Vansevenant (Predictor) and Stijn Devolder (Discovery) are chasing.

15:29 CEST   
The leaders are on the Tenbosse now, an asphalted climb. Cancellara is leading all the way, with Steegmans probably just there to slow him down. For how long will the Swiss be able to do this???

15:36 CEST    233km/26km to go
Cancellara is amazing - he does it all by himself, with the others strung out on his wheel. Meanwhile, Vansevenant and Stijn Devolder look back as the bunch is getting closer.

The gaps are not too big, with the Kapelmuur and the Bosberg still ahead. Some riders might have preserved some energy to put in a decisive attack. We haven't seen much of Boonen lately - does that mean he's not feeling too well, or will he be the one to take all the others by surprise? His teammate Bettini sure looked good on the previous climbs...

Predictor leads the bunch out on the Eikenmolen, while Cancellara's motor is still flat out.

15:42 CEST    238km/21km to go
The Kapelmuur, or Muur of Geraardsbergen, is coming up soon, and the bunch is only 27 seconds behind the leaders, of which only Cancellara and Steegmans are truly dangerous - the others have spent far too long in the breakway to have a lot of power left.

Three Predictor riders are chasing...

15:47 CEST   
Igor Abakoumov (Astana) crashed, but he looks okay.

Now the leaders have reached the Muur up to the chapel of Geraardsbergen, and Cancellara can't hold his pace anymore. The bunch has caught them. Let the fun begin!

15:48 CEST   
Hulsmans leads out for Boonen and Bettini. Now, there's Boonen, followed by a Lampre rider! He takes the lead!

15:50 CEST    243km/16km to go
The Lampre rider is Ballan, who overtakes Boonen. The 2006 winner is having trouble now. Ballan gets a good gap! And he's at the summit now.

15:52 CEST    245km/14km to go
The Italian powers away, with Leif Hoste (Predictor) not far behind. Now, they form a group, but some chasers are not far behind.

15:55 CEST    247km/12km to go
In the chase group are: Boonen, Boogerd, Bennati, Bettini, Vaitkus... while Pozzato has countered. The Quick-Step riders are taking it easy - the Bosberg is still to come, and there are only 20 seconds to the leaders.

15:57 CEST    249km/10km to go
And Bettini goes on the Bosberg! But Ballan and Hoste are still away, with the Italian doing most of the work. 18 seconds for them.

16:01 CEST    251km/8km to go
Now Hoste takes over for Ballan, while the bunch behind is re-grouping. This could still come down to a sprint of the left-over bunch, composed of about 20 riders...

16:05 CEST    255km/4km to go
Karsten Kroon (CSC) and Tomas Vaitkus (Discovery Channel) are leading the chase, closely followed by the rest. But the bunch is decomposing at the end of this tiring race, even though the roads are flat now. Everybody's at the end of their strengths.

Hoste works with Ballan now, as they pass the 5km-flag, 13 seconds in front of Kroon and Vaitkus.

16:07 CEST    257km/2km to go
This may not be a sprint - too many team interests behind. But who's the better fast man in the end, Ballan or Hoste?

16:09 CEST   
Kroon and Vaitkus will be battling for third place. Ballan usually leads out Bennati, so... The Italian is in front for the last km. They can't gamble much...

16:10 CEST   
Hoste sits on Ballan's wheel, as the road is slightly uphill for the last metres... But it's Ballan, still! The Lampre rider wins the Ronde!!

Hoste was still in front with 15 metres to go, but Ballan overtook him in the final metres - a great sprint.

16:23 CEST   
Join us again this Wednesday for Gent-Wevelgem, and then next Sunday for another great Classic:: Paris-Roubaix, for which 2006 winner Fabian Cancellara (CSC) surely tested his legs today. Full results of the Ronde will be posted soon, and you will find riders's reactions in our report and in the next News edition.


1 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
2 Leif Hoste (Bel) Predictor-Lotto
3 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas
4 Karsten Kroon (Ned) Team CSC
5 Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu) Discovery Channel