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70th Gent-Wevelgem - ProT

Belgium, April 9, 2008

Complete live report

Live commentary by Gregor Brown

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

14:31 CEST   
Welcome to Cyclingnews' coverage of the 70th Gent-Wevelgem. Today the riders will cover 209 kilometres in a journey in Belgium's Flemish region.

The parcours won't take in much of Belgium's coast like in 2007. Instead, it will head straight for De Panne, avoiding the southward run from Oostende. Once near De Panne, the route turns left for Belgium's southwest corner, past the feed-zone in Poperinge and onto the village of Kemmel (km 146 & 170) for the start of the Kemmelberg.

The approach to the Kemmelberg is different thanks to the small climb of the Bergstraat. Its inclusion will slow down the speeds that were obtained off the Monteberg, heading towards the foot of the Kemmelberg. Instead of turning left to start the climb, riders will turn right.

The climb is the same as in 2007, approaching from the east, cobbled and steep as can be. It is usually approached at such high speeds that the weak are shredded out the back while the smart sprinters keep in contact by starting the climb towards the front and fading back towards the summit.

Professional cyclists were always weary of descending the Kemmelberg, but after the scenes of bodies tumbling down the cobbles shown on television since last year the fear factor had to have risen. Smartly, the organisers will reroute the riders at the top with a left turn onto the Klokhof to start an asphalt decent. The tricky part will come from the sharp and dangerous right turn on to the Kemmelstraat. A short run and a turn left will have the riders back on the Kemmelberg descent.

14:32 CEST   
The riders rolled out of the start town, Deinze, around 11:45 under partly-cloudy skies.

Immediately attacks marked the race as it travelled westward towards De Panne. Active in a group of 18 riders were Servais Knaven (High Road), Artur Gajek (Team Milram) and Alessandro Donati (Acqua Sapone-Caffè Mokambo). Three kilometres later, 195 kilometres remaining, the group was pulled back by the fast-charging peloton, led for some time by Het Volk winner Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux).

Olivier Kaisen (Silence-Lotto) surged at 187 kilometres remaining, but the move by the Belgian came to nothing. It was not until kilometre 107 (-102km) that any rider was allowed space, and that privilege was granted to one rider, Italian Ermanno Capelli (Saunier Duval-Scott). The 22 year-old quickly gained an advantage, and by kilometre 125 (-84km) he had nine minutes.

14:33 CEST    126km/83km to go
Ermanno Capelli (Saunier Duval-Scott) currently has 10'02 on the peloton. That is a lot of time, but he will need much more if he wishes to survive to the streets of Wevelgem solo.

14:35 CEST   
Teams High Road and Silence-Lotto are leading the charge.

14:39 CEST   
Gerolsteiner's directeur sportif Christian Henn is optimistic for today's race. He told Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake before the start that "Tour of Flanders and also before [in] Harelbeke [E3 Prijs], we weren't super-bad, but it's just not out terrain. Today, there is little wind and it looks like there may be a sprint. Of course that doesn't mean there will be a sprint, but the prerequisites are there that a bigger group will arrive and then we bank on Heinrich Haussler, sure."

Henn cautioned that "in the beginning we have to be careful that a bigger group does not get away. And then when the circuit with the Kemmelberg... we have to be alert."

Henn was reasonably well prepared for the new 'Kemmel.' "I saw a video from the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen , where they rode down the same way."

The change was necessary, according to Henn. "Something had to be done, after the crashes in the previous years. Even when it is dry, the riders lose bottles, which will open and make the roads wet. Then when somebody brakes in the back there are going to be crashes."

Henn was happy to be in sunny Belgium, with the spectators out in force.
"It's like every year. One has to be a bit astonished about all the people out on a Wednesday at 10:30 or 11:00, when most people should be working. This makes it fun for the riders and for us. I am happy to be here."

14:43 CEST    133km/76km to go
The is down by one minute on the first approach to the town of Kemmel. Our leader holds 9'04" on the peloton.

14:47 CEST   
The Australia-born German-resident, Heinrich Haussler, told Cyclingnews that "today I am feeling well. In Flanders, my legs were OK, but not super-great." He did not have much trouble with the weather on Sunday in the Tour of Flanders. "I don't like it [hail and rain], but I have less trouble than some other riders... Some will have bad legs and lack the desire to ride in such conditions. "

He reflected on the Ronde van Vlaanderen by saying that "I hit the Kwaremont too far back. I had to get off and walk because of others in front of me, who walked. I had overshoes on, which loosened when I walked up. Then I couldn't get into my pedals at the top and had to take off the overshoes. That took some extra time."

He reflected that "if you don't hit the Kwaremont with the first 30, it is over, except when you are as strong as Cancellara."

But the first shock for him was the Molenberg. "If they are already walking here than we will never be able to get up the Kwaremont."

Haussler was one of those who crashed really hard on the Kemmelberg last year. "I don't have good memories on the Kemmelberg. But today is a bit different," confirming that the asphalt downhill should be better for everyone. "If we are lucky we will get through it alright."

He wasn't sure yet if there would be a big group in the end. "The approach to the Kemmelberg is not like last year. It's narrow at the bottom and then four to five percent up to the Kemmelberg." He expected that some riders may be already a bit 'kaput' and the descent is now more technical. "It's a lot narrower and then there is a sharp right. We will be single-file and if there is a bit of wind then it may break up."

14:49 CEST    136km/73km to go
The gap is 8'00.

There is a crash that involves Alexandre Blain (Cofidis) and Roy Curvers (Skil-Shimano). They are checking their bikes. Blain is going, but Curvers is still fiddling with his machine.

14:52 CEST   
Paco Wrolich told Cyclingnews that he wanted to see how the race would go. "I was feeling well at Flanders. I hope this will be the case today, but for me Roubaix on Sunday is important." He also emphasised that "there may be a sprint today and then we certainly have good chances."

14:53 CEST    139km/70km to go
Liquigas is aiding the chase of Capelli (from Ponte San Pietro, Italy).

14:54 CEST   
Mark Cavendish (High Road) said that once you race a few times in Belgium, you know the roads "as they tend to be the same." Cavendish admitted to a special preparation for the race. "Yeah, pancakes are good for the morale," he smiled.

Cavendish told Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake that "Greipel is not starting, as he is sick," answering the question if the team would go for the win or for the ProTour lead defence. But he won't be the only rider on the team to look out for. "If they would be just riding for me, that would be a bit foolish. We have seven guys who can potentially win the race."

Cavendish explained that "We will see how the race goes. If it's a sprint, it is for me, for sure. But there are 209 kilometres before there may be a bunch sprint, so we will see how it goes."

14:55 CEST   
Non-starters today were Tomas Vaitkus (Astana) and ProTour leader André Greipel (High Road).

14:57 CEST    142km/67km to go
We will shortly be in Kemmel. Capelli has started the Monteberg.

15:01 CEST   
Raúl Alarcón (Saunier Duval-Scott) has a mechanical, he has stopped but quickly got going again. That was a result of a crash, on a right hand corner.

15:02 CEST    145km/64km to go
Arnaud Labbe (Bouygues Telecom) stops with a team-mate, who gives him his rear wheel.

Meanwhile, the peloton starts the Monteberg.

15:03 CEST   
We have not spotted Alessandro Donati (Acqua Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) lately, but we will keep looking for him. The Italian was in the day's early moves.

15:05 CEST   
Tom Steels (Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner) is riding at the back of the peloton. The Belgian won this race nine years ago.

15:07 CEST    148km/61km to go
Capelli is in Kemmel and has started the climb. His gap is at 6'09"

15:07 CEST   
He starts the climb with 6'10" officially. There is 530m of cobbles here. He is climbing with his hands on his brake hoods.

15:09 CEST   
He nears the top. The fans, under sunshine, are cheering him on.

15:09 CEST   
He will take a left to start the new decent.

15:10 CEST   
Cyclingnews asked Erik Dekker, the DS for the Rabobank team, if he hoped for a sprint. He answered "No! We hope for a win. The most obvious is that Oscar [Freire] wins the sprint. But last year was obvious, too. He was in the break. You never know with Oscar. Okay, we have a good chance if there is a sprint and Oscar is there."

Dekker also thought that "the weather is good, which make sit more likely there will be a bigger group."

Dekker thought there will be "a bigger selection" on the Kemmelberg, as "both the climb and the descent are harder."

He had it all figured out already. "The Kemmelberg will be longer. They will spend 20 more seconds on the cobbles," emphasising the fact that a good anaerobic workout is required on the climb. "Last year, they hit the climb with 40km/h, this year they will hit it with 20km/h," Dekker was convinced that the climb will create some kind of selection.

15:12 CEST   
The peloton is really stretched out now. The speeds are going up and up as the base of the Kemmelberg nears.

15:12 CEST   
Devolder leads the peloton as it hits the climb.

15:13 CEST   
Pozzato is looking really strong here. He is marked by a CSC rider.

15:14 CEST   
Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC) is up at the front of the main group, led by Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) in his Belgian champ jersey.

15:14 CEST   
Matti Breschel (Team CSC) leads Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) over the top of Kemmelberg with a gap on the main pack.

15:15 CEST    152km/57km to go
The peloton is now making its way, safely, down the Kemmelberg.

15:17 CEST   
Breschel's move will play into the hands of Cancellara. There is some strong team-work going on.

15:17 CEST   
'Pippo' Pozzato will work up front, while the Liquigas team will work for Francesco Chicchi if the race arrives in a sprint.

15:17 CEST   
Capelli's gap is down to 4'36.

15:19 CEST    155km/54km to go
O'Grady is riding at the front of the group.

15:20 CEST   
High Road reported that ProTour leader Greipel came down with the intestinal bug overnight – vomiting and diarrhoea – and therefore couldn't start.

15:20 CEST    156km/53km to go
Gilbert attacks!

15:21 CEST   
Amazing... Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), winner of Het Volk, is muscling an advantage over the peloton.

Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) at the start
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

15:24 CEST    158km/51km to go
Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) is bridging to Matti Breschel (Team CSC), Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), who have 40 seconds on the main group.

15:25 CEST   
Happy birthday to Graeme Brown (Rabobank) – his is 29 years old today.

15:25 CEST   
Gilbert nearly blows it through a right-hander, trying to chase down the duo.

15:26 CEST   
He has the Dane and Italian in his view.

15:31 CEST    161km/48km to go
Gilbert joins the Dane and Italian. The trio are 3'04" behind the lone Italian, Capelli.

15:33 CEST    164km/45km to go
José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne) is off the front of the peloton.

15:35 CEST    166km/43km to go
This is a good move by Pozzato, Breschel and Gilbert. They will pick up Capelli, likely right after the top of the second and last crossing of the Kemmelberg.

High Road is sending some men to the front of the chase.

15:37 CEST    166km/43km to go
Capelli has 2'44" (3'44" on the peloton) on the trio as he starts the Monteberg for the second time. The Italian is from near Bergamo, Ponte San Pietro. It is the same area as Diego Caccia of Barloworld, who is home today after his crash in the Three Days De Panne.

15:39 CEST   
Our chase trio has started the 1400-metre long Monteberg at 2'38" back from Capelli.

15:40 CEST    168km/41km to go
The speeds are picking up again as the peloton hits the races final crucial point, the second passage of the Kemmelberg. Luca Paolini (Acqua Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) and Danilo Napolitano (Lampre) are active up front in the chase.

15:43 CEST   
Pozzato's only win this year came with stage one and the overall of the Giro della Provincia di Grosseto. Last year, he won the Het Volk, which was won this year by escape companion Gilbert.

15:45 CEST    171km/38km to go
Matti Breschel (Team CSC) has a flat! The other two should wait for him.

15:45 CEST   
He is winless this year.

His presence in the escape means that CSC won't aid in the chase.

15:46 CEST   
The peloton is en bloc.

Up front, Gilbert works well with Pozzato, pointing out the road debris. Breschel is fading back to the peloton.

15:47 CEST   
A Lampre rider has a flat.

15:47 CEST    172km/37km to go
Capelli hits the base of the Kemmelberg with 1'57" on the duo and 2'55" on the peloton. Ballan is up front in the peloton.

15:49 CEST   
Gilbert leads Pozzato over Kemmelberg's cobbles.

15:50 CEST   
Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) leads the main group on the Kemmelberg. Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) is there too!

15:50 CEST   
It will be interesting to see which sprinters make it over at the front.

15:51 CEST   
Ballan leads Flecha over the top. They start the descent.

15:53 CEST   
The peloton is flying down the descent.

Ballan has formed a good move with Flecha, a High Road rider (maybe Hincapie) and a Barloworld.

15:54 CEST   
Cancellara is charging behind with Freire.

15:54 CEST   
Capelli should be nailed back soon by Pozzato and Gilbert, who are 45" back.

15:56 CEST   
Rony Martias (Bouygues Telecom) and Martin Elmiger (AG2R La Mondiale) are swept up by a Rabobank led charge with Bram Tankink and Oscar Freire.

15:56 CEST    177km/32km to go
Capelli has 42 seconds on the chase duo.

15:57 CEST   
We will try to get an update on the Ballan group, but it appears it has been caught by the Rabobank charge – the Orange Crush.

15:58 CEST    179km/30km to go
The group of Ballan has about 20" on the Rabobank boys.

16:01 CEST    180km/29km to go
The race is being played out on the flat roads. Remember last year that T-Mobile formed the winning move with Rogers and Burghardt at this point. There was also Freire, who this year is being helped back into the main picture by his Dutch team.

16:02 CEST    181km/28km to go
Capelli is keeping the gap at near 10". Pozzato is looking back as he sits on Gilbert's wheel. The Belgian seems more focused than his Italian escape companion.

Pozzato's shoes are gleaming in this Belgian sun!

16:03 CEST    182km/27km to go
Gilbert leads Pozzato as they tag Capelli. The three now lead the race.

16:05 CEST    184km/25km to go
Gruppo Compatto! We are going to have a bunch sprint ladies and gentlemen... brace yourself.

16:07 CEST    185km/24km to go
Look out for Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Mark Cavendish (High Road), Danilo Napolitano (Lampre) and Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) in the sprint. Others will be Luca Paolini (Acqua Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) and Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas).

16:08 CEST   
This race is STRUNG out!

16:09 CEST    186km/23km to go
There is a move that has formed off the front, with 38". We are trying to get the names of the riders for you.

16:12 CEST    189km/20km to go
The race has essentially split into two groups, separated by 38"

16:13 CEST    189km/20km to go
A CSC rider flies off the front.

16:13 CEST   
Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) is active with Mathew Hayman (Rabobank).

16:15 CEST    191km/18km to go
The two groups are together now. as Martin Elmiger (AG2R La Mondiale) flies off the front. He joins E3 Prijs winner, Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC). Arvesen had escaped just a few kilometres earlier.

16:17 CEST    193km/16km to go
The Norwegian/Swiss duo has 15 seconds.

16:18 CEST    194km/15km to go
A FdJ rider is stretching out the chase. A Rabo and CSC rider mark him.

16:19 CEST    194km/15km to go
Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) is there too, while the duo has eight seconds.

16:20 CEST    195km/14km to go
Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) marks Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) for Kurt-Asle Arvesen, who is in the lead duo.

16:21 CEST   
The sun shines as this Classic is coming to its end. Very soon we will know the name of the 70th Gent-Wevelgem champion.

16:21 CEST   
Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) and the FDJ rider have a small advantage. While the main chase is strung down the right side of the road.

16:23 CEST    197km/12km to go
That is Frédéric Guesdon (Française des Jeux) who is with the Australian and Italian. The trio is 10" back and 12" ahead with 12km to go.

16:26 CEST    199km/10km to go
Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC), Martin Elmiger (AG2R La Mondiale), Frédéric Guesdon (Française des Jeux), Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) are all together now.

The chase is close behind.

16:26 CEST    200.3km/8.7km to go
CSC has an advantage with two riders in the move: O'Grady and Arvesen.

16:27 CEST    200.6km/8.4km to go
The gap is at seven seconds.

16:29 CEST    202km/7km to go
Martin Elmiger (AG2R La Mondiale) sits on the back of this five-man move. It looks doomed. Watch out for a counter move soon.

16:30 CEST    203km/6km to go
High Road and Barloworld lead the chase.

16:31 CEST    204.2km/4.8km to go
The five still have five seconds!

16:32 CEST   
Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) leads Frédéric Guesdon (Française des Jeux) in the escape. Next is Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC) and Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC), and then Martin Elmiger (AG2R La Mondiale).

16:33 CEST   
This is touch-n-.go...

16:33 CEST    205.7km/3.3km to go
The five have no more than five seconds. Watch out for a Cancellara surge!

16:34 CEST    206.2km/2.8km to go
Frédéric Guesdon (Française des Jeux) sits up.

16:34 CEST    206.6km/2.4km to go
Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) and Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) press on.

16:35 CEST    207.2km/1.8km to go
Gruppo compatto.

16:36 CEST   
The sprint teams are getting into position.

16:36 CEST   
It is a group of near 40 that are going to fight out on the streets of Wevelgem.

16:36 CEST   
Liquigas surge.

16:37 CEST   
Rabo is doing the most of the work.

Here we go.

16:37 CEST   
Freire charges early down the right side, with 500metres to go.

16:37 CEST   
The Spaniard is going to hold 'em off.

16:38 CEST   
He gets it with a small gap.

16:39 CEST   
There was a Bouygues Telecom rider who tried to stop the three-time World Champ, but to no avail.

16:39 CEST   
Boonen finished third, we think.

16:40 CEST   
Freire is the first Spaniard to win the Gent-Wevelgem.

16:49 CEST   
Thanks for joining us today, please check our report for full report and results.



1 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank