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50th E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - 1.HC

Belgium, March 31, 2007

Live commentary by Gregor Brown, with support from Brecht Decaluwé

14:38 CEST   
Welcome to Cyclingnews' coverage of the 50th E3 Prijs. We are here in lovely Harelbeke where the weather 15°C and sunny!

14:41 CEST   
The race starts and ends in this town, Harelbeke. This morning there was a warm welcome for the riders as they lined up for the start. Of course Tom Boonen received a huge round of applause but also Nico Mattan (DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed), who is from this area.

Tom Boonen wasn't easy to spot
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

14:45 CEST   
To celebrate the fifty years there was a massive party in Harelbeke on Thursday night. Belgian beer was being poured for free all night.

Although this race lacks the depth of history as the Ronde, next Sunday, it serves as an excellent indicator of who is in form. The parcours are very similar to Ronde Van Vlaanderen. In fact, two-time Ronde winner, Boonen, has won here the last three years.

14:46 CEST   
In the first hour of racing the pace was slow but then the attacks came. Many moves were attempted but none materialized.

Paolo Bettini (Quickstep-Innergetic) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) both experienced flat tires during the early hours.

14:54 CEST    88km to go
We are at 88km to go and still it is 'gruppo compatto' or all together. The first berg comes at km 111, the La Houppe.

Note, in Flemish these bergs are known as Hellingen, and in French, Côtes, but we are in Flanders so we can call them Hellingen. There are 12 Hellingen on tap today.

Fuchsia colours
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

14:55 CEST   
The E3 Prijs Vlaanderen's distance is roughly 50 kilometres shorter than next weekend's Ronde, but will feature many of the same torturous hellingen, like the Oude Kwaremont. The climb, with 1500 metres of cobbles at 4.2 per cent average gradient, leaves 34 kilometres and two paved bergs to go, Knokteberg and Tiegemberg, and could provide a perfect launch pad for a race winning attack.

15:01 CEST    119km/84km to go
David Rodriguez (Navigators Insurance) has abandoned. After losing his contact lenses while racing he could not see and crashed. He is reported as "fine."

15:04 CEST    126km/77km to go
Skil-Shimano is driving the pace on the front of the peloton. The riders have covered the Houppe. The Berg Stene is coming up next.

Steffen Wesemann (Wiesenhof-Felt) has abandoned.

15:05 CEST    128km/75km to go
The riders are on the short cobbled section of 300 metres. Skil-Shimano is still powering on the front.

15:06 CEST   
Mathieu Heijboer (Cofidis) stops to change his rear wheel.

Stuart O'Grady is enjoying his good form
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

15:09 CEST   
Before the start Brecht Decaluwé of Cyclingnews spoke with Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) about his form. "I'm in really good form and every race I'm trying things which could help me for the Tour of Flanders. To me this is all mainly just a build up towards the real Classics, but if I can win one of these Semi-Classics I'd be happy to claim it. Fabian [Cancellara] is really coming up good as well."

15:13 CEST    132km/71km to go
What a lovely day here. Last week it seemed as though winter moved into Europe but now the sun is back and the riders are without knee-warmers or arm-warmers. Some do have shoe covers, and all have helmets!

The peloton has slowed a bit. It is fanned across the road. They have just entered the cobble section of Varent, 370m long.

15:15 CEST    134km/69km to go
Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC) takes the grassy path. The Swiss was bumped and had to go off-road for a little while. He showed the bike handling skills that won him the Paris-Roubaix one year ago.

15:18 CEST    136km/67km to go
On the Boigneberg the back of the peloton is a mess. The riders who slow down cause the others to put their feet down to keep from falling over. Up front the riders are five abreast across the road.

15:21 CEST   
"I'm the on-site DS for the Cyclingnews team," noted Belgian Nico Mattan (DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed) to Brecht Decaluwé before the start. "I try to guide my teammates; explaining to them where to watch out.

"Sadly enough, I haven't been able to play my role in a finale this year so I don't know how far I can go today. It's not easy to fight against the Quick-Step supremacy. Tactics to win the race? Well, I'll try not to wait until the finale begins because then I'll fall short against the really big guns.

15:23 CEST    139km/64km to go
Jurgen Van Goolen (Discovery Channel) just went off the left side of the road with three others. He looks fine and has re-joined. But Bert Scheirlinckx (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner) took a bad spill and will likely abandon. He was noted to be in good form before the race start.

15:25 CEST   
"Actually I tried to prepare myself for the race of tomorrow, the Brabantse Pijl," said Nico Sijmens (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner) to Brecht Decaluwé. "I'm doing alright with a win in the Beverbeek Classic earlier this month."

15:26 CEST    141km/62km to go
O'Grady flats on a cobbled section. He is chasing to get back on after a teammate stopped to help him.

Quick-Step is hammering on the front, left-side. Michael Boogard of Rabobank is off to the right, on his own!

15:28 CEST   
Enrico Gasparotto (Liquigas), Nico Sijmens (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner) and Lars Michaelsen (Team CSC) at 96 kilometres to go. Gasparotto will target tomorrow's race.

15:29 CEST    142km/61km to go
Marcel Sieberg (Milram) has a gap.

15:31 CEST   
"I hope we can support Nico Mattan for a while as he's going alright," noted Björn Cornelissen (DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed). "I hope to slip along with a breakaway before the hills section. If you do well over here we get in the team for the 'Driedaagse De Panne' and by doing those races you're just getting faster."

15:33 CEST    145km/58km to go
The peloton is on a tough bit of cobbles. It is a slightly uphill run that is burning up the legs. Discovery is on the front along with Quick-Step and Predictor.

15:34 CEST   
The peloton is all strung out here. Sieberg has been swallowed and spat out the back.

15:34 CEST   
Devolder gives a dig off the front.

15:36 CEST    147km/56km to go
Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) is joined by Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux) and Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas).

15:38 CEST   
The two Belgians are leading the way for the Italian. Quinziato showed great form in Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen. He and Luca Paolini are leading the Liquigas squad today.

15:40 CEST    150km/53km to go
Boonen is charging hard on the Taaienberg. Wow, what a turn of speed he is showing. He and a T-mobile riders are bridging to the three up front.

15:40 CEST    150km/53km to go
Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile) is with Boonen and they join the three.

15:42 CEST    150km/53km to go
Marcus Burghardt is one big German! He, along with Gasparotto, were charging hard in the Dwars on Wednesday.

Cancellara is now chasing solo!

15:43 CEST    152km/51km to go
Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC), the World TT Champ, is using his leg speed to motor to the five up front. Folks, we have our race winning move!

15:45 CEST   
What a massive move! That was very impressive and Fabian will now need to sit on the back of this group, now at 6, and recover a bit.

15:46 CEST   
Please write in and let us know what you think of this race winning move. Will Lampre close the gap for Ballan? Baldato is on the front now trying to do just that for the rider from Veneto.

15:47 CEST    155km/48km to go
The group of six have 28 seconds. World Champ Bettini is tucked in the pack and will be happy for his teammate, Boonen, up front.

15:50 CEST    158km/45km to go
The six are working well. They are rotating in a counter-clockwise motion, which means the wind is coming from their left side. The gap is at 25".

15:52 CEST    157km/46km to go
The riders are on the Oude Kruiskens, which contains 900m of cobbles!

15:53 CEST   
The riders are bobbing their heads, really grinding up this climb.

At the top O'Grady charges off the front.

15:54 CEST   
If Aussie O'Grady bridges then we would have two CSC's up front. Not a good situation for the other teams.

15:57 CEST   
Fabian Wegmann at the start noted that "During Milano - Sanremo there was bad luck all around for our team and I also crashed in the Tirreno-Adriatico, and it still hurts a fair bit.

"I'm trying to get in shape for the Flèche Wallonne and this year I choose to race over here instead of the stage race in the Basque Country. It is the first time I raced on cobbled roads as a professional so we'll have to see how it goes," Wegmann doubted his chances for today. "But it's all mainly a build up towards the Flèche Wallonne."

Predictor and Astana are chasing the group up front. O'Grady is about ready to join the escape and it will make seven men in the front.

15:59 CEST   
Sorry, that was Cancellara! The big Swiss is dropping back to help O'Grady bridge! CSC is taking control of this race.

16:00 CEST    163km/40km to go
The duo have bridged with the five others; we now have seven and CSC dominance.

16:03 CEST    166km/37km to go
Tom Boonen is charging up the Paterberg. While up front O'Grady was dropped!

16:04 CEST   
Freire and Bettini are off the front at the top! Boonen is leading up front.

16:06 CEST    168km/35km to go
Freire and Bettini have joined O'Grady. Freire is forced to do more work as Rabobank does not have a rider up front.

16:09 CEST    170km/33km to go
The riders are on the famed and cobbled Oude Kwaremont. 2200m long with 1500m of pavé.

Freire is suffering here.

16:10 CEST   
Freire's body is shaking. Bettini leads and O'Grady is in between.

16:13 CEST   
Boonen is looking so powerful up front. He is doing large pulls. Boonen and Gilbert split the love amongst the fans in Belgium. Boonen represents Flanders and Gilbert Wallonne.

Belgian Champ Niko Eeckhout (Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen) abandoned; aka 'Rabo.'

16:14 CEST    172km/31km to go
Freire has been caught.

16:15 CEST   
His teammate Boogard moves up front in his Dutch Champ jersey. The Dutch fans must be going mad over in Holland as Michael Boogard is very popular.

16:16 CEST    173km/30km to go
Bettini is going to join the group up front with O'Grady. In fact, it is Boonen who is dropping back to pace up the World Champ.

Now Quick-step and CSC both have two riders.

16:18 CEST    175km/28km to go
Ballan is bridging with a small group.

16:21 CEST    178km/25km to go
Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital), Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Roy Sentjens (Predictor-Lotto), Baden Cooke (Unibet.com), Serguei Ivanov (Astana), Allan Johansen (Team CSC) are chasing at 13". It is important for some of these guys to give their teams representation in the move.

16:24 CEST    180km/23km to go
The front groups are split by 11 seconds. They will soon join and then we can expect counter-attacks to come.

16:24 CEST   
Bettini attacks!

16:25 CEST   
The riders are firing up the Knokteberg.

Bettini has a gear problem and is dropped! He is out!

16:26 CEST   
Tom Boonen and Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile) press forward.

Bettini's chain broke and it caused a traffic jam on the Knokteberg.

16:31 CEST   
There are now four up front. Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC), Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile), Tom Boonen (Quickstep-Innergetic), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas)

16:32 CEST    185km/18km to go
Boonen looks to be suffering a bit. They are going 35kph into a head-wind. The group of four has 34".

16:35 CEST    188km/15km to go
This is a strong group of men up front but with only 32" and a group of around 10 chasing it is not likely to make it to the finish as four.

The riders are approaching the final climb of the day, the Tiegemberg. It is 1400m at an average of 6.5%.

16:36 CEST   
We can expect an attack soon; likely from Cancellara or Boonen.

16:37 CEST   
The four have 32" and are watching each other closely. The tension is building on the Tiegemberg.

16:38 CEST    189km/14km to go
The four have topped the climb without any warfare. What will happen next? We now have 14km, of mostly flats, remaining.

16:40 CEST    191km/12km to go
Rabo leads the charge in the second group with Freire and Boogy. They need to close this gap (33") very soon.

16:41 CEST    192km/11km to go
The weather is 15°C and cloudy. The wind is coming from the riders' right on this long stretch of road that they are on.

16:43 CEST    193km/10km to go
Boonen appears to be suffering from back problems. He keeps getting out of the saddle and looks uncomfortable.

The second group is at 1'50"

16:49 CEST    197km/6km to go
The tension continues to build. The four are working well but someone has to attack soon. Boonen is the best sprinter here in this group but Quinziato also has a mean kick.

16:50 CEST    199km/4km to go
It is Quinziato followed by Boonen, Cancellara and Burghardt; they are rotating in a counter-clockwise fashion.

16:52 CEST   
There is a strong tail-wind at the finish line here in Harelbeke.

Also, Gert Steegmans just passed, he has abandoned.

16:54 CEST    201km/2km to go
The riders have entered the city limits. The order is Cancellara, Burghardt, Quinziato and Boonen.

16:55 CEST   
The city bells are ringing for the riders' arrival... We are in the last Km. Burghardt attacks but is caught.

16:55 CEST   
Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) tried a dig, but he too was caught. They are really slowing down.

16:56 CEST   
Quinziato starts the sprint.

16:56 CEST   
Cancellara counters.

16:56 CEST   
But Boonen is building up speed on the Swiss. Boonen is going to get this.

16:58 CEST   
Boonen wins the sprint over Cancellara! Burghardt gets third.

17:05 CEST   
It was an historical win for 'Tommeke'; he became the first rider to win four times in-a-row! Cancellara showed strong but was no match for the 2005 World Champion.

Thanks for joining Cyclingnews for the 50th edition of the E3 Prijs.


1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic
2 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC
3 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) T-Mobile
4 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas
5 Allan Johansen (Den) Team CSC
6 Roy Sentjens (Bel) Predictor-Lotto
7 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française Des Jeux
8 Baden Cooke (Aus) Unibet.com
9 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC
10 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre-Fondital