92nd Ronde van Vlaanderen - ProT
Belgium, April 6, 2008
Complete Live report
Live commentary by Bjorn Haake and Hedwig Kröner
Hello and welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the 92nd Ronde van Vlaanderen, the classic so many people have been waiting for. Will Alessandro Ballan be able to defend his title? Or will Tom Boonen take his third? Or will Fabian Cancellara add another victory to his already impressive palmarès? The race runs over 264 kilometres, from Brugge to Meerbeke, and includes 17 of the famous hellingen. Little rises that will make the Ronde an elimination race, where only the best will survive until the end.
Ballan is ready to defend his title
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
One of the big favourites is Alessandro Ballan. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown chatted with the Italian yesterday and while it's hard to predict a winner Ballan had an interesting observation on a bad weather race. However, right now it is sunny and warm, and the expected snow, hail and rain may not materialise.
12:23 CEST 103km/161km to go
The riders are in a hurry today. So far they have put in 94,8 km in the first two hours, and if we calculate that properly, using all 10 fingers, that works out to 47,4 km per hour. Actually, they have slowed down, as they went 49,5 km in the first hour.
We have already had one rider drop out, and that was a prominent name: Joost Posthuma of Rabobank, who just won the Driedaagse De Panne with a fantastic time trial. He suffered from such a severe nose bleed during the earlier part of the race that he felt unable to continue.
12:30 CEST 111km/153km to go
We have our first successful escape of the day. Janek Tombak (Mitsubishi), Tom Veelers (Skil Shimano), Sven Renders (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Vincent Jerome (Bouyges Telecom) have built up a slight advantage. It's only 45 seconds right now, but maybe they will be able to build it up. And Raul Alarcon Garcia of Saunier Duval is going after them.
Cyclingnews informed Bernhard Eisel that he had received one star in the favourites list of the organizing newspaper 'Het Nieuwsblad'. The 27 year-old Austrian wasn't really excited about his rating, though. "It never helped me in the past," Eisel laughed and continued to make small adjustments to his bike set-up.
12:35 CEST 112km/152km to go
Here's a surprise: Two more big names have dropped out. Steffen Wesemann of Cycling Collstrop and Tom Steels of Landbouwkrediet. Wesemann won this race in 2004.
12:40 CEST 117km/147km to go
The weather forecast has unfortunately turned out to be accurate. We started this morning with unexpected sunshine and blue skies, but now we have rain and hail. Our leaders aren't letting the precipitation stop them. The four in front now have 40 seconds over Garcia, who is some 40 seconds ahead of the peloton.
The hail is coming down harder and everything that was formerly green is now white. Hope we don't see a lot of slips and slides and crashes because of this.
Wesemann abandoned at the feed zone. This morning he told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé that he wasn't wearing anything special. "Why would I? It's going to be warm enough in the finale." The Swiss told us before that he is mainly aiming to be 100% in Paris-Roubaix, although abandoning this early on is quite strange.
12:42 CEST 119km/145km to go
Garcia is taking advantage of the hail to slide on up to the four leaders. He is now only 30 seconds behind them, and a minute ahead of the peloton.
There have already been a number of falls today, with favourite Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) hitting the pavement earlier. He was able to keep on going, unlike Enrico Franzoi of Liquigas, who is feared to have broken a leg.
The second climb, or "helling" is the Nokereberg, and it is providing a bit difficult for soloist Garcia. He has now dropped to 40 seconds behind the quartet in front, but he is still 1'05 ahead of the peloton.
Some artist counted all the cobbles that are spread out over the famous Koppenberg, which features a steep point with a gradient of 22%, halfway up the 600-metre long climb near Melden. The man found out there were 66240 cobbles! Not that it is so important, but it explains something about how crazy people are about the race.
Who is going to take it today? Cancellara, Boonen, Ballan, or ......? Let us know who you will think will do best in this typical Belgian weather and survive to win the race.
During the winter there is a cyclo-cross race on the famous bump. Sven Nys has been dominating the race during the last couple of years. The cyclo-cross specialists only climb up the Koppenberg until halfway up, and then they continue in the meadow. The only man with a lot of cyclo-cross experience today is Roger Hammond, although he hasn't participated in the Koppenbergcross in recent years.
13:01 CEST 128km/136km to go
Whoopsie, just as we feared, we have the next crash. Four riders went down: Lloyd Mondory (AG2R), Maarten den Bakker (Skil Shimano), Sven Krauss (Gerolsteiner) and Arnaud Labbe (Bouygues Telecom). Den Bakker dropped out, while the other three continued.
13:07 CEST 129km/135km to go
Garcia was unable to keep up his solo attempt to catch the four leaders and has been caught by the peloton. And we have more bad news: Denis Flahaut (Saunier Duval-Scott) has been taken to the hospital with the suspicion of a broken elbow. Koen Barbe of Topsport Vlaanderen has given up. Gerry van Gerwen, team manager of Team Milram says Martin Velits is out with a possible broken wrist. And there is a rumour that Sebastian Chavanel has had to drop out after a crash.
Leif Hoste had a mechanical, but team-mate Wim Vansevenant has brought him safely back to the peloton.
13:08 CEST 135km/129km to go
The good news is that the rain and hail has stopped and it is now more or less dry. The four in front now have a lead of over two minutes.
13:13 CEST 138km/126km to go
The peloton is keeping the escapees on a short leash, not letting them get more than 2'15 away. No one has really taken over the lead of the peloton yet. André Greipel of Team High Road, who is the leader in the ProTour rankings, is now showing up near the front.
Tom Boonen is at the very back of the peloton, stretching himself out. Don't expect him to stay at the end. Once they hit the Molenberg, the favourites will move to the front. And no more wearing vests, like Vincent Jérôme, who is in the break, currently still does.
13:18 CEST 141km/123km to go
Baden Cooke did what many like to avoid on the cobbles, but it is hard to do: Getting a flat tyre. But the pace is leisurely and currently it is Skil at the front, while a few riders are trying to find a short cut. But it is narrow on that sidewalk, and they have to unclip to get through. No positions gained, but lost!
Roger Hammond (High Road) knows a thing or two about getting off the bike and running
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
Hammond told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé that he might be able to use his cyclo-cross skills today. The last time the peloton climbed the Koppenberg was in 2006, and then most riders had to run up the hill. "I didn't put on my running shoes, but I might have to be running up the Koppenberg today," Hammond laughed.
Johan Van Summeren waves the race director through, as he wants to get to his team car. The peloton had to slow down at one of the sections where the road gets really narrow. A typical race scene in Belgium.
Several riders use the bike path on the side to move up. It is hard to get to the front otherwise. Funnily enough it's really easy to get to the back, if you don't pay attention. It is still dry, which makes for nice riding for the moment.
13:28 CEST 149km/115km to go
The spectators are jumping for safety as some riders are between the fans and the bike path. The riders cut back from the right to the centre in a kamikaze move and scare the heck out of the riders on the front right. But, phew, no crashes. The lead has dropped to 1'23
"To have luck and always stay in front," said USA's George Hincapie (High Road) to Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews of his plan. He has finished on the podium in the past, read Another shot for glory.
There are tons of fans out! Here in Bellegem, the Dorp op de Ronde.
Photo ©: Stijn Vercaemer
The front group is riding over a cobble section, but the peloton is hammering now and the lead melts like snow in the sun. It's less than a minute now. Speaking of snow, Brecht Decaluwé reports that there is wet snow on the Koppenberg!
Current race situation
- Janek Tombak (Mitsubishi), Tom Veelers (Skil Shimano), Sven Renders (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Vincent Jerome (Bouyges Telecom)
- Peloton at 0.50
The front group is riding over a cobble section, but the peloton is hammering now and the lead melts like snow in the sun. It's less than a minute now. Speaking of snow, Brecht Decaluwé reports that there is wet snow on the Koppenberg!
Not too much reconnaissance is needed for Hincapie, who has years of riding experience on these Flemish roads. "I rode just an hour yesterday, as it was raining," he laughed. "We could have [ridden the parcours on] Friday, after De Panne, but I preferred to recover. I know the race well, I have done it twelve times or so. I am confident and I feel good, we just need to hope for good luck. The favourites will be Cancellara and Boonen."
13:38 CEST 155km/109km to go
Lotto is now riding near the front, as is CSC. Cancellara has a bread in his mouth. Eating is really important on such a long race, which gets so hard in the end. The break by the peloton means the lead has gone back up, and is now 1'09
Cyclingnews was testing the route yesterday, together with thousands of other cyclo-tourists. The route and the weather are approved for a tough classic. Several rain showers gave the Flemish spring feel and the Koppenberg was very muddy and slippery. There were already many fans out yesterday, which made for an additional feel of a real classic. In the mean time, the peloton takes a right hand bend and a Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner riders falls into a ditch. This was again when several riders opted for the bike lane. But he is back up and riding again.
Erik Zabel storms along at the back of the field, with a flat tyre! He finally has the team car right behind and takes his foot out and stops on the right hand side of the road. A quick change, and the German is back up again. The front runners are hitting the Molenberg! The cobbles are terrible, but it' not too steep. The peloton is now only 37 seconds behind, but the bunch comes to a stop as the Molenberg is very narrow. Zabel arrives last and gets the backend of the peloton, as they are still at a standstill.
13:45 CEST 160km/104km to go
The riders are walking up. Zabel waited a bit, until the road would be clear. But he didn't wait long enough and runs into the backend. Robert Wagner took the Molenberg to accelerate and peel off the front.
13:48 CEST 161km/103km to go
Sergey Lagutin is also walking, but is now trying to get going again. He manages and is on his way, up the final cobbles of the Molenberg. The Molenberg has increased the lead again, to 1'16. Robert Wagner is pedaling in-between, with a good lead of several hundred metres over the peloton.
Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld) won stage one of De Panne and held the overall until the final stage, where he was bettered by Joost Posthuma (Rabobank). "Joost Posthuma was a surprise, to go so fast, but I was happy for third place and stage win," confirmed the Italian to Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown.
'Gaspa' lacks experience in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, but don't count him out. "I am happy for the sun, that is for sure. We will se what will happen during the race because it is such a long race and the weather can switch during the day."
Is it a matter of just staying on Cancellara's wheel? "There is not only Cancellara, there is Boonen, Philippe Gilbert... and other riders. If I had to say a name, I would say 'Boonen'."
His friends and family are all staying at home and watching on television.
There are now several groups, that the Molenberg created. The wind is coming from the right - well, for now. With the many turns the conditions constantly change.
13:52 CEST 164km/100km to go
Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) has a mechanical. He gets help from his team-mate, Mathieu Ladagnous, but now has to chase back. With the peloton broken up this can be a bit difficult. It has started to rain again. The road looks very slippery now.
The peloton is bigger again, as the groups have merged. Gilbert is also back at the end of the bunch.
"Number one today is Cancellara," said 1996 winner, Italian Michele Bartoli at the start to Gregor Brown. "He has to race strongly, and if he does not make a mistake it will be difficult to beat him. He can wait until the Grammont to attack given that a strong move does not get away sooner – he will have to be attentive. He can stay with the best until the end and then he has a fast finish. He is the favorito numero uno."
It has been over 10 years since Bartoli won the Ronde van Vlaanderen. "It is a big emotion for me to be here, it is something more then I could have imagined. It is very beautiful for me. Belgium is a second home for me."
He was at the start and then going to see the race pass. "I don't know where I will go to see the race today. I want to see it in a few spots."
The throngs of fans are unbelievable, as the front group is breaking up over the cobble section between the Molenberg and the Wolvenberg. Jérôme and Tombak have left the other two.
Lampre is now in control of the peloton. The riders start to look a little dirty. You do stay cleaner when you stay at the front, though. Van Summeren is on the front also, for Silence-Lotto.
It is basically snowing! The weather forecast was spot on. Now a little hail and we are all set. The peloton hits the last cobbles before the Wolvenberg. It is really slippery with the rain and snow mix.
The two leaders are now on the Wolvenberg. Short and sweet. Oh wait, short and sTeep. Near the top they get out of the saddle. The Frenchman trails a little behind. Tombak looks strong.
All the favourites like George Hincapie, Boonen, Chavanel, Cancellara, Ballan and others are still hiding in the peloton, trying to be protected from the wind. Their time will come. But now there is a good pace in the peloton. The gap between the chase group and the front is 18 seconds.
Due to the fact that there has been only one ProTour-event just yet, there were only ten riders with a ranking in the individual ProTour-classification. Based on that ranking the team cars were handed a position in the race. Team High Road was pleased with their first position thanks to Greipel's win in the Tour Down Under, and Team CSC (Cancellara) didn't feel too bad about their ninth place, either. The teams without a classification had to hope for some luck in the lottery yesterday. It turned out that Silence-Lotto (Hoste) received 13th position, while Quick Step (Boonen) is back in 16th position.
14:06 CEST 171km/93km to go
The peloton is using the flat stretch in Oudenaarde to stuff themselves with food, while Willems prefers to have a mechanical. A few more kilometres and the exciting finale will start with the Oude Kwaremont!
High Road, Liquigas and Skil are on the front now, while a Lampre rider gets cold and zips up his vest. The lead is still 1'14 for the front group. The two chasers are only ten seconds behind the front. They should wait, but Jérôme pulls hard.
Current race situation
- Janek Tombak (Mitsubishi), Tom Veelers (Skil Shimano), Sven Renders (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Vincent Jérôme (Bouyges Telecom)
- Robert Wagner (Skil-Shimano) at ?
- Peloton at 1.10
14:10 CEST 174km/90km to go
The front groups are back together, as the leading duo finally waited. It is easier to share the work with three others. We have no info on Robert Wagner and if he is still out on front.
A crash in the peloton! The long straight road to Melden has strong cross winds. Always. Steven De Jongh, Jimmy Engoulvent and a third rider lie on the road, in pain. Robert Wagner has made the front group! What a nice solo effort. Franck Renier has a mechanical.
14:19 CEST 180km/84km to go
Some spectators are standing into the road to take pictures. This is dangerous. They go away in the last moment, but the speeds are a lot higher than during a Tour de France mountain stage. It seems still more snow than rain what is coming down. Expect a mess at the 'Koppe'!
The peloton has used the long straight road to Kluisbergen to inch closer to the five leaders. They can see them now. They probably won't make it to the Oude Kwaremont, which is less than three kilometres away.
And yes, as Johan Van Summeren takes over at the front in his typical grinding style they have caught the break of the day. A left turn and the fight for positions is in full swing. Now the favourites will have to show their faces on the front. Steegmans is there for Boonen. Ballan is there.
14:23 CEST 183km/81km to go
Lotto is now slowing things down. On those narrow roads all it takes is a few riders from a team and get to the front. They pass the Oude Kwaremont banner.
The women are already done and heading to the shower. It was German Judith Arndt who beat US American Kristin Armstrong in a two-up sprint. The group behind sprinted for third, with Kirsten Wild beating everyone else.
Andreas Klier (High Road) stomps up the steep part of the Oude Kwaremont, taking a Rabo and a Lotto guy. But the gap is small.
An Astana rider fights his way up to the trio. Another High Road rider is heading the peloton. He won't be riding too hard, with Klier on the front.
14:28 CEST 186km/78km to go
The Astana rider is no other than Tomas Vaitkus. He finished sixth last year and told Cyclingnews at the Driedaagse that he is feeling good and ready for the challenge. But it seems a little early. The Rabo guy is Flecha!
The peloton is back together. Two more kilometres to the Paterberg. A treacherous descent first, though.
14:32 CEST 188km/76km to go
And promptly there is a crash. One CSC rider slipped into a very muddy field. We can't see his number anymore, but it could be Johanson.
Van Summeren still pulling at the front. The guy is amazing.
The compact peloton hits the Paterberg. Max of 20% and with wet cobbles. Very tough climb.
Boonen is at the front, battling it out with two Lotto riders.
14:34 CEST 189km/75km to go
There was no attack, the peloton makes it up in one long line. They turn left at the top and head towards the Koppenberg.
Things are stretched out enough that it looks like the peloton can make it up without walking. Bodrogi is one of the last to make it up, already almost 90 seconds behind.
Guess who is at the front? Yes, Van Summeren, as the peloton is now only about 20 riders strong! Pro Tour leader Greipel has abandoned the race.
Hoste, Ballan, Boonen are in the front group, but it looks like no Gilbert. Devolder is now pulling at the front.
14:41 CEST 195km/69km to go
The front group has not gone all out and most riders have caught back on. But the peloton is still fairly small, maybe 40 to 50 riders. Chavanel has not made it, though. He is in the first chase group.
About ten riders are trying to catch the front. This is a lot of energy spent that they will need in a good km, when the 'Koppe' starts. They pass some farm houses on their left, as they make their way parallel to the Koppe into the other direction. Soon, there will be a U-turn and the start of the climb.
Boonen is still on the front, going up the Koppe. Flecha and Cancellara are there, too. Devolder is next to his captain, Boonen. Vaitkus fights next to the Quick Steppers.
Cancellara has his gloves in the back pocket. Boonen has separated himself from the rest. It is snowing!
They have passed the steep section, but it is still tough on the top. The riders come by one by one. Some are walking now, in the back part of the peloton.
14:47 CEST 197km/67km to go
Boonen out of the saddle, checking on the damage behind. Some riders look like they are riding in slow motion on the steep section. The ones who had to stop are trying to run up with their cleats. It's almost comical. But most riders make it up riding.
An Euskaltel rider walks up. He doesn't look like he is having fun. A front group of about ten has formed on the descent. Boonen, Devolder, Cancellara are there. Looks like Ballan, too.
At the bottom there is a sharp right hand bend. One rider decided to go straight, but found the going get tough in the muddy field, so he walked back out on the road. Steven dew Jongh is only now hitting the Koppenberg. Game over after his crash.
Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) was clean in the early part of the race, but is now dirty.
Photo ©: Stijn Vercaemer
14:51 CEST 199km/65km to go
Feed zone time. When the hands are cold it is hard to grab the mussette and take the food out. Barredo, who look really dirty, washes his hands with the water in a bottle. We hop it's warm water, otherwise he is screwed.
14:55 CEST 201km/63km to go
They are on the Steenbergdries, a cobbled climb that is not really step, but there are cobbles before and after. Not too much fun.
Hoste has a mechanical. Bad luck for the favourite! Van Summeren is waiting.
Langeveld and Hushovd have gone clear from the front. Angel Gomez crashed badly over a curb where trees are planted. His front wheel is toast and he is not moving right now. It looked bad.
14:58 CEST 203km/61km to go
Langeveld goes ahead on the Taaienberg, leaving Hushovd behind. More wet cobbles to deal with.
Cancellara looks good, he is near the front of the Langeveld chasers.
Langeveld is over the top, with the big group close behind. Langeveld waits and Devolder takes over again, but they take a time out again, to zip up vests, drink and do a head count.
60 kilometres to go. They're past the Taaienberg now. Everything is wet and slippery, but the riders made it up on their bikes.
"I am a little nervous, it is hard not to be for this race," said USA's Tyler Farrar (Slipstream Chipotle - H30) to Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews. "It is something special. I like the start here in Brugge. I rode to sign-in with Michael Friedman, and this is his first. He really liked to see the ambiance for the first time – this is my second.
"I am not able to give him any specific tips, other than stay at the front and do what you can," Farrar laughed. "Last year, it was just learning, working for Nick Nuyens as long as I could. My day was over once the real race stared. We will see what we can do for Backstedt, and see how he is feeling and how the race plays out."
The weather looking promising at the start. "We are keeping out fingers crossed for good weather and the weather can change quick. If it gets as nasty as they are predicting it can really change the outcome of the race."
Sorry folks, the weather has definitely changed!
15:04 CEST 306km/58km to go
Barredo is riding at the front now, followed by Devolder. The front group is strung out, as the pace is leg-breaking. Johanson (CSC) punctured in a curve...
Vansummeren is chasing hard with a Lotto team-mate in the chase group as they race through the Belgian countryside. Damp, flat fields between the red brick villages. The leaders have 40 seconds over the second group with Hoste.
15:09 CEST 211km/53km to go
Freire has rolled off the front! As the sun comes out the Spaniard has about ten seconds.
15:10 CEST 210km/54km to go
Hincapie is now leading the chase group, which has split up. They're only at 15 seconds, now! Hincapie gives it a go to bridge up.
And this looks like George Hincapie, who is giving it a chase. His face is completely black.
Quinziato is also taking off, and Devolder goes after him. Freire is on the Berg Ter Stene. A tough little climb going up to the main road. Ballan makes his move! It's early, but not really a big attack either. He just warms up his legs, and soft pedals towards the top.
15:17 CEST 215km/49km to go
The groups are forming echelons, with the cross winds cutting through the plains. Two major groups are about to merge again. Quick Step has control on the front. Freire is still out, by 23 seconds. No info on Hincapie, as Freire flies over the cobbles of the Haaghoek.
Devolder again on the front, out of the saddle. Quick Step now really wants to tear the race apart. The Leberg is coming up soon. Barredo is near the front, too.
Boonen is near the front, protected by Quick Step, while Freire's lead is down to maybe 50 metres. The Rabo rider turns around and checks.
Freire is reeled back in right when the Leberg starts. It's short and steep. Devolder attacks and Boonen tries to get his wheel. He shouts into his radio, apparently Devolder's pace is too hot for Boonen.
15:21 CEST 218km/46km to go
But Devolder keeps going and Gilbert catches the Belgian's wheel. The two are on the top and have some 50m!
Langeveld makes his way back to the two leaders! And that after his work early on. An few other riders are trying to catch up. Langeveld doesn't pull, though. He works fore Flecha, who is chasing behind with Hincapie and Kroon.
Nuyens, Spilak and Quinziato - another trio on the chase behind.
15:25 CEST 221km/43km to go
The Hincapie group has caught the front! The US American is now in the elect lead group, including hot favourite Gilbert. Is this the winning move? It is still 43km to the finish.
The lead group is now nine riders strong. With Flecha and Langeveld there are two Rabo's. Boonen attacks on the Berendries climb!
Hincapie takes of his vest and throws it to his left, to the spectators. A nice souvenir! Cancellara moves up to Ballan's wheel.
Langeveld has attacked off the front and is time trialing now on the main road, his hands over the centre of his handle bar. He is really fast. Ballan, Cancellara and Boonen have made the junction with the front group.
The sun is out and Pozzato tries to move up. With the drier roads, the worries about his dirty shoes will vanish, so he gives it a go. Cancellara takes over at the front, so Langeveld's glory is over. There is no kidding with Swiss motorbikes.
But Langeveld immediately counters Devolder's move. Kroon tags on at the back, while Pozzato is still some 100m behind. Cancellara also takes off the vest. Ballan has a little gap to the Swiss rider. Boonen throws off his arm warmers, s the sun comes out.
Ballan is in the front group, with Hincapie, Devolder. He saw that everyone took off their vests and is doing the same.
They are on the Valkenberg. Ballan, Devolder, Langeveld, Hincapie. Devolder is really strong. He storms up the Valkenberg. Looks like the fifth is Kroon. Hoste is at the backend of the main group, which seems to have merged with the Boonen group.
15:37 CEST 229km/35km to go
The riders can see shadows and after the top we see clearer now too. The five leaders have 24 seconds over the main group. Niki Terpstra has a mechanical. Not good timing from the Dutchman.
A high speed descent. Devolder sits on the back, while the five sweep around a left hand turn, then a right, before they are in the next town.
Kroon is fixing his glasses, while Langeveld takes a drink from the Shimano follow car. Devolder adjusts his helmet. It's waiting time for the quintet. Cofidis is pulling hard on the front.
15:42 CEST 233km/31km to go
They are going around the 'wieler monument' in Brakel. It's in the centre of a large roundabout and contains who knows how many bicycles. The front group is nourished and they pick up speed again. The gaps is smaller now, some 18 seconds.
Current race situation
- Devolder (Quick Step), Langeveld (Rabobank), Kroon (CSC), Hincapie (High Road), Ballan (Lampre)
- Group of approx. 40 riders including Flecha (Rabobank), Gilbert (FDJ), Boonen (Quick Step), Cancellara (CSC), Nuyens, Chavanel (Cofidis), Pozzato (Liquigas) at 0.18
The riders hit the Tenbosse, a nasty little obstacle. Hincapie looks good in the front group. Will it finally be his day in one of the really big races? But all the favourites are still behind, waiting for their moment. Allan Davis is in the big chase group as well!
Devolder takes off his clear rain jacket. It gets warm now. He throws it to his right.
15:46 CEST 234km/30km to go
The gap is pretty steady right now. With 30km to go, it's 21 seconds. Not really that much right now.
Liquigas is pulling on the front. Now the sun is really out and Pozzato can show off his shoes. Although, earlier he had shoe covers on. The front group is working well together, trading equal turns. The chase group is strung out and the lead down to 16-18 seconds.
Liquigas and Cofidis leading the chase group of about 40 riders. 40 vs. 5. Not fair.
15:50 CEST 237km/27km to go
Nuyens is also near the front of the 'achtervolgers'. Will Chavanel get another great victory? He has been doing well in Belgium, winning Dwars van Vlaanderen and the Brabantse Pijl, both on solo breaks.
The peloton is reeling in the front. They turn around and see the fast-moving peloton and sit up. Devolder chats with Hincapie, who shrugs his shoulders, as if to say "Oh well it was worth a try."
And boom, just when they are getting caught, Devolder attacks and sprints up the Eikenmolen ahead of everyone else. Langeveld tries to bridge as is Davis. Greg Van Avermaet leads the peloton.
Pozzato is ahead of the peloton at the top, together with Boonen. The Belgian slows down. He has Devolder up front and no need to work. Gilbert doesn't like it and counters.
Hushovd gets to the front, while Arvesen pulls for CSC. Devolder is almost 20 secs ahead again.
15:55 CEST 241km/23km to go
Hushovd and Chavanel have peeled off the front! They are chasing Devolder, together with two other riders. One of them is Quinziato.
CSC reacts to the bad news on the front, from their view. What will Lotto do now?
15:57 CEST 243km/21km to go
Tombak is in the Hushovd group. That is amazing , as he was in the break of the day, too. They are maybe 100m ahead of the big group of favourites.
Devolder holds the handle bar above the break levers and goes aero, pedaling by himself. He is followed by the four-man group, where Tombak tries to get the pace going and goes off the front. But they get back to him and now Chavanel leads. They are 15 seconds behind.
Hushovd is taking a strong pull. But the peloton can see them. Still around 100m.
16:01 CEST 246km/18km to go
The gap has increased, Devolder has 26 seconds over the Hushovd group and 35 over the main group, led by CSC. Two more climbs!
Hushovd leans over his handle bar, but no matter how hard he tries, the peloton comes closer, as they cross the rail road bridge in Geraardsbergen.
Devolder his the lower section of the Muur. Easy cobbles and tons of fans.
Liquigas is leading, but Hoste is right there!
Flecha attacks! Cancellara is behind in the group of favourites. Terpstra is back and goes on the left hand side!
Devolder near the top, where the chapel is.
16:06 CEST 248km/16km to go
His pedaling is a bit forced now, but no wonder after 245km. Cancellara has his tongue hanging out. He tries hard. Ballan is close behind Boonen and Terpstra is still there, too. Nuyens is near the front.
Devolder has a bit of flat before the final climb of the day. Gregory Rast is riding well for Astana. He and Flecha were close ton the front over the top of the Muur.
The group has merged, so Ballan, Flecha, Boonen, Rast, Nuyens and Terpstra are some 15 seconds behind Devolder. They are flying down the descent.
Ballan is taking a good pull at the front. Boonen doesn't have to work, so Quick Step has good cards right now. Devolder still looks strong. 17 secs as he approaches the Bosberg!
The chase group has swelled. Langeveld attacks again. Where does he take the energy? The group lets him go.
16:11 CEST 252km/12km to go
Devolder is on the cobbles of the Bosberg. Langeveld has his jersey unzipped and his mouth wide open. He has about 200m over the group.
Devolder is labouring up over the cobbles. The Belgian champion has 24 secs. Another 100m to the top.
16:12 CEST 253km/11km to go
Langeveld is closing in, as Devolder has reached the top. But the Rabo rider is still 100m behind the Belgian. The fans are going crazy!
It's flat to the finish, with a couple of little rises. They will hurt. Devolder has his mouth open and trying to keep Langeveld at bay.
16:15 CEST 254km/10km to go
He has maybe 200-300m. There are half a dozen motorbikes behind him. Cancellara takes a drink. He has given up and checks on what the others in the group are doing. Boonen talks into the radio, probably checking how Devolder is doing. The latter has about 15 seconds, with the Boonen group half a minute in arrears.
A touch of wheels as Rast almost hits the deck. And a finger shown. Heat of the action. Langeveld gets some draft from a motorbike. Not for long, as the moto is slowing. But it seems it's one of the Dutch photographers....
16:17 CEST 256km/8km to go
Langeveld is the surprise of this race. Who would have thought he'd be chasing Devolder for victory in the Ronde?
Langeveld hits a speed bump. It's not much, but it hurts after 250km. Behind, a group of three is trying to come up, with Flecha tagged on the back of Rast and another rider.
16:19 CEST 257km/7km to go
It is Tombak, another surprise of the race. They are close to the Langeveld.
Chavanel attacks and Boonen reacts. So now the chase group is back together to one. 19 seconds for Devolder. Flecha attacks!
Cancellara seemed to react at first, but then swung over to the left. Nuyens goes. Nuyens, of course, is the Cofidis rider, not Chavanel.
Devolder faces a left turn and a little rise. Then it is along the main road, but the lead is down to 10 secs!!!
16:22 CEST 260km/4km to go
Flecha rides like a man possessed. He is out of the saddle, chasing after the Belgian. Another arrow victory salute today? Four more kilometres!
The spectators are cheering on 'their' Stijn. Flecha is trying to close in, but he is chased but Nuyens!
16:24 CEST 261km/3km to go
Flecha looks like he finds the wind too much now. Nuyens is only 50m behind!
16:25 CEST 262km/2km to go
Nuyens' back of his shorts are covered in dirt, as he swerves across the road. he is tired, but is catching Flecha. They still trail by 13 seconds. Nuyens takes over at the front immediately.
Flecha tries to help, but he is spent. Devolder still looks good. He has only 1.5km to go.
16:26 CEST 263km/1km to go
Nuyens checks back, but he needs to check to the front. Devolder takes the right hand bend.
Devolder passes the 1km to go. Flecha attacks Nuyens, right before the banner.
Nuyens fights back, but Devolder looks good. The last right hand turn.
Devolder starts celebrating as the others are visible behind, too far back.
He shows his Quick Step shirt to the public, lifting it up with the writing. A great victory for the Belgian!
Nuyens fights down Flecha for second.
Quick Step did everything right today and the team staff is super happy with Devolder at the finish,. Lefevere is right there and gives him a clap on his cheek. Finally something to smile for the Quick Step boss, who did not have a great year so far.
Devolder says that he can't really believe it still. But after the Eikenmolen things started looking good.
Hincapie finished an excellent fifth. While he again didn't win it looks good for his beloved Paris-Roubaix!
Devolder was shaking his head after the interview, his hands over his hand, topped by the Quick Step hat. And in his big smile a few tears are mixed in. What a great race in the 92nd edition of this race. One of the strongest riders won, but we won't forget the rides of Langeveld and Tombak, the great surprises of the day. We hope you enjoyed the coverage from (now) sunny Belgium. Tot ziens at the next live coverage!
1 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick Step
2 Nick Nuyens (Bel) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone
3 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Rabobank
4 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre - Fondital
5 George Hincapie (USA) Team High Road
6 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Liquigas
7 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team CSC
8 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Silence-Lotto
9 Simon Spilak (Slo) Lampre - Fondital