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62nd Omloop Het Volk - 1.HC

Belgium, March 3, 2007

Live commentary by Gregor Brown in Gent

Cyclingnews will be covering the 62nd Omloop Het Volk live, starting 14:00 local time (CET)/08:00 (USA East)/05:00 (USA West)/00:00 (Australia East).

12:15 CET   
Welcome to Cyclingnews' pre-live coverage of 62nd Omloop Het Volk. The cyclists were sent a surprise over night by Mother Nature; the unseasonable sunny and warm weather turned into rain, wind and cold, although locals said that 'it was not that cold.' Riders did not mill about this morning in the Sint-Pietersplein in Gent, instead they stayed in their camper vans until the last minute, when they exited to sign autographs and climb the podium for the official sign-on (all expect two riders, race favourite Filippo Pozzato and his teammate Murilo Fischer (Liquigas)).

Riders rolled out of the square at the official start time, 11.30. Notably absent for the day were Jurgen Van Goolen (Discovery Channel), Francesco Di Paolo (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo), Jan Valach (Elk Haus-Simplon) and Peter Wuyts (Palmans Collstrop).

Return for live coverage at 14.00 European time.

14:05 CET   
The Hindenburg V-2 has made the journey from the Tour of California, across the Alantic ocean to bring you coverage of the European season.

14:07 CET   
The crew of Hindenburg V-2 has been a little busy following the UCI-Grand Tour news but we are happy that the Classics season has finally begun.

And what what a place to start; here in Gent, under rain and wind. A big change from the last week, where we saw sunny and clear conditions. Today will for sure be a race for the hard-men.

14:08 CET   
Please make sure to send in your name and race favourites to: commentator@cyclingnews.com

14:10 CET   
Early on in the race a group of eight moved clear: Johan Van Summeren (Predictor-Lotto), Gert Steegmans (Quick Step-Innergetic), Sébastien Rosseler (Quickstep-Innergetic), Sébastien Minard (Cofidis), Geoffroy Lequatre (Cofidis), Lorenzo Bernucci (T-Mobile), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas), Jeremy Hunt (Unibet.com)

They now have 1'24" over the peloton.

14:11 CET   
The group solidified its advantage after the first of 10 bergs, the Kluisberg.

The peloton
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

14:13 CET   
195 riders rolled out of the start today. Including that first berg, they had covered 40.6 kilometres in the first hour of racing.

Early withdraws, and we expect there to be many, were Wouter Weylandt (Quickstep-Innergetic) and Christoph Roodhooft (Palmans Collstrop).

14:17 CET   
Cyclingnews caught spoke with riders and team officials before the start.

"No, it's not cold enough," agreed Scott Sunderland, director sportif of Team CSC for the 62nd Het Volk. Speaking from the warmth of his team car, the former Australian professional knew what it was to line up in the first major race of the European season, but in previous years, he too was used to the temperatures hovering only a few degrees above zero.

But for today's race, the rain - which could easily sap the strength of many riders when mixed with bitter cold - would not be as much a factor as the strong, gusting winds.

"I think it could break up in the first 35 k's with this wind; it's very strong." But he really expects the action will occur once the peloton hits the first serious climbs, or bergs, of the race. How many riders of the 198-rider field are likely to finish? "I'd say about 50, or 60."

"It's the first big classic of the season and for many of the pros, they will be feeling it in their legs after 150km or so." Significantly, the final 50km of the 202km race features several sections of cobbles and this could also provide the opportunity for a group to go clear.

14:21 CET    96km/104km to go
The riders are between the Valkenberg and the Eikenberg. The Eikenberg, number seven of 10 climbs, will leave 88 kilometres to go. It is a cobbled affair, followed by 1200 metres of cobbles afterwards. This is going to be the stuff that will split the field, help form the men we will refer to as "hard-men" for 2007. Pay attention!

14:24 CET   
Last year's winner Philippe Gilbert didn't like the wet weather conditions at all. "I'm hoping for a sunny interval in the afternoon. I did the reconnaissance ride on Wednesday and I think I'm in form to perform well. Anyway we'll have to see how the race develops and improvise," Gilbert said.

14:25 CET   
While Jimmy Casper said he handles the cold very well, no wonder if you look at his figure (thick thighs, they are like tree trunks). We spotted several Belgian ladies asking the Frenchman, winner of a 2006 Tour de France stage, for his autograph.

Nico Mattan
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

14:26 CET   
Nico Mattan was spotted with an oversized jacket at the sign on this morning. "We just received the jerseys with our new sponsor on it," Cyclingnews' team leader said.

"This is my last year as a pro rider but I'll do the best I can to perform well, adding to that I'm helping the young guys at the team."

When asked about the weather Mattan revealed his tactics on how to handle the wet conditions. "There's a bottle of jenever in the camper, I can add that to my drinking bottle; I did the same in Gent-Wevelgem and you know how far that brought me," Mattan referred to his win in the ProTour race back in 2005. "Currently I'm only at 75% but next month I'll be in top form," Mattan said to Cyclingnews.

14:33 CET    109km/91km to go
Wim Van Huffel (Predictor-Lotto) stopped for a flat change, he is up and back going.

14:35 CET    110km/90km to go
Group of eight is really working well together. There are two Cofidis and two Quick-Step riders in the break, so they helping the break roll smoothly.

14:39 CET    112km/88km to go
The riders are heading to the Eikenberg. The main field is being lead by the Belgian National champion Niko Eeckhout (Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen), AKA "Rambo".

14:40 CET    113km/87km to go
Quinziato leads the escape over the Eikenberg! He is looking strong and confident, and maybe this is simply to setup a move for his teammate, and leader, Filippo Pozzato.

14:41 CET   
Belgian champion Niko Eeckhout is the team leader of the Belgian Professional Continental team Chocolade Jacques. He'll be keen on showing his jersey to the Belgian crowds today.

"The first race in Belgium is always something different; it's not the same like racing in Spain; we'll have to wait and see how good I am," Eeckhout said. The experienced Belgian rider expressed his war-like spirit towards the strong Quick Step team from Tom Boonen. "They only have two legs, just like we do. I'm pretty sure they'll win many races, but they'll lose many as well," Eeckhout said.

14:42 CET   
Former Tour of Flanders winner Steffen Wesemann (Wiesenhof-Felt) stoppes for a long flat change. His team is no where around and is being helped from neutral support, Shimano.

14:43 CET    116km/84km to go
The leaders are heading towards climb number 8, the paved Leberg. The roads are really tight and spooky here!

14:44 CET   
The tall figure of Johan Van Summeren (Predictor-Lotto) is really something to look at. He is sitting at the back of the break right now, but he looks very powerful.

14:46 CET   
To clarify, Pippo Pozzato DID start, he simply forgot to sign-in and will be fined some Swiss francs!

14:46 CET   
Mr. Keller says "I pick Nick Nuyens as the winner."

14:48 CET    119km/81km to go
The escape is on the paved Berendries, at km 125. Van Summeren leads. Wow, what an imposing looking figure!

14:49 CET   
That is climb number 9, there is only one more, the Molenberg, which leaves about 60 km of racing. The last climb is a cobbled affair followed by several cobble sections that will really test the legs of our riders.

14:52 CET   
Steegmans is really the hot favourite in this escape group. Remember recently that he won a stage in the Volta ao Algarve? Expect to see his Quick Step men holding strong in the rear, and if anyone bridges to the lead they will be ON the move, and we could then possibly see a counter attack by Boonen or Van Petegem. Yes, this team is STACKED with talent

14:52 CET   
The man who did an unpopular switch this year is Peter Van Petegem, he moved from the Belgian Davitamon-Lotto team (now Predictor-Lotto) to their rivals from Quick Step. In the Belgian press he has been playing down the force of his former team. At the start he was talking about the weather and the consequences of it. "I don't like this weather so I had a hard time finding the morale. But being clothed well I'll do just fine," Van Petegem said. "It'll be dangerous right from the start until we're past the Kluisberg. From then on, it'll be less packed."

14:53 CET   
The ever-popular Tom Boonen will always be a favourite if he starts in a Belgian race, today isn't different although he has been catching some colds this winter. "I think I had five of them so my nose has been blocked for a while. They've put some hot massage oil on my legs however I don't tend to use that too often as I don't like it really," Boonen said.

When asked about tactics he didn't give much information away to his rivals. "Tactics aren't really important at first as you go through the first part of the course first and see what happens."

14:54 CET   
Mr. Brouwer writes: "My favorite for today is Nick Nuyens. Watch him win today!!"

14:55 CET   
The Molenberg has a max of 17% gradient and lasts for 300 metres.

14:57 CET    124km/76km to go
The eight leaders maintain a gap of over two minutes, but that is starting to come down as Rabobank is pressing hard on the front of the peloton. They missed out on the move and are such a force in Classics riding that they NEED to have a man up front. The other big team to not have a rider in the break is Discovery Channel.

14:58 CET   
Lurking right behind the orange-clad Dutch boys is Quick-step. The Belgian team is playing its cards correctly; folks, this is how you race to win a Classic. (or, Semi-Classic).

14:59 CET   
An Australian man at the sign on was Matthew Hayman from team Rabobank. "We've got a strong team with Flecha, Van Bon and Van Heeswijk as our strongest men," he said.

15:01 CET   
The Italians are also here in their numbers in Belgium. Alessandro Vanotti (Liquigas) noted at the start, "I feel good for today. After the win the other day by Pippo. I hope today will be another grand coup for Pozzato."

"The weather? I would rather not have rain, but Belgium is like this. We have to race in this type of weather... It is my first time in Het Volk, but I have raced a lot in Belgium," he said.

15:02 CET   
Gabriele Balducci (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) said, "I feel good, I am happy to be in Belgium..."

"We will see. It is the first race for me in Belgium this year but the team is great, they all believe in me."

"I like today better more than tomorrow. ... The weather, it really changed since yesterday, but I am used to this after 19 years. Hey, it is not Italy!"

15:03 CET   
A nervous Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) said at the start, "I feel good, but it is cold. It is like this for everyone. My legs? We will see after today."

15:04 CET   

Stuart O'Grady came in sixth back in 1998 and knows the race quite well. "Those were in Ballerini & Tchmil times," O'Grady said to Cyclingnews.

Lars Bak (Team CSC) noted the Belgians, "For sure the favourites are from Quick-Step. They will dominate, it is a home race for them. For our team, we have Stuart, but we will see how he goes after California and jet-lag. But with the wind and cold, it is not like California. It could be tough for him.

"The weather, well, yesterday was nice, but today, it is typical Belgium weather. It is like this for everyone. I will just keep a good morale."

15:05 CET    129km/71km to go
The riders are on smooth roads. The escape continues to work smoothly but with Rosseler sitting on the back.

The Molenberg, 300m, has started. Oh, what a cobbled monster!

15:06 CET   
Steegmans leads the group up the climb, with his teammate bringing up the rear. There is no rain but the roads are damp and slippery.

15:07 CET    131km/69km to go
Expect one of the eight to make some sort of bid for freedom over this last climb. It is a long way to go, but their move could help form a smaller escape.

15:08 CET   
Quick-step lead the group through the final right hand bend towards the Molenberg. In the back it has come to a stand-still. Smart riding by the boys in blue!

15:09 CET   
The peloton is EVERYWHERE over the Molenberg and a crash mid-peloton has brought it to a halt in places. Some riders are struggling for traction to get going on the slippery cobbles. If you were not at the front for the start of the climb then you can consider your race over.

15:10 CET    133km/67km to go
After the Molenberg, it is Guesdon of FDJ leading the peloton. They are on roads that look like sidewalks you would find in the USA.

15:11 CET   
2005 winner Nick Nuyens (Cofidis) before the start said, "So far so good, we will see how it goes."

15:12 CET   
Meyer Rose wrote in and said, "We’re up early here in Vermont, USA. And the smart money has Juan Antonio Flecha!"

15:13 CET    135km/65km to go
The peloton, courtesy of a pleasing tailwind, is absolutely flying along to bring in the lead group. Even at 2.35, the escape will have a hard time keeping clear to the finish in Lokeren.

15:14 CET   
Up front the escape is on a cobbled section. Again it is Rosseler on the rear while his teammate, Gert, is pumping away up front! Go Gert Go!

15:15 CET   
Gert is powering off the front with Bernucci.

15:16 CET   
Remember Leo Bernucci? He won a stage in the 2005 Tour with Fassa Bortolo as there was a crash behind on that right-hand corner. It was a wet day. Bernucci is from Toscana, or Tuscany and loves this Classics riding, very unusual for an Italian.

15:17 CET   
Rosseler looks finished... "finito!"... He is being distanced and will be caught by the chasing group.

15:18 CET   
An update on the Aussie Fast-man, Robbie McEwen; he is slugging along today but not in his top form. We may see him tomorrow in Kuurne, which is more of a sprinters' race.

15:19 CET   
One of the few Americans, Antonio Cruz (Discovery Channel), is struggling along the cobbles.

15:21 CET    139km/61km to go
The peloton is on the section of Lippenhovestraat and motiring along, with a clear arrowhead of riders at the front.

15:23 CET   
Keenan writes: "the money is on Boonen to win this cobbled monster"

15:24 CET   
Andreas Klier is T-Mobile's man for the Classics, being a past winner of Gent-Wevelgem (2003) and coming second in the Tour of Flanders 2005. The German rider has been around in Flanders for many years and didn't think the weather was too cold; his team mate Eric Baumann was actually wearing short sleeves. "His doing that because he'll be in the first breakaway," Klier laughed. "Serious, everything that you're wearing is immediately wet so it'll get cold soon after." Klier is the team leader of T-Mobile but he clarified the team's tactics a little. "On paper I'm the leader, but we've got a great team by the way," Klier said.

15:25 CET   
We may see some of the big guns fire if this race comes back together. Another big favourite today is Predictor-Lotto's Leif Hoste who joined the Belgian team this year from Discovery.

"You need to be alert right from the start as it will be dangerous; it'll be a war of attrition," Hoste said. "It's possible that there'll be only thirty men left in front with 80 kilometres to go."

15:26 CET   
Roberto from Brasil writes, "Keep your eyes at Murilo Fischer (Liquigas)... he's the guy for today!"

15:27 CET    139km/61km to go
The peloton is still being led by Rabobank. You can see Van Bon in there, with his Dutch Champion stripes on his sleeves. Those boys want to bring it back together.

15:28 CET   
Matt White (Discovery) is up there fighting it out at the head of the peloton. Also, Cooke is in there for Unibet.com. Yes, those riders are in their normal jersey, without the question mark.

Lot's of wind
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

15:31 CET   
We are in the Flemish part of Belgium, in the south-east they speak French, but here it is completely in Flemish.

The wind seems to have died down since the gusty conditions of this morning. Our man on the scene, Brecht Decaluwé, had to fight the elements to bring us all of the pre-race quotes.

15:36 CET    149km/51km to go
The parcours is completely flat from here on in but the roads are littered with cobble sections. The elements are going to put the riders on their limits. The legs will start to weaken and we will see some cracks appearing. This early in the season a lot of riders don't know their limits.

15:37 CET   
Our thinking is that Rabobank is pulling the race back together for Max Van Heeswijk. It could be for Van Bon, but he is up front doing work, so it is likely for Mad Max, who packs a mean punch when it comes to a hard sprint finish.

15:40 CET   
The riders are making their way back north, after traveling south for the first part of the race. The day will end in Lokeren.

This area of Europe is a great place for beer. If you are a fan of the malted beverage then you should spend some time cycling and sampling some of the great drinks.

There are great Trappist beers like Chimay, Orval, Westmalle and Westvleteren.

15:41 CET    153km/47km to go
The peloton is stretched out under the efforts of mostly the orange Dutchmen of Rabobank. There are flashes the black and blue Discovery strip. The American team is likely to be riding for Devolder.

15:42 CET   
Please make sure to send in your name and race favourites to: commentator@cyclingnews.com

15:43 CET   
Remember Tomas Vaitkus? He is currently helping on the front. He switched from Ag2R over the winter to ride with Discovery Channel. The team must have been impressed with his Giro d'Italia win in 2006. That stage, in southern Italy, was really a hot affair, in contrast to today.

15:44 CET    156km/44km to go
The escape is just about finished! The peloton has pulled almost all of them in; largely thanks to Rabobank. Look for counter-attacks from Qucik-Step.

15:45 CET   
Geoffroy Lequatre (Cofidis) goes hammering off the front, no doubt aided by a tail-wind.

15:46 CET   
It is a solo and mad move but maybe he will get some help and it will have some success.

The escape has been swallowed!

15:47 CET   
Lequatre is all over his Time machine. A lovely bike, in an all-white affair. Much like the Italian Acqua & Sapone De Rosa machines. Very nice bikes out there on these hard and dirty roads.

15:51 CET    161km/39km to go
It seems to be that the peloton is letting Lequatre die a slow death out there. He is solo, with around 12" on the in-control Rabobank-led peloton.

15:51 CET   
Mr. Kawalec wrote, "My favourite is Tom Boonen. Tom is in great form."

15:53 CET   
Grov wrote, "Thomas Vaitkus or Allan Davis both Discovery Channel." She is correct, maybe one of those two. Davis, signed from Liberty over the winter, packs a mean sprint. He may be too 'light' for today, but the big figure of Vaitkus could do the trick.

15:54 CET    163km/37km to go
Lequatre is caught and does not want to work with two bridging riders, one was a Wiesenhof-Felt rider who led the chase to the solo move.

15:55 CET   
That move was made by Bas Giling (Wiesenhof-Felt). Bas made the switch this last winter from German super-squad T-Mobile.

15:57 CET    165km/35km to go
The peloton just hit a long, 1200m, section of cobbles, the Kasteeldreef. We are just outside of the Laarne zone.

15:59 CET   
Bas is on a Felt bike. The bike company is also the co-sponsor for his German Pro-Conti team.

In the peloton there is a lot of head-turning. Riders are looking at each other to pick up the chase, which could spell success for young Bas. But, at only 8" and 33 kilometres remaining, we don't think so.

16:00 CET   
Report from the finish line: "Sunny weather, not much wind, about 12°C"

Rabobank bikes
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

16:03 CET   
Michael wrote in to say, "I'd love to see Van Petergem pull off a victory today, or Leif Hoste prove his value."

And the family of Cooke will like to read this from Jimmy in Pittsburgh, "I'll pick Baden Cooke."

And of note, the Disco boys will be working hard for Devolder, not Van Heeswijk! Mad Max rides for Rabobank.

16:05 CET    172km/28km to go
Bert Roesems (Predictor-Lotto) joins with Bas Giling (Wiesenhof-Felt). Bert is one big man, all over his Ridley machine. This race is starting to really develop!

16:06 CET   
Steegmans is out the back of the race after spending the first part of the day in the escape. Maybe we will see him tomorrow in Kuurne.

16:08 CET    173km/27km to go
Petito of Liquigas is pumping out the pace on the front of the peloton. O'Grady of CSC is there too, apparently jet-lag is not too bad for the Aussie who just came from California.

The crowd waits
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

16:09 CET   
Petito, from Lombardia, has really helped string out the chasing group. He is working hard for teammate and compatriot Filippo Pozzato. Pippo is in hot form, but also is his henchman Kuschynski.

16:12 CET    177km/23km to go
Another group with six riders has quickly pulled a nine second lead on the peloton, it looks like it may include Phillippe Gilbert (FDJ).

16:13 CET   
The leaders have hit the 700m section of cobbles in Koningstraat.

16:14 CET   
This group of six could be the move, it has 11 seconds with 22 km to go. Bas is now solo as Roesems holds on to the lead of the race, but behind is a quality break being driven by Gilbert.

16:14 CET    179km/21km to go
Roesems is still holding on, but he will be next to be caught by this group of six.

16:16 CET    180km/20km to go
So our group of six includes Steven De Jongh (Quickstep-Innergetic), Liquigas, FDJ, 2 Unibet and a Rabo rider. Plus Bas G.

16:16 CET   
They have 12 seconds. Bas Giling (Wiesenhof-Felt) will surely be shelled soon.

16:17 CET   
Roesems is still holding off the front of this group of six by 9". The group of six has about 15".

16:18 CET   
Roesems hits a nasty section of cobbles in Heistraatje, 500m.

16:18 CET    181km/19km to go
In the chasing peloton there is a crash. Lots of riders are down.

16:19 CET   
Nearly a stand-still at the back of the peloton as it negotiates a tight and twisting, ridiculoulsy-narrow section of cobbles; big puddles of water make the passage even narrower.

16:19 CET   
The chasing group behind Roesems has hit a snag - it lost its big motor when Gilbert crashed lightly on a left-hand cobbled turn. He is back up and looks ok but at this stage, it is the lost time that will really hurt.

16:20 CET   
That crash put Gilbert out of the group of six, but Gas is still in there.

16:21 CET   
The peloton has been shattered, as the Rolling Stones would say. There are three groups all over the road as the leading five gradually drift apart with the peloton - or what's left of it - really start to string out. This race is being shaped right here, on these flat cobbled sections leading to Lokeren.

16:22 CET   
In that last section Kurt Hovelynck (Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen) took a nasty fall.

16:23 CET   
Tom Boonen is on the front of the peloton wanting to close down the gap to the chase. Gilbert is there trying help Boonen.

16:23 CET   
All of this and on the cobbles.

16:24 CET    185km/15km to go
Roesems still has six seconds over the Boonen-Gilbert led group

16:25 CET   
Roesems is about to be swallowed by the 2005 World Champion. Tommy!

16:26 CET    186km/14km to go
A NEW group seems to be forming and it's De Jongh who is the first to finally make contact with Roesems, and the brave sole leader is caught.

O'Grady attacks! The Australian senses a short lull among the chasers when they catch their prey and immediately hits the gas. He's going clear.

16:27 CET    187km/13km to go
O'Grady is doing a Mattan! (Riding very close to a motorcycle.)

16:27 CET   
But the Australian looks strong. O'Grady, fresh from Cali, now has a Rabobank rider on his wheel.

16:28 CET   
It looks like it could be Flecha on his wheel.

Boonen is now countering! OK, this is the move. Trying to bridge, Boonen is gritting his teeth and going hard.

16:28 CET    188km/12km to go
Tom is on it! He is chasing down O'Grady and Flecha!

16:29 CET   
But the previous k's have taken their toll. Tommeke is having a hard time bridging to the Aussie-Spanish accord who are working well together.

16:30 CET    189km/11km to go
The look on Tom's face is one of pain. He is out of the saddle over the little speed bumps going through the villages.

Remember that O'Grady was strong in the Tour of California and seems to have carried that form across the Atlantic.

Folks, this is great racing.

16:31 CET    189km/11km to go
Back to what was left of the final selection and Pozzato has bridged to Boonen. There is also a Cofidis and a Unibet there to make four. They will catch O'Grady and Flecha if they can work together.

16:32 CET   
Unibet.com rider is in fact ... Baden Cooke! The Aussies are making the race here.

So we have Cooke, Pozzato, Boonen and a Cofidis rider chasing at 11" with 9km to go.

16:32 CET   
It could be Nuyens in those red colours of Cofidis. Yep.

16:33 CET    192km/8km to go
So the chasing group is Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Innergetic), Nick Nuyens (Cofidis), Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) and Baden Cooke (Unibet.com). Pippo is gesturing at Nuyens, who does not really want to work. He is being cool, he is a returning champion, well, of 2005.

If they keep riding like this Flecha and O'Grady won't be caught, they are at 10"

16:34 CET   
Nuyens is now working a bit, but they all seem to know that the Italian, 'Pippo', is in good form.

They have entered Lokeren.

16:36 CET   
O'Grady and Flecha look really comfortable here. They only have 9" but if they continue like this they will make it to the line together where it could be a fair sprint, with O'Grady being slightly stonger. Flecha will have to attack about 1km out.

16:37 CET    194km/6km to go
Flecha would look really cool flying his bow-n-arrow in Lokeren, assuming he'd have time. O'Grady would love to have the win though.

Back behind Pippo looks best of the four.

16:37 CET    196km/4km to go
The gap is out to 13" to the group of four. None of the four really want to put in the effort to bring in the Spanish-Aussie accord.

16:38 CET   
An update on the remainder of the main gruppo, they are at 30" but their day is all but over. The race is all up front. The two leaders, followed by the group of four, with an Aussie, Italian and two Belgians.

16:40 CET    197km/3km to go
They are now at 16" and Flecha is going to have to attack soon; to save it for the sprint would be plain silly.

16:40 CET    198km/2km to go
Ah - this is interesting. The parcours does a wide U-turn and the duo have hit a headwind. Could this play into the hands of the chasing four?

16:41 CET   
But the race really seems to be between the front two. Unless one of the four puts in a superman solo bridge...

16:42 CET    199km/1km to go
The red triangle. We are in the final kilometre and it is Flecha and O'Grady with 16". But it's a wide, open and long straight, and the chasing four can see the duo ahead.

16:42 CET   
Flecha is on the front over a small but gentle rise.

16:43 CET   
O'Grady took over but behind it is Pippo on the front.

16:43 CET   
Now Nuyens has gone off the front and is chasing hard.

16:43 CET   
-His solo move is going to catch the duo who are, unbelievably, easing up and looking at each other.

16:44 CET   
Boonen and Pippo do nothing, until Pippo gestures for the Belgian to chase down the other Belgian - good tactic. Ahead, Nuyens is about to catch O'Grady and Flecha who didn't pay enough attention to what was going on behind them.

16:44 CET   
As Boonen pushes hard against the pedals he almost reaches Nuyens, while O'Grady and Flecha look around - startled. Pippo rolls off Boonen's wheel and attacks.

16:44 CET   
Flecha reacts and tries to follow, with O'Grady, Boonen and Nuyens behind him, but Pippo is going clear. Amazing.

16:45 CET   
The Italian crosses the line and seems a little in disbelief, but crosses himself in the manner of the Catholics and clasps his hands together. I don't think even he was expecting to win that!

That was impressive by Pippo. Flecha and O'Grady started watching each other. As Nuyens attacked Pippo kept cool, gestered for Boonen to chase. When Boonen came up it was Pippo who attacked; he caughtr them all and continued on solo to the win. That was an impressive 300 metre solo effort by the Italian from Veneto.

17:00 CET   
Pozzato was thrilled after the race and noted, "It was an important win for me. The final was difficult with riders like Tom Boonen, Nuyens and O'Grady; all of them are good riders. But it was my team who did a lot of the work, and it was not just the last kilometre, but they did lots of work beforehand."

"It was ironic that Quick-Step did not win after racing so strong today. But the other teams worked hard, like Rabobank. The final sections of pavé really made the difference." Then regarding the finale he added, "Cooke did not pull in the final. And maybe Boonen was a little tired. I used a little bit of grinta (force) and it worked out." How did the sprint go for you? "I went long," he quipped.
And now do you consider yourself a contender for the Ronde Van Vlaanderen? "I hope so, I don't know. It will surely be a difficult course but I will do what I can to win, but it will be hard."