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89th Ronde van Vlaanderen - PT
Belgium, April 3, 2005
Good morning and welcome to the Cyclingnews coverage of Flanders' Finest, the 89th Ronde van Vlaanderen. The riders are now gathered in the attractive mediaeval (if somewhat over-restored) Grote Markt in Brugge. Belgium is still a predominantly Catholic country and a minute's silence will precede the ceremonial start in memoriam for the late Pope. There will be a 20-minute or so neutralised procession to the start proper on the outskirts of Brugge, close to the rather less picturesque bypass.
We have the expected 196 starters; notable absentees include world champion Oscar Freire, who was prepared to ride with saddle sores, but not with a fluey cold on top of that, ProTour leader Alessandro Petacchi, who just didn't fancy it, and Danilo Hondo who is suffering from one of those positive dope tests. The weather is mild, expected to warm up to a pleasant 20°C (that's 293 kelvin, for you physicists out there) later. The wind is southerly, which will be a crosswind for much of the day, but it's not particularly strong. There's a chance of rain showers later, but it's not going to be one of those Rondes.
10:22 CEST 8km/248km to go Correction, that's 196 out of a possible 200: 25 8-rider teams. Claudio Corioni (Fassa Bortolo) is one of those missing, but we're still investigating the others.
For those who aren't familiar with the pattern of this opening section the race, the riders are now heading westwards at a gentle tempo (delayed slightly by an unconnected road accident after 4 km) to within sight of the sea at Ostend (18 km), before turning southeast to Kortrijk and Oudenaarde (111 km); apart from the odd patch of mild urban pavé and the possibility of an open swing bridge or closed level crossing here and there, there are no real difficulties at all for the riders. After Oudenaarde the course zigzags back and forth across the so-called "Vlaamse Ardennen", the little patch of rolling country that features in so many Flemish races. There are a couple of substantial flat cobbled sections before the first of the officially classified climbs is reached at 143 km. So, in other words, don't expect too much action (apart from the usual suicide breakaways) for the next three or four hours.
10:34 CEST 14km/242km to go The race has woken up a bit, with a short-lived attack by Gerrans, Lochowski and Becke followed by an effort by MrBookmaker.com veteran Erwin Thijs, which doesn't get anywhere much either.
10:45 CEST 25km/231km to go We spoke to Scott Sunderland, CSC team director at the start this morning. "The boys are ready; eager to start the race. Everyone slept well and they're focused as always. It's a beautiful sunny day so there will be an immense crowd lining the roads; it's going to be an awesome feeling for those guys competing here for the first time. Bjarne (Riis, whose birthday is today) is next to me in the car today, there's no stress to be felt as yet but that might change later on."
11:06 CEST 44km/212km to go The average speed over
the first hour has been a steady but unspectacular 40 kph or so. The bunch is
still all together.
11:41 CEST 54km/202km to go The field are not ready to let the leading duo get very far out of sight, and the duo are still holding on to a slender quarter of a minute's lead.
12:15 CEST 95km/161km to go It's not Ludo's day today, and the pair have been caught; a new break of six (David Boucher, Samuele Marzoli, Francis Mourey, Constantino Zaballa, Carlos Barredo Llamazales and one other rider) has formed on the run into the Kortrijk-Harelbeke-Waregem area, where the race is on urban streets for a good 10 or 15 km. The first two hours covered 86 kilometres, so a healthy 43 kph average.
12:32 CEST 96km/160km to go In Waregem a new statue in honour of former world champion and double Ronde winner (in 1942 and 1948) Briek Schotte who died a year ago was unveiled as the race passed. The six-man break has now pulled away further and a couple of unidentifiable riders are trying to get across the gap to them.
12:43 CEST The mystery rider turns out to be Magnus Backstedt (Liquigas), who is on the attack despite what he told us yesterday. "The Ronde comes a bit too early for me. I caught the flu after the Tour de Med and I was sick for three weeks. It was a real set-back, but I can feel I'm getting better as days pass. I'll be very pleased with myself if I finish top 15 in this RVV. I'm looking forward to Paris-Roubaix though." One of the two chasers is Backstedt's teammate Marco Zanotti. In the bunch, Rabobank's Bram Tankink has tangled with Manuel Quinziato (Saunier Duval) and crashed.
12:54 CEST 111km/145km to go It was actually Angelo Furlan rather than Zanotti trying to bridge the gap, and after his companion Benny De Schrooder punctured on the first long pave section at Doorn, he gave up the effort. Ahead of them, Carlos Barredo has been dropped by the leaders. Last year's winner, Steffen Wesemann, has packed! He was unwell during the Driedaagse van De Panne and seems not to have recovered.
13:28 CEST 143km/113km to go Approaching the first of the seventeen categorised hills, the Molenberg - just a short pitch at 325 m in length, but narrow with a tight turn in at the foot and with pretty rough pavé, so not a good place to be stuck at the back of the group. In the main field, Armstrong is not making that mistake. Mourey leads the break over the top of the climb and onto the fast descent on narrow winding lanes that follows.
13:37 CEST The bunch is now 4.35 mins. behind the leaders and has just passed yet another one of these nasty climbs. Lotto-Davitamon is making the pace, the field is stretched out. Still sunny!
13:39 CEST Servais Knaven is taking over the lead work. Fassa, Lotto, Cofidis, T-Mobile... they're all up front, working hard. Yet another cobblestone passage now, and the field is struggling to get inside the narrow path at a 90° right turn. All in there now.
13:41 CEST Belgian spectators and Lion of Flanders flags all over the place on this beautiful day! The bunch has left the cobblestones behind and Erik Zabel is leading out, with two Lotto guys.
13:46 CEST The lead group is climbing the Wolvenberg now. All five of them still look pretty fresh, but with the chasing field behind, who knows how far they will get?
13:51 CEST 157km/99km to go The leaders are still 4 mins. away. Discovery Chaneel is at the front chasing now, together with T-Mobile. They're on a wide, flat and smooth road now. Some are eating, the pace has slowed a little.
13:55 CEST 161km/95km to go Thomas Voeckler has launched a counter-attack! The French champion is full of surprises and wants to honour his jersey. he's driving full speed ahead...
13:58 CEST 163km/93km to go Erik Dekker is at the back of the bunch, enjoying a drink out of his water bottle. He told Cyclingnews this morning: "I hope to finish on the podium today," - better get to the front at some point, then! Grabsch (Wiesenhof) is also trying to get away.
13:59 CEST The riders look at each other, no chase is on at the moment. Some talk to their DS... Matthew Hayman punctured and is calling for his team car at the back.
14:01 CEST 164km/92km to go Bäckstedt is taking his turn leading the break now, while Grabsch is joining Voeckler slowly. The French man is waiting for him, too.
14:04 CEST 166km/90km to go The peloton is right behind, they won't get far. It appears that Marzoli dropped from the break in front, too.
14:12 CEST 170km/86km to go After the last relatively easy stretch down the valley of the Leie, the field are now approaching the Oude Kwaremont; the bunch are jockeying for position, because it's another bad place to get stuck at the back. The four leaders are now on the cobbles. As the bunch turn from the wide Stationstraat into the lane up to Kwaremont, several riders tangle, including Laurent Brochard, who has problems with his front wheel.
14:15 CEST 172km/84km to go On the bottom of the climb the peloton are riding tempo, with QuickStep and Lotto in numbers up the front, along with Erik Dekker. The main bunch has lost quite a few riders already, and is down to 100 or so riders. Ahead, Barredo, Backstedt and Zaballa have dropped their companions as they reach the artists' village of Kwaremont itself.
14:18 CEST 82km/174km to go The bunch come off the cobbles onto Ronde van Vlaanderenstraat, with the tempo on the climb having strung the bunch out quite considerably, but there is an easing up. The four leaders (Boucher back with them) are back down to 3 minutes in front, and are already on the next climb, the Paterberg.
14:21 CEST 177km/79km to go Zaballa leads the race up the 20% pitch of the Paterberg, packed with crowds leaving only a narrow space to pass; behind him Backstedt and Boucher get tangled up and grind to a halt, but the spectators' helping (?) hands get them back moving again.
14:27 CEST 180km/76km to go Four QuickStep riders are putting the pressure on the Paterberg; they haven't split the field, but the elastic must be getting very stretched for the riders at the back of the line, slowed by the bottleneck through the crowds (who seemed to be the wrong side of the barriers) and forced to chase. With the climbs coming think and fast - just 7 km to the Koppenberg from the Paterberg - there is precious little time to recover. The break are now just 2 minutes up, and as the race sweeps back down to the valley there are little splits in the line, with a significant gap behind a front group of 30 or so.
14:30 CEST 182km/74km to go The four leaders are now at the foot of the Koppenberg with its 22% gradient and cobbles. Boucher is in trouble and all over the road; Backstedt has a lot of weight to drag up there as well, and it is again Zaballa looking strongest.
14:35 CEST The little gap at the front of the bunch is looking a bit bigger as they tackle the Koppenberg, but not decisive yet. Thankfully here the crowd are better restrained than they were on the Paterberg. A couple of riders in the back half of the main field end up pushing and there is a long straggle of riders who don't look as though they will be doing much of significance from here on. In the front group we have pre-race favourite Tom Boonen, Peter Van Petegem, Erik Dekker, Juan Antonio Flecha, Filippo Pozzato. Armstrong was towards the front of the group behind the split.
14:42 CEST 188km/68km to go Boucher does not make it back this time, and the leading trio is now on the Steenbeekdries, 800 metres of relatively mild 12%; behind them the bunch is on the flat cobbles of the Mariaborrestraat> Once more it is Zaballa who takes the summit first (this break will certainly be caught, but there is a prize for the climbs...) Behind there has been a regrouping and about 100 riders are together, but a couple are trying to get across the gap; Gregorz Rast and Andreas Klier.
14:46 CEST Did I say Klier? No, it seems to be Erik Zabel himself who has gone on the attack, and has dropped Rast. On the Taaienberg now, another stuff cobbled climb with less than totally secure crowd control. The bunch has caught Rast, and is now mopping up Zabel.
14:51 CEST 194km/62km to go The three leaders now have less than a minute; they will probably be caught on the Eikenberg. However, the legacy of Zabel's move is that there is a group of 15 or so ahead of the main field with many of the big names, but it doesn't look as though anyone is prepared to work to keep them away yet. They are caught as the three leaders hit the Eikenberg cobbles.
14:56 CEST 196km/60km to go Zaballa pockets the points once again on the Eikenberg. Ivanov and Van Petegem lead the string up behind them. Over the top there is a flurry of attacks in front, with and FDJ.com rider and a Lotto, countered by another trio
14:58 CEST 199km/57km to go The next climb is the relatively anodyne Boigneberg; no cobbles here. Backstedt is dropped early on - a good bit of training for next weekend accomplished, I guess, so it's just Barredo and Zaballa in front now. Behind it seems to be back together again, and there us a bit of looking about; the gap is down to 38 seconds.
15:05 CEST Erik Zabel has another go - he is either feeling remarkably strong or he's trying to break the race up for someone else. Erik Dekker is fast to counter, and there is a bit of a split, with a group of 6 forming, also including O'Grady for those who were asking where he was. Backstedt is back with the leaders. Not sure that it's worth the effort, but it gets the sponsor's name on TV.
15:10 CEST 206km/50km to go The three leaders are looking around to see when they will get caught, as they come up to climb 10, the Foreest. The Zabel attack did not force a lasting split in the remaining main bunch of 60-odd riders, but Telekom are repeating attacks. Roger Hammond (Discovery Channel) is up near the front. Zaballa rides away on the climb again. Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile) has a gap ahead of the bunch which has eased up slightly; Ballan gets across to him and they collect Backstedt. Zaballa goes over the summit alone and is sole leader now.
15:16 CEST Behind there is again a small group forming just ahead of the main field; Zabel, Hammond, and O'Grady are in there. Burghardt et al have caught Barredo; just Zaballa out the front on his own now. The weather is, despite the forecast, perfectly sunny without a cloud in the sky. Statistics show that despite every impression you get, it only rains in one Ronde in three.
15:18 CEST 209km/47km to go Ballan has attacked alone from the Burghardt group and catches Zaballa and leaves him for dead.
15:21 CEST 212km/44km to go With everybody apart from
15:24 CEST 214km/42km to go At the foot of the Leberg, Burghardt, Backstedt and Barredo are mopped up by the bunch, so there are just two in front now. The bunch have eased and a fair number of riders have come back together; probably 60. There is a lot of looking at each other; a Gerolsteiner rider is the next to try and break the deadlock.
15:32 CEST 219km/37km to go The two leaders are now approaching the Berendries , the site of many decisive moves in the past. The climb is packed with spectators; Ballan dances away from Zaballa who looks like he's probably cooked this time. They still have 40 seconds or so ahead of the bunch, who have not been making it as hard as they might. Lance Armstrong moves to the front of the field; looks like he's going to try and tear it up a bit. Ahead of them Karsten Kroon has jumped clear. As Kroon catches Zaballa the Spaniard hits the deck, but he is up and continuing with the bunch.
15:36 CEST 223km/33km to go Kroon sits up and is caught on the run down towards Brakel (the Ronde's "official town" this year, and home to, inter alia, Robbie McEwen and Peter Van Petegem). Ballan's lead is up to a minute now; it's brave move but a long way on your own unless the stars really do cancel out all each other's moves.
15:40 CEST 224km/32km to go This year the Valkenberg climb has been added back into the final section of the course (for quite a while previously the race had gone straight down to the foot of the Tenbossestraat in Brakel. And Klier attacks, and Boonen and Van Petegem go with him this time. Behind them, riders are struggling to get across Fle3cha and another T-Mobile make it, and Ballan's lead is suddenly down to half a minute.
15:47 CEST 230km/26km to go The fifth rider is the evergreen Erik Zabel, but it's Roberto Petito not Flecha. They collect Ballan, and all of a sudden this looks like it might be the move. But behind them Armstrong is riding in what looks like a superdomestique role pulling the bunch along, with a gaggle of recalcitrant QuickStep and Lotto riders marking him. Petito isn't working, and Ballan is understandably just hanging on. Onto the Tenbossestraat now and Van Petegem is forcing the pace. Behind them, bizarrely, Ivanov accelerates out of the bunch, despite having two team-mates just 17 seconds up the road, with Hincapie on his wheel. Armstrong goes straight out of the back of the bunch.
15:54 CEST 233km/23km to go The two Germans and the two Belgians are working together, and Ballan is doing a bit, but Petito is sitting firmly on the back on the long draggy road from Brakel to Geraardsbergen; nobody tries to make a move on the little rise known as the Parikeberg which sometimes provides an opportunity for riders with some local knowledge. Behind them the chase is rather fragmented; Ivanov appears not to have continued his inexplicable effort, and the Rabobank and Discovery riders are being well marked by the team-mates of the men in front.
15:57 CEST 237km/19km to go The gap has stretched out to over 45 seconds, but the rest of the break are trying to make life a bit difficult for the non-working Petito by opening gaps in front of him, so they aren't going absolutely flat out yet.
15:59 CEST 238km/18km to go In the last couple of kilometres before the race hits Geraardsbergen and the resurfaced Muur, the break take turns to call up their team cars for their last chance for a new bottle. Into Geraardsbergen and they are at the foot of the Muur now, the two Belgians at the front.
16:05 CEST 240km/16km to go The newly resurfaced Muur is less of an obstacle than it has been at times, but that has not stopped the entire population of East Flanders from coming out to stand on its slopes. Nobody tries anything on the first sections of pave through the town, and Van Petegem leads onto the steepest section. De Peet looks very relaxed and stretches it around the hard left-hander and up to the chapel; Zabel and Petito are dropped. Behind them, Flecha and Hincapie are well up in the chase, around a minute down. Petito and then Zabel make it back to the four leaders soon after the summit, however, and the Muur has not been decisive this year.
16:10 CEST 244km/12km to go On to the final climb now, the long, cobbled Bosberg. The nerves are showing ahead, but there doesn't seem to be anyone coming up from behind; this is a long straight road, though, and the leaders' convoy should be visible from behind. Klier attacks on the climb; Petito and Zabel are in trouble again. Then Boonen comes though, with Van Petegem on his wheel, to take the top of the climb ahead. There is a moment of pause, though, and Petito and Zabel make it back within a few hundred metres of the summit.
16:12 CEST 246km/10km to go Petito attacks, but Klier is on his wheel straight away. Zabel is either the weakest link, or wants the others to think so. Van Petegem and Boonen look to be cancelling each other out; Ballan should be stuffed but is obviously strong.
16:15 CEST 247km/9km to go Van Petegem attacks, Boonen goes on his wheel; Van Petegem sits up, and Boonen jumps clear. He has a 50metre gap; Van Petegem resumes the chase, but is caught.
16:16 CEST 249km/7km to go The gap is a slim 6 seconds, but that has proved sustainable in the finale of this race many times before, the others are chasing together now, but not making much impression yet; then again, they may want to wear him out before a sprint...
16:17 CEST 251km/5km to go Boonen is strong, rolling a bit in the saddle and sitting a long way forward on the saddle, but edging away from the five chasers a painful second at a time.
16:19 CEST 252km/4km to go Klier is cooked; the chase is not organised - Van Petegem tries to jump clear and is countered by Zabel. 10 seconds for Boonen.
16:20 CEST 253km/3km to go Van Petegem jumps again, but is caught, then Petito counters and gets a gap, but Boonen is still going away.
16:21 CEST 255km/1km to go Petito is caught, and the quartet are racing for second now. Boonen has 12 seconds as he comes to the penultimate corner and the flamme rouge
16:25 CEST Finish Boonen turns into the Hallebaan still riding hard in the final metres. He is crying, and overcome with enough emotion to forget to zip his vest up as he takes the victory salute over the line. He has earned himself a fine win in a traditional Flandrien style, and is mobbed by press photographers, also in the traditional Flandrien style.
Surprisingly, Andreas Klier made it back to the chasers at the death and jumps clear to take second ahead of Van Petegem, Zabel, Petito and Ballan; George Hincapie leads in the third group to take seventh.
A fine win - and we won't be too surprised to see a few more in big classics from Boonen - and undoubtedly a popular one in this somewhat chauvinistic heartland of cycling where this race is the centrepiece of a massive popular festival, and where the cycling news of late has mostly been rather negative. Of the 89 Rondes run to date, that is the 63rd to have been won by a Belgian rider (and about the 60th by a Fleming...).
Provisional 1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step 6.22.49 2 Andreas Klier (Ger) T-Mobile 0.10 3 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 0.15 4 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile 5 Roberto Petito (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 6 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre 7 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 1.00