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Mathieu van der Poel, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak all landed huge wins on breathless day of racing.
Having arrived at the Tour of Flanders, the fourth and final monument of the rescheduled season, it surprised few to see Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) take the honours, emulating his father Adri who won the one-day race in 1986. Few, however, will have foreseen the nature in which world champion Julian Alaphilippe's (Elegant-Quick Step) race and season came to a juddering halt.
Despite Alaphilippe's slight frame, the lightweight puncheur had coped admirably on the cobbled roads and climbs that peppered the 243.3-kilometre route from Antwerp to Oudenaarde. Indeed, the Frenchman at times appeared a natural on the surface that is ordinarily favoured by those with a heavier set than Alaphilippe, a former winner of the mountains classification at the Tour de France.
After making his move on the steepest climb of the day, the Koppenberg that pitches up to gradients of 22 per cent, Alaphilippe caused a split in the leading group, only Van der Poel and the Dutchman's great rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) were able to respond. Having caught Alaphilippe who had teamed up with compatriot Anthony Turgis, the lead group was whittled down to just three as the Total Direct Énergie rider was unable to hold the pace set by three of the strongest one-day racers in the world.
Disaster, however, struck for Alaphilippe when the Tour of Flanders debutant collided with a motorbike moments after after Van der Poel and Van Aert had swept past it.
"A few motorbikes wanted to go behind us, because our gap was growing, I wanted to take profit as much as possible to go behind the moto, and I think Julian was not concentrating or something," Van Aert explained afterwards. "It's a real pity that he hit the moto."
Alaphilippe eventually sat up, holding his right arm and screaming in pain before being attended to by race doctors and taken to a hospital where X-rays showed two fractures in his hand.
A week after their negative tactics had backfired at Gent-Wevelgem, Van der Poel and Van Aert went all the way to the line in Oudenaarde where, following a fiercely fought two-up sprint, the Dutchman was able to celebrate; his Belgian rival distraught in defeat.
"They had already called my name twice, but I couldn't believe it," Van der Poel explained after winning one of the biggest one-day races on the calendar. "I've asked for confirmation 10 times. I have no words for this. I am speechless."
— Cyclocross24.com (@cyclocross24) October 18, 2020
Shortly after Van der Poel had won the first monument of his career, another Dutch rider was celebrating when Van den Broek-Blaak led home a Boels -Dolmans one-two in the women's race ahead of Belgian rider Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal).
Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), meanwhile, landed the biggest win of his career on a mountain-top finish at the Giro d'Italia.
Geoghegan Hart's stage 15 win was the second successive victory for Ineos Grenadiers after Filippo Ganna won Saturday's time trial and propelled the Hackney-born rider up to fourth overall.
Speaking afterwards, Geoghegan Hart played down his chances of challenging for the leader's pink jersey, instead paying tribute to his team-mates before dedicating the win to former sports director Nicolas Portal who died earlier this year.
"The plan was to support Geraint [Thomas, who abandoned following a crash] and I really believe that Geraint would have been on the podium of this Giro, or better. Crossing the line first is something truly incredible. I'm honoured to be a part of this team.
"This season we have had some big highs but also some big lows. We just have to show the Grenadier spirit that we're just trying to foster in this team, and keep bouncing back the way we can.
"Everyone knows what a great influence Nico Portal had on the team and for me in particular. Everyday we ride, we are remembering him."
Despite losing time, Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick Step) produced a dogged ride on the final climb of the stage and after being isolated from his team-mates managed to keep hold of his maglia rosa. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren), Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT), meanwhile, were less fortunate, all losing time and dropping down the overall standings.
The Giro continues on Tuesday with a testing stage to San Daniele del Friuli following a rest day and concludes in Milan on Oct 25 .
Geoghegan Hart has done it!
Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) wins stage 15 at the Giro d'Italia.
What a result, the rider from east London has just taken the biggest win of his career and thrown his hat into the big pink ring: could Geoghegan Hart now launch a challenge for the pink jersey? That stage win propels the 25-year-old up to fourth on general classification, just 1sec behind Jai Hindley (Sunweb) in third.
Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick Step) finished 37sec behind Geoghegan Hart and will retain his maglia rosa as leader at the Giro d'Italia, though his lead over second-placed Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) is down to just 15sec going into Monday's rest day.
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 500 metres to go
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 1.5km to go
Tao Geoghegan Hart is going to finish in the top three in a grand tour stage for the first time in his career, but can he take the top spot? Neither he, Jai Hindley or Wilco Kelderman has won a grand tour stage previously.
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 2km to go
Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) trail Wilco Kelderman by over a minute, Joao Almeida is 33sec off the pace of the stage leaders. Looking good for Tao Geoghegan Hart
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 3km to go
Joao Almeida trails by 25sec, touch-and-go whether he will be keeping hold of his maglia rosa here today.
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 3.5km to go
Tao Geoghegan Hart is holding his own here, could the Hackney-born rider be pedalling his way into the top five on general classification here today? In fact, could he be riding his way towards the biggest win of his career?
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 4.5km to go
Joao Almeida is in a world of pain, but the Portuguese is refusing to give up. The Quick Step rider currently trails stage leaders Jai Hindley, Wilco Kelderman and Tao Geoghegan Hart by 22sec.
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 6km to go
Joao Almeida is totally isolated from any team-mates but he is fighting tooth-and-nail here to keep hold of his leader's jersey. Tao Geoghegan Hart is doing a superb ride and may be climbing into the top 10 here today. Vincenzo Nibali and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) are around 50sec down, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT) are even further down the road.
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 7km to go
Jai Hindley (Sunweb) presses on and he has team-mate Wilco Kelderman and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) for company, but Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick Step) has been dropped. Coul the 22-year-old be saying bay-bye to the maglia rosa here on this tough looking climb?
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 8km to go
Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) and Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick Step) are looking fairly comfortable in the leading group, as does Rafal Majka (Bora-Hasgrohe).
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 9km to go
All over for Rohan Dennis who has been absorbed by the peloton. There are two Sunweb riders on the front for Wilco Kelderman. It's not all bad news for Ineos Grenadiers, though, as their highest placed rider on generla classification Tao Geoghegan Hart is holding the pace of the Sunweb riders. By contrast, Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) has been dropped. Wow.
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 10km to go
Rohan Dennis's advantage plummets as Sunweb up the pace, on behalf of their general classification rider Wilco Kelderman who started the day in second place, 56sec adrift of race leader Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick Step). Does the Dutchman and his team sense a weakness in the young Portuguese?
Meanwhile, in Italy . . .
Rohan Dennis (Ineos Grenadiers) is the lone leader on the final stage before Monday's rest day. The Australian leads by a shade over a minute, but still has 11 kilometres of the 14.3km Piancavallo. If he holds on for the win it would be a second successive stage for Ineos Grenadiers following Filippo Ganna's time trial win on Saturday, but with the general classification riders looking poised for battle further down the road I think that may be e big ask.
Van der Poel wins Tour of Flanders!
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) approached the line as if riding on the track, peering over his left shoulder before he opens up the sprint. Shoulder-to-shoulder the pair cross the line to edge out Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) wins the sprint from the bunch to take third place.
Van der Poel beat his powerful Belgian rival Van Aert in a photo-finish sprint to win the Tour of Flanders, as world champion Julian Alaphilippe crashed out of the race.
Van der Poel, whose father Adri won the one-day race in 1986, launched the two-man sprint and managed to just hold off Van Aert after 241 kilometres.
Alaphilippe, who had split the peloton with an attack in the Kopperberg, went head over heels after his right elbow clipped the back of a race motorbike 35km from the line after the trio had broken clear.
The 26-year-old Van der Poel, riding just in front of the Frenchman, narrowly avoided the bike on the right side of the road.
Alaphilippe eventually sat up, holding his right arm and screaming in pain before being attended to by race doctors.
Van Aert had been looking to become the first rider to win the Tour of Flanders and Milan-Sanremo in the same year since Eddy Merckx in 1975.
Tour of Flanders: 1km to go
Just 1,000 metres of this Belgian monument. Nervous times for all involved — and for those watching at home.
Tour of Flanders: 2km to go
Mathieu van der Poel takes over on the front ahead of Wout van Aert as the pair pass beneath the 2km to go banner.
Tour of Flanders: 3km to go
Just minutes away from discovering whether Wout van Aert or Mathieu van der Poel will win this race.
Tour of Flanders: 4km to go
No news on the chasing group, other than they still trail by 50sec and will not be catching Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel today.
Tour of Flanders: 5km to go
Sitting, waiting. This is anyone'e race.
Tour of Flanders: 6km to go
Can Mathieu van der Poel emulate his father who won this race back in 1986? Wouldn't that be something!
Tour of Flanders: 8km to go
Each rider is doing a turn, both looking poker-faced.
Tour of Flanders: 9km to go
Wout van Aert sucks on a gel, taking a final bit of energy ahead of a potentially career-defining finale. Win this race today and the Belgian will write his name into Flandrian folklore.
Tour of Flanders: 10km to go
Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel's lead is down to below a minute, but i cannot see these boy being caught here today. A few spots of rain are starting to fall.
Tour of Flanders: 11km to go
Having spent the last few hours tackling the rough roads and cobbled climbs of Flanders, the leading pair are on the relatively flat and smooth road to Oudenaarde, but will today's race end in a two-up sprint or will one of these riders launch a long one?
Tour of Flanders: 13km to go
Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel are not giving an inch to each other. Over the top of the Paterberg they go and they are glued to each other.
Tour of Flanders: 14km to go
One more climb to go, the final ascent up the cobbled Paterberg. It's a horrible hill that reaches gradient up to 22 per cent. Oliver Naesen is putting in a huge effort, but as the leading pair hit this climb all eyes are on Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.
Tour of Flanders: 17km to go
Wout van Aert leads the way over the top of the Oude Kwaremont ahead of Mathieu van der Poel. Oliver Naesen has clipped off the front of the bunch, chasing third place.
Tour of Flanders: 18km to go
On the Oude Kwaremont and Mathieu van der Poel leads the way, head down as the big powerful Dutchman presses on. Wout van Aert is riding clever race, the Belgian is in no rush to take a turn. The leading pair's advantage has increased to 1min 18sec.
Tour of Flanders: 20km to go
Still a shade over 20km to go, and the big favourites are here, riding wheel-to-wheel as this race reaches the business end of proceedings.
Tour of Flanders: 25km to go
Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel have increased their lead to a shade over a minute. This pair messed things up royally a week ago at Gent-Wevelgem, but surely they will not throw this away now. Van Aert has already won a monument this season at Milan-Sanremo, while team-mate Primoz Roglic claimed Liège-Bastogne-Liège and so another victory here would give Jumbo-Visma a 75 per cent hit rate in the monuments in this quite remarkable season. By contrast, Van der Poel has yet to win a monument, although his father did back in 1986. Whatever, with one more ascent of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg anything could happen yet.
Tour of Flanders: 29km to go
Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel are holding on, but can the chasing group close them down or can a further split be caused as they battle for the third place on the podium? Alberto Bettiol (EF Pro Cycling), Zdenek Stybar (Elegant-Quick Step), Kasper Asgreen (Elegant-Quick Step), Florian Sénéchal (Elegant-Quick Step) are all in there, as is John Degenkoib (Lotto-Soudal), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ), Anthony Turgis (Total Direct Énergie), Dylan Tuens (Bahrain-McLaren).
Tour of Flanders: 32km to go
Julian Alaphilippe is sat on the floor holding his right shoulder. That's a heartbreaking way to end his Tour de Flanders debut. Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, of course, plough on and the two pre-race favourites have extended their lead to over 30 seconds now.
Tour of Flanders: 35km to go — Alaphilippe crashes!
The world champion has gone down heavily and he's screaming in pain. He was sat on Mathieu van der Poel's wheel before the Dutchman veered around a race motorbike at the last moment. Julian Alaphilippe had nowhere to go other than into the vehicle. That's his race and season quite probably done.
Tour of Flanders: 37km to go
Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, Julian Alaphilippe are holding on, a strong-looking group containing Oliver Naesen, Dylan vn Baarle, Anthony Turgis, Alberto Bettiol, Jens Keukeleire and a few Quick Step riders. Those Elegant-Quick Step team-mates, of course, will not help out in chasing down Alaphilippe.
Tour of Flanders: 38km to go
Wout van Aert bridges over to Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe.
Tour of Flanders: 38.5km to go
Mathieu van der Poel bridges over to Julian Alaphilippe, while all hell is breaking loose behind this leading pair.
Tour of Flanders: 39km to go
Julian Alaphilippe has put in another attack. He appears to be a natural on these cobble stones.
Tour of Flanders: 42km to go
Julian Alaphilippe and Anthony Turgis are caught, but that attack and subsequent chase has led to Sunweb getting caught out.
Tour of Flanders: 44km to go
Julian Alaphilippe has joined forces with fellow Frenchman Anthony Turgis (Total Direct Énergie) off the front, but the pair have a strong group in putrsuit.
Tour of Flanders: 45km to go
Julian Alaphilippe is dancing his way up the cobbled climb. His move has caused some minor panic back in the bunch. Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Alberto Bettiol are chasing.
Tour of Flanders: 46km to go
Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), a 500-1 outsider to win today, takes the lead alongside Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers). The pair are inching towards the next cobbled climb, the brutal Koppenberg that pitches up to 22%.
Tour of Flanders: 49km to go — Alaphilippe attacks!
Julian Alaphilippe rolls off the front of the bunch along with Elegant-Quick Step team-mate Dries Devenyns and Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers). It is very doubtful that he will be allowed to ghost off up the road.
Tour of Flanders: 50km to go — Van der Poel makes a move
Sensing a weakness in his great rival Wout van Aert, the Dutch national champion Mathieu van der Poel shifts to the front, but all he accomplishes is sending shockwaves through the peloton.
Tour of Flanders: 51km to go
As the cobbled road pitches up to 20% a number of riders struggle, but the breakaway still leads on the summit of the Paterberg, but it has been whittled down to just 12sec.
Tour of Flanders: 52km to go
The peloton is split into around three groups, riders fighting for position in the run-in to the Paterberg which they will tackle twice today. Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), one of my dark horse selections today, has lost contact with the main bunch containing all of the main protagonists today.
Tour of Flanders: 56km to go
The breakaway is starting to splinter as it heads towards the summit of the Oude Kwaremont. Mathieu van der Poel is riding on the front of the peloton down the right-hand ride of the road, his big rival Wout van Aert is on the opposite side. Julian Alaphilippe is still hanging in there, as is Tiesj Benoot and Mads Pedersen.
Tour of Flanders: 57km to go
Game over for Dimitri Peyskens (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles) who crashed heavily as the breakaway's lead drops to below a minute. Alpecin-Fenix are now setting the pace on the front of the peloton.
Tour of Flanders: 57km to go
I've barely seen him all day, but Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), the favourite to win today's race, has positioned himself up near the front of this speeding bunch. Absoloutely perfect timing that as they head towards the Oude Kwaremont for the second time today.
Tour of Flanders: 60km to go
Sep Vanmarcke is working his way through the cars back towards the peloton which is all back as one now, trailing the breaks by around 1min 30sec.
Tour of Flanders: 63km to go
Sep Vanmarcke is chasing pack on, but the race is very much on now and he may struggle to close this gap. Adrien Petit (Total Direct Énergie) put in a brief attack off the front of the bunch, but it is short-lived.
Tour of Flanders: 65km to go — Vanmarcke crashes!
Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) has crashed and it appears that he knocked in his rear derailleur and so needed to take a bike change. The Belgian who does not enjoy the best of luck at the Tour of Flanders, appeared a little annoyed and was seen kicking a car as he waited for a new bike.
Tour of Flanders: 66km to go
Zdenek Stybar (Elegant-Quick Step) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) bridge over to Max Walscheid (NTT), but the trio have a small group of around five or six riders in pursuit. The peloton is not too far behind.
Tour of Flanders: 70km to go
Zdenek Stybar (Elegant-Quick Step) goes over the Kanarieberg ahead of Leonardo Basso (Ineos Grenadiers) and a few bike lengths ahead of the peloton, but can the Czech rider tempt anybody to chase? Is this an important move from Elegant-Quick Step?
Tour of Flanders: 71km to go
Silvan Dillier (Ag2r-La Mondiale), who was runner-up to Peter Sagan at Paris-Roubaix in 2018, appears to have picked a few cuts to his knee following a crash a few minutes ago. Jumbo-Visma, Elegant-Quick Step and Sunweb all have decent number on the front of the peloton and they are starting to ride hard.
Tour of Flanders: 75km to go
The six-man breakaway has seen its lead slashed to just 2min 40sec. Yet another NTT rider has gone off again. Max Walscheid is off in pursuit of the race leaders where he has a team-mate Samuele Battistella. I'm not entirely sure what NTT's tactics are here, but presumably they are attempting to get a couple of rider up the road for a possible leat attack from Michael Valgren?
Tour of Flanders: 79km to go
Jens Debusschere (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) who had made it over to the small chasing group featuring Jasper De Buyst loses his front wheel on a left-hand bend. A combination of dust, mud moisture from the earlier rain and cobbles make each twist and turn down these narrow roads treacherous.
Tour of Flanders: Stuyven crashes
Jasper Stuyven is the latest to crash, but the co-leader at Trek-Segafredo wastes little time in getting back up.
Tour of Flanders: 84km to go
Another NTT rider attacks off the front, this time around it is Reinardt Janse van Rensburg. Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) and Jasper De Buyst (Lotto-Soudal) bridge over to the South African.
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: Brambilla abandons!
Vincenzo Nibali has lost a key team-mate after Gianluca Brambilla has abondoned the Giro d'Italia.
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 94km to go
Giovanni Carboni has given up the chase and the Italian is back int he peloton. The 11-man breakaway's advantage is at 5min 20sec a sit edges up the second categorised climb of the day, the category two Forcella di Monte Rest.
Tour of Flanders: 92km to go
Edvald Boasson Hagen is caught as the peloton safely navigates another cobbled stretch. Next up is the Leberg climb which goes into double digits and is another cobbled one.
Tour of Flanders: 94km to go
And Elegant-Quick Step take over on the front, putting big numbers up there. By the way, the Belgian team has at least four possible winners here today — Julian Alaphilippe, Kasper Asgreen, Florian Sénéchal and Zdenek Stybar — as so will be hoping to play the numbers game.
Tour of Flanders: 95km to go
Following a flurry of attacks, Tim Wellens postions himself on the front of the peloton which is starting to stretch out further thanks to the fierce pace being set by the Belgian.
Tour of Flanders: 98km to go
Yves Lampaert (Elegant-Quick Step), Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) and Silvan Dillier (Ag2r-La Mondiale) have taken over on the front of the peloton, and the pace has gone up. Interestingly, Julian Alaphilippe is around sixth or seventh wheel, bouncing along another cobbled stretch.
Tour of Flanders: 100km to go
Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix), the Belgian national road champion, moves to the front as a few riders start to look as if they are thinking about attacking. Tim Wellens, who has recovered from that crash, is looking twitchy.
Tour of Flanders: 102km to go
Owain Doull (Ineos Grenadiers) takes over on the front of the peloton, but as it nears the summit of the Eikenberg a Trek-Segafredo rider swings past the Welshman. A few drops of rain are starting to fall.
Tour of Flanders: 103km to go
As the peloton reaches the Eikenberg, Trek-Segafredo press on slightly causing a minor split at the front. Sunweb, who have possible winners today in Soren Kragh Andersen and Tiesj Benoot, have big numbers near the front of the bunch.
Tour of Flanders: 105km to go
The peloton is delayed briefly as train crossing comes down. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NTT) gains a few seconds, as does the breakaway whose advantage grows out to 7min 25sec.
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 110km to go
Back in Italy, Sergio Samitier has caught the breakaway, Giovanni Carboni trails by 3min.
Tour of Flanders: 106km to go
Jumbo-Visma are shepherding Wout van Aert back up through the bunch. The Dutch team will not want their main man today to waste any further energy by getting caught out in any crashes or pinch points.
Tour of Flanders: 108km to go
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) has managed to get back on, but that effort will have caused him to burn a few matches. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NTT) has attacked off the front of the peloton as it edges towards the next climb of the day, the Eikenberg.
Tour of Flanders: Van Aert crashes!
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), one of the big favourites to win today's race has crashed.
The Belgian appeared to lose concentration and he veered off road. Thankfully he had a soft landing, but it may have shaken him up a little. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) was also caught up in the crash, as was Maurits Lammertink (Circus-Wanty Gobert) and Feng Chun-kai (Bahrain-McLaren).
Tour of Flanders: 115km to go
Not too far from the next climb of the day, the 1km long Kortekeer which is not cobbled but is extremely narrow, which is followed in quick succession by the Eikenberg and the Wolvenberg.
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 123km to go
Back in Italy, the 10-man breakaway has increased its lead on the peloton, though the two chasing pairs are struggling. Giovanni Carboni (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) and Sergio Samitier (Movistar) have lost contact with each other, while . Ruben Guerreiro (EF Pro Cycling) and Nathan Haas (Cofidis Solutions Crédits) appear to have given up and have drifted back into the main bunch.
Tour of Flanders: 121km to go
Trek-Segafredo are riding mob-handed on the front of the bunch, while back in the pack a narrowing of the road has caused a few riders to get caught up behind a pinch-point. Positioning and an understanding of the roads, and the numerous switch from surface to surface, can prove costly in a race like this. In the one-day classics each and every ounce of energy is important and every delay or crash sees a rider waste vital energy in chasing back on.
The breakaway's lead is down to 7min.
Tour of Flanders: 126km to go
Following his earlier crash, Gregor Mühlberger managed to regain contact with the breakaway and it is now on the eerily quiet Oude Kwaremont, the famous cobbled climb that is ordinarily packed with enthusiastic, and occasionally beer-fuelled, Belgian cycling fanatics.
Back in the peloton, riders will be starting to jockey for position in the run-in to this narrow and gnarly ascent, the first of three today.
Giro d'Italia, stage 15: 130km to go
As it stands, there's a 10-man breakaway — Manuele Boaro (Astana), Luca Chirico (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Rohan Dennis (Ineos Grenadiers), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Matthew Holmes (Lotto-Soudal), Daniel Navarro (Israel Start-up Nation), Mark Padun (Bahrain-McLaren), Andrea Vendrame (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Davide Villella (Movistar) and Giovanni Visconti (Vini Zabu-KTM) — leading the way. Ruben Guerreiro (EF Pro Cycling) and Nathan Haas (Cofidis Solutions Crédits) trail by 1min 35sec; Giovanni Carboni (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) and Sergio Samitier (Movistar) are another 20sec down the road. The peloton is 6min 35sec off the back. With two Lotto-Soudal riders in the leading group, one has to think that today could be the day that Thomas De Gendt takes his first victory since that unforgettable win at last year's Tour de France.
Tour of Flanders: 130km to go
A number of riders, including Jack Bauer (Mitchelton-Scott) and Hugo Hofstetter (Israel Start-up Nation), have had punctures. Both are using disc brakes and their wheel changes took an eternity. Kasper Asgreen (Elegant-Quick Step) is the next to have an issue with his bike, but the Danish national champion took a new bike from his team car.
Tour of Flanders: 140km to go
Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) had a bit of an embarrassing fall a few minutes ago after misjudging a mussette swing that caught one of his hoods.
The break has gone over the Katteberg, the first of 17 climbs in today's race. Peloton is at 7min 15sec.
Tour of Flanders: 143km to go
Trek-Segafredo, who in Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven have two riders that could win today, have been doing quite a bit of work on the front of the peloton, Jumbo-Visma have a man up there while Elegant-Quick Step, renamed for today's race, has Tim Declercq on the front, just ahead of world champion Julian Alaphilippe who is making his Tour of Flanders debut here today.
Tour of Flanders: 145km to go
Christian Knees (Ineos Grenadiers) has had a series of mechanical issues already today, each time he drops back to the team car will cause the German to use vital reserves of energy. As you can see from the image, the roads in Belgium can be treacherous for cyclists.
While the main focus and point of discussion today will be the cobbles, the hard concrete roads — and the dangerous narrow gaps between the huge slabs — can cause all sorts of issues for the riders. The gulleys, too, provide the riders with another test. Bike handling and concentration levels in a race like the Tour of Flanders as key to success, or failure.
Tour of Flanders: As it stands . . .
Right, let's go. It's a little bit chilly out in Flanders this morning, but fortunately for the riders it is dry. There's a light breeze, but nothing too serious for the peloton to concern themselves with. A six-man breakaway went off up the road a while ago comprising Samuele Battistella (NTT), Fabio Van den Bossche (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Gijs Van Hoecke (CCC), Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe), Dimitri Peyskens (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles) and Danny van Poppel (Circus-Wanty Gobert) and they currently lead by 7min 38sec.
The first two cobbled stretches of road, the Lippenhovestraat and Paddestraat have been safely navigated by the breakaway. Not too long ago Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal), who managed to get involved towards the pointy end of Gent-Wevelgem last weekend, hit the deck on a tight left-hander.
Hello everybody and welcome to our live blog from the 104th edition of the Tour of Flanders, the fourth and final monument of the cycling season following the cancellation of Paris-Roubaix which was due to take place next Sunday's in the rescheduled new-look season.
At 243.3 kilometres, today's edition of the race is slightly shorter than usual, and is already under way having set off from Antwerp at around 9.15am (BST). Before we get stuck into the race, here's a bit of background information for those new to the sport . . .
Set up in 1913 by journalist Karel Van Wijnendaele, the Tour of Flanders – or De Ronde van Vlaanderen as the locals say – is the biggest day in the Belgian sporting calendar and has been described as being like the Boat Race, Royal Ascot and the FA Cup final. All rolled into one.
The race originally departed from Ghent, the spiritual home of Belgian cycling, though over the years its route has changed. As mentioned, this year's race starts in Antwerp and concludes in Oudenaarde. Despite the various changes to the route over the years, one crucial characteristic of the Ronde remains: the hellingen, or hills which are often cobbled.
This year's edition features 17 recognised climbs, including three ascents of Oude Kwaremont — the penultimate climb of the day — and twice up the final climb of the race, the Paterberg which tops out at an eye-watering 18.2 per cent in gradient: one-in-five in old money.
Though short in distance — the Paterberg is just 360 metres long — these brutal climbs are where, ordinarily, the decisive moves are made and if not, are where the field is whittled down further leaving the final selection of riders who will contest the race. In addition to the numerous hellingen, there are also five sections of kasseien, or cobblestones.
As with all WorldTour races, each of the 19 teams that make up the top-flight of professional cycling receive an invite and in the case of the Ronde all teams are contracted to race.
In addition to the WorldTour teams, race organisers Flanders Classics handed wildcard spots to six Pro-Continental teams — Alpecin-Fenix, Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles, B&B Hotels-Vital Concept p/b KTM, Circus-Wanty Gobert, Total Direct Énergie and Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise.
In addition to the Tour of Flanders, the Giro d'Italia continues today with a tough summit finish in the final day of racing ahead of the second and final rest day of the second grand tour of the season.
With four categorsied climbs, the 185km run from Base Aerea Rivolto to Piancavallo my suit a breakaway while those challenging for the general classification will he hoping to either make gains or consolidate their positions. While most of the focus today will be on Flanders, I will also be keeping an eye on what's going on in Italy and will do my best to keep you up to speed with what's happening at the Giro.
Today's liveblog will get under way in earnest at 11am (BST).