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51st E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - 1.HC

Belgium, March 29, 2008

Complete Live report

Live commentary by Bjorn Haake

14:31 CET   
Hello and welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage from the heart of Flanders. Today's E3 Prijs Vlaanderen is one of the last opportunities for the racers to get familiar with each individual cobble stone before the big one, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Sunday in a week. With Dwars van Vlaanderen last Wednesday and the Brabantse Pijl tomorrow, the classics season is definitely in full swing here in Belgium. And the tension is building up for the Ronde, so just one thing left to say: Enjoy!

14:35 CET   
One racer did not start today, Alexander Egger (Team Volksbank). The rest of the riders are enjoying a nice, sunny day, a welcome change from the previous week, where people got soaking wet every time they set the foot on a cobble stone.

14:45 CET   
One person at the start is Tom Boonen. The Belgian has won the race for the last four years! He will be eager to win today, but we aren't sure about his form for 2008. He has kept quiet so far, but he could be just in hiding until next Sunday, of course.

Can defending Champion Tom Boonen (Quick Step) make it five today?
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

14:48 CET   
The riders are soon approaching the first climb of the day, la Houppe. It's almost three kilometres in length and averages just above three percent. Good enough for warming up.

14:52 CET   
"My form is good and I have good morale for the next two weeks," confirmed Rabobank's Juan Antonio Flecha to Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown. The Spaniard had just returned from Italy, where he helped Oscar Freire make the winning break in Milano-Sanremo. "Today is a serious race. I will try to do the best I can in this first test in Belgium."

14:54 CET   
Favourites? "The favourites are always the same here in Harelbeke," according to Flecha.

The number one favourite tomorrow, in the Brabantse Pijl, will be Freire. Flecha will form a Spanish one-two for Rabobank and then spend the next week going back over the Ronde van Vlaanderen parcours.

"I will be there tomorrow, and then I will be back again for Flanders. I will preview some of the parcours on Monday. I have already had a chance before Het Volk, where we were able to look at the entire course. [Familiarity] is not a problem for me anymore."

14:58 CET   
The hills that the riders have to deal with today are:

La houppe
Berg Stene
Oude Kruiskens

So no Koppenberg today, but supposedly Fabian Cancellara was training there Thursday, in the rain...

14:59 CET   
Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), winner of last year's Ronde van Vlaanderen, is always happy to talk at the races. He confirmed to Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews that he is building for a repeat win. "Today will be a little bit of training, and then using Three Days De Panne for Flanders." Expect more about the Italian from Castelfranco Veneto in the coming news edition.

15:03 CET   
While Tom Boonen is going for a fifth win today, Oscar Freire (Rabobank) will be trying to make it four in a row tomorrow. Freire has achieved a clean hattrick, having won the last three editions of De Brabantse Pijl. This will automatically qualify him as the hottest favourite for the race on Sunday, in addition to the fact he's a rider to watch in any race he enters. The Spaniard will have breakaway-experienced riders Thomas Dekker and Juan Antonio Flecha with him, who can try to disrupt potentially dangerous moves, but go for the win themselves if a sprint does not materialise for the team captain. The full preview of the race is here

15:06 CET   
"Today is a hard race, it is similar to The Tour of Flanders," confirmed Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld) to Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews. "I don't know what I will do today because I think that tomorrow's Brabantse Pijl is better suited for me.

"I will see what happens today, how hard I will go. Maybe I will save the legs; it depends how I will feel. Last year, I retired in the feed-zone, and the day after I had a good race."

15:06 CET   
"Today is a hard race, it is similar to The Tour of Flanders," confirmed Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld) to Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews. "I don't know what I will do today because I think that tomorrow's Brabantse Pijl is better suited for me.

"I will see what happens today, how hard I will go. Maybe I will save the legs; it depends how I will feel. Last year, I retired in the feed-zone, and the day after I had a good race."

15:10 CET   
The scene at start was fairly relaxed. Freire, Boonen and Cancellara could all be seen smiling and giving some autographs. A dozen people were lifted up in the air, chairs and table included, some 30 metres and enjoying their lunch! We hope the meal was heavy enough that there was no risk of blowing off the table.

15:11 CET    132km/71km to go
We are a good 70 kilometres form the finish and there is a break pedaling ahead of the peloton with an advantage of about four and half minutes.

15:14 CET    134km/69km to go
The peloton is on the second climb of the day, the Berg Stene. Not a very difficult climb, but enough to make the legs a bit more tired for later in the race.

15:19 CET    137km/66km to go
The front group is a good dozen strong and includes Michael Schär (Astana), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC), Wim Vansevenant (Silence-Lotto), Mauro Da Dalto (Liquigas) and Janek Tombak (Mitsubishi-Jartazi), among others. The lead is around 4'15, as some riders in the peloton take a short cut through the meadow on a right hand bend. With the roads being narrow, this is the best way to get closer to the front front. It is hard to pass otherwise.

15:21 CET   
"I had a good experience last Wednesday in Dwars," Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) noted to Gregor Brown. "I had good legs there, and I hope to have a good race today. The team is ready, and I am ready. We will work with Tom Boonen as a leader, and if possible I will have my chance in the finale."

He raced in Tirreno-Adriatico in the last week. "My trip to Italy was good. I was a little sick beforehand, but we had good weather there and I came away with good condition."

Following the E3 Prijs, Devolder will race in Three Days of De Panne and then Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. "De Panne is important, but the main thing for me is Flanders and Roubaix. I will want to wear the Belgian champion jersey in the Tour de Flanders. It is very important for me."

15:29 CET    143km/60km to go
The peloton hits the Eikenberg, with Rabobank's Flecha leading and Tom Boonen right behind him. The lead of the front group has gone up by half a minute and is now close to 5 minutes.

15:31 CET   
Andy Capelle is in the break and had a rear-wheel puncture. He was quite unhappy with the team car not coming up quick enough.

15:33 CET   
Bernhard Eisel (High Road) is slightly ahead of the break, as they make their way up the Stationsberg. There are some clouds, but it is dry, which nice, especially on those cobbled climbs,

15:36 CET    146km/57km to go
The front group includes Janek Tombak (Mitsubishi-Jartazi), Franck Renier (Bouygues Telecom), Jan Kuyckx and Andy Capelle (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner), Bernhard Eisel (High Road), Michael Schär (Astana), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC), Wim Vansevenant (Silence-Lotto), Gert Steegmans (Quick Step), Mauro Da Dalto (Liquigas), Janek Tombak (Mitsubishi-Jartazi). The gap has decreased a little bit again, as the peloton is getting serious. Lots of riders are out of the saddle and desperately trying to keep up with the backend of the main bunch.

15:37 CET   
The peloton is now hitting the Stationsberg, some four minutes after the break. It is Rabobank and CSC, with Skil Shimano and Quick Step right behind. The wind is coming from the left, so the riders form their echelon accordingly.

15:39 CET   
Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) told Cyclingnews Brecht Decaluwé before the race: "We shall see how it goes today. My thigh is still looking dark blue and my back hurts as well. The biggest problem is right now at the start. Everybody wants to give me a friendly knock on the back to say hello, it's terrible," Steegmans said.

"In the past I could get ready outside the team bus without a problem but that's no longer possible."

"As soon as the first attacks are launched I'll know how my body reacts. Let's hope it goes well because it would be such a shame to miss out on the true Spring Classics."

15:40 CET   
Steegmans knows now, as he is in the break! This will mean even more people want to pad his back in the next races. A vicious cycle!

15:41 CET    149km/54km to go
And Steegmans attacks on the Taaienberg! The cobbles are in bad shape, but Steegmans makes it look like it's pavement. Eisel is the only who can catch up with the Belgian for now.

15:42 CET   
The spectators form a small corridor on the climb, moving away in the last moment. Not quite like in some of the mountain stages in the Tour, but it does look a bit scary at times.

15:43 CET   
Ouch, one spectator is actually trying to put a sticker on Steegmans' helmet. Crazy guys!!!

15:44 CET   
And now it is none other than Tom Boonen to attack on the Taaienberg! And who comes up in the gutter? Fabian Cancellara. Wow.

15:46 CET    152km/51km to go
Boonen is leading now as the Swiss is following the Belgian through the gutter. It's always nice to avoid the cobbles, but sometimes it's not possible with the spectators. The duo is less than three minutes behind the leaders, and have a good gap to the peloton, too.

15:46 CET   
Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) is trying to come up to the duo. He is a good power rider.

15:49 CET   
Flecha is having a hard time. He seemed to have been closing in well, but then the road went upwards and he is now struggling and going backwards.

15:49 CET    154km/49km to go
Franzoi (Liquigas) is leading the peloton, as Flecha is reeled back in.

15:51 CET   
Boonen and Cancellara have about a half minute on the peloton. Lotto is trying to organise a chase. Racing at its finest!

15:53 CET    156km/47km to go
There is a lot of looking around now in the peloton. Who will work? Who will try to do a move like Boonen and Cancellara and try to bridge up? The Swiss and the Belgian are sharing the lead work and look almost effortless as they pedal along the Belgian country side, carefully avoiding the puddles.

15:56 CET    158km/45km to go
The break is on the Oude Kruiskens. More cobbles to shake the riders. But with their speeds the suffering never lasts too long. It is incredible how quickly they go up these hellingen. But it is too fast for some riders, as they drop off the pace.

15:58 CET   
A lot of work is now done by Roy Sentjens (Silence-Lotto). But on the climb Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis) attacks, similarly to what he did on Wednesday in the Dwars van Vlaanderen.

16:02 CET   
It is Eisel again who wanders off the front in the break, while Boonen and Cancellara calmly get closer to the front, still maintaining a good half minute over the peloton.

16:03 CET    162km/41km to go
It is actually Thomas Voeckler in the break, and he attacks on a little rise! Even Eisel doesn't have an answer for that and the Frenchman gets a good gap quickly.

16:04 CET   
Stuart O'Grady is close to the front of the peloton, together with Stijn Devolder (Quick Step).

16:06 CET   
Cancellara and Boonen still look like they are out on a Sunday stroll. They are only 90 seconds behind the lead group now, and over 45 seconds ahead of the peloton, which is now led by Française des Jeux.

16:08 CET   
Voeckler is reaching the Paterberg. It's almost as steep at the Koppenberg, but has a nice gutter, so he can avoid the cobbles. Except for the part where there is a lot of dirt, but after a quick switch over to the cobbles he is back on the left hand side.

16:09 CET    166km/37km to go
The spectators are nice enough to leave the gutter available for the riders. On the top there is a sharp left, which most people have no trouble making, the speed reduced to close stand still.

16:09 CET   
But those guys are going up really fast, Eisel leading the break. Boonen and Cancellara are on the bottom now.

16:10 CET   
They pass Mauro Da Dalto (Liquigas), who was in the break. And Boonen gaps the Swiss rider a bit! Boonen is very comfortable with the cobbles.

16:12 CET    168km/35km to go
The peloton climbs up. Erik Zabel is in the field. The gap between the chasing duo and the front group is 1'39, so it has been going out again slightly since the last check. Voeckler's adventure on the front is over.

16:14 CET   
Three more climbs to go! The Kwaremont is the next one, followed by the Knokteberg and the Tiegemberg.

Current race situation

  • Group of about 15, including Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Janek Tombak (Mitsubishi-Jartazi), Jan Kuyckx and Andy Capelle (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner), Bernhard Eisel (High Road), Michael Schär (Astana), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC), Wim Vansevenant (Silence-Lotto), Gert Steegmans (Quick Step), Mauro Da Dalto (Liquigas), Janek Tombak (Mitsubishi-Jartazi)
  • Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC) at 1.23
  • Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank)
  • Peloton at 2.27

16:17 CET   
On the Oude Kwaremont the front group has shattered. It is now three leaders, with Michael Sch�r (Astana), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC) and Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto)

16:18 CET   
The cobbles on that second part of the climb, which didn't feature in Dwars, is pretty bad and Sch�r is having trouble to follow the pace of the other two.

16:19 CET   
Cancellara and Boonen make their way up the cobbles to. A slight right hand bend and they soon will hit the pavement again. The peloton is breaking up, too, now. Four, five riders are of the front.

16:23 CET   
After the climb there was a bit of regrouping. Six leaders are together, with Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Bernhard Eisel (High Road), Michael Sch�r (Astana), Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Lars Bak (Team CSC), Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto). Sch�r looks tired, as he is leaving a gap and forced to chase back on.

16:24 CET    173km/30km to go
Boonen and Cancellara have reached former breakaway rider Kristof Vandewalle (Topsport Vlaanderen). How long will the Belgian be able to hang on to those two power riders? The gap is down to just a above a minute.

16:27 CET   
Vandewalle is hanging on at the back, not taking a pull. The two others will understand, Vandewalle had been in the break for a while. Vandewalle's DS gives some instructions through the window of his follow car. It is unclear if the Belgian can hear his coach, tired as he is.

16:28 CET    178km/25km to go
A four-man group around Gert Steegmans, which had been dropped earlier, is about to catch up with the front again, making it a ten-rider move.

16:30 CET    179km/24km to go
The break hits the Knoktenberg. Voeckler is leading them up, out of the saddle, but Arvesen takes over. Steegmans at a standstill! It's over for him.

16:31 CET   
David Kopp (Collstrop) has attacked on the front. The break is once again splintering.

16:33 CET   
Van Avermaet is driving the pace behind Kopp. Riders like Eisel are now having a hard time following the vicious tempo over the Flemish roads. Hoste and Devolder, together with Breschel (CSC) and another rider, are trying to catch up with the front now, too. The fourth rider is from Cofidis, looks like Scheirlinckx.

16:34 CET    181km/22km to go
Boonen and Cancellara have dropped their companion. They look a little more serious now and Boonen spits to the right. They are hunched over their handlebar and are still 47 seconds behind the front. Only one more climb for them to catch up

16:38 CET   
Another acceleration has split the front again. There are seven leaders now, with Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Bernhard Eisel (High Road), Michael Sch�r (Astana), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC), Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto), Janek Tombak (Mitsubishi-Jartazi), David Kopp (Collstrop). Boonen and Cancellara are catching Sch�r and Bak.

16:40 CET   
Sch�r is asking for a drink, but he has to be careful. Cancellara is eager to get to the front. Only 22 more seconds, as Vandewalle is dropping back to the Steegmans group. It also incudes Devolder, Hoste and Scheirlinckx.

16:44 CET   
The front group is on the last climb of the day, the Tiegemberg. They are still 30 seconds ahead of the second group. Van Avermaet again, who is out of the saddle and really gives it a go, before Eisel takes over. Why are those guys working so hard they are both good sprinters!

16:45 CET   
Cancellara gives it a sot! A hard acceleration, but Boonen chases him down. A first warning shot by the Swiss.

16:46 CET   
The power duo is not really closing in, the gap is still half a minute. Bak and Sch�r were not able to follow the two. CSC still has Arvesen in the front.

16:48 CET    192km/11km to go
Eisel was a bit dropped, following his attack, and is now making his way back up to the front group. Cancellara and Boonen have been caught by three riders, Bak, Sch�r and the Lotto rider.

16:50 CET   
Sch�r and Arvesen are yoyo-ing at the back. They have been in the break all day. The gap does not change, still half a minute. It will be hard for the chasers to catch, while Arvesen is listening intently to what is said on his race radio. His gestures suggests he either has no connection or doesn't agree with what is said.

16:52 CET    194km/9km to go
Eisel is leaned over his handlebar like a time trial rider. The speeds on the slightly downhill roads are 65 km/h. Nine more kilometres and with still seven at the front, Boonen and Cancellara are unlikely to come back, unless there is too much cat-and-mouse going on. Kopp is leading the break.

16:54 CET   
The Devolder group has caught the Boonen group. As Devolder rides by he shouts something to Boonen and immediately takes over at the front. But the gap is now 42 seconds.

16:56 CET    198km/5km to go
Devolder is pulling hard at the front, gritting his teeth. There is indeed a bit of hesitation in the front group, the only chance now for the chasers. But they pass the 5km to go sign, and it's still over 40 seconds.

16:57 CET    199km/4km to go
Van Avermaet tries to bring some order back and he manages to organise it. Tomak and Kopp are pulling through nicely. But then - attack by Voeckler!

16:57 CET   
He gets 50m, but the chasers are still switching the lead well, and slowly get back to the Frenchman.

16:58 CET   
Immediate counter by Kopp! 3.5 km to go.

16:59 CET    200km/3km to go
Shortly after they pass the 3km to go Kopp is almost caught. But he goes again and now gets a gap. Voeckler chases but looks around for help. This could be good for Kopp!

17:00 CET    201km/2km to go
Arvesen finally counters, with Voeckler on his wheel. But the Frenchman does not take over and Van Avermaet, who has caught up with the two, attacks and is in pursuit of Kopp.

17:00 CET   
Van Avermaet pushes a gigantic gear. He is 100m behind Kopp now.

17:01 CET   
Kopp goes under the railroad tracks. Van Avermaet has been caught again and Arvesen is the next to chase the German. It does look good for Kopp.

17:02 CET   
But Arvesen's counter is promising and he closes in.

17:02 CET   
Arvesen reaches the German and passes him. Kopp looks done.

17:03 CET   
Arvesen takes the wide right and enters the last few hundred metres. He wins it! Kopp can't do anything.

17:06 CET   
Greg Van Avermaet wins the sprint for third, but is visibly upset that it didn't work out. Breschel sprints past Boonen in the sprint behind.

17:13 CET   
Thanks for joining us at our live coverage. We will be back in the first Sunday of April, with the big one, the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Then Cancellara and Boonen will have to actually catch the front group, should they want to win. Until then, tot ziens.


1 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team CSC
2 David Kopp (Ger) Cycle Collstrop
3 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Silence-Lotto
4 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
5 Janek Tombak (Est) Mitsubishi-Jartazi
6 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) High Road
7 Matti Breschel (Den) Team CSC
8 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
9 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick Step
10 Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Cofidis