Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne cycling 2021 - Mats Pedersen wins after drama, Mathieu van der Poel denied
Opening Weekend continues with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne as Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) returns to action from a positive Covid-19 test to ride for glory. Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R Citroen Team) and UAE Team Emirates duo Alexander Kristoff and Matteo Trentin are also in the mix. Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is live on Eurosport, watch live and ad-free on the Eurosport app and eurosport.co.uk
'Brilliantly timed!' – Pedersen leads Trek-Segafredo to victory
In the end he had more gas. Trek had such a bad day yesterday that this will really be a monkey off their backs.
Is that the first time we've seen the former world champ today? I think so.
It's a reduced bunch sprint here...
Qhubeka Assos working at the front of the race.
Soren Kragh Andersen attacks but he can't break free.
2km to go – Asgreen bought back
It's only seconds of gap now for van der Poel et al. They look absolutely empty.
And they're caught, with less than 2km to go.
3km to go – Asgreen attacks from group 2
Heinrich Haussler hops onto the Danish champ's wheel.
Bryan Coquard gets a horribly timed puncture and he's out of the race.
5km to go – This is delightful
With five kilometres remaining, the gap is stable at 18 seconds. Hvideberg has just declined to take a turn for the first time.
8km to go – Gap still growing
And there aren't enough riders willing to work in the second group on the road. Frison and Teuns look absolutely broken.
It's 20 seconds.
10km to go – Another big turn from van der Poel
He's actually brought that gap out again. It's 15 seconds. Wow. Can he really do this? He still has four riders with him, Hvideberg, Zakharov, Narvaez and Gampert.
Remember, he attacked to bridge to the break with 83km of the race remaining.
12km to go – Agonising
There can only be eight or nine seconds between the two groups at the front of this race now. Group three, still being led by Qhubeka Assos are about 20 seconds adrift still.
After every turn they take, each rider in the breakaway is having a good long look at the distance back to group 2. They seem unsure what to do, whether to attack, or sit up. It's painful sort of limbo to be in.
17km to go – Van Avermaet accelerates
Gold-hatted Greg has had enough of this faff. He throws down a huge acceleration and it chops the gap down to 13 seconds in very short order. That could be curtains for this plucky quintet up-front.
20km to go – Handbags and Hvidebergs
It's very easy to get wrapped up in the myth of Mathieu, but in the leading five, Jonas Hvideberg of Uno X has been massively impressive. He's the current U23 European champion, a race he won from a bunch sprint.
We're going to see groups two and three join up very soon. A furious Fred Frison of Lotto is giving some wavy arms of irritation in response to Hvideberg's teammate trying to disrupt the chase in group 2.
22km to go – Gap up to 31"
Looks as though the break is having the better of this enthralling arm-wrestle now. They have improved their gap to group 2, while group three is gaining ground on them. We might see those two groups back together soon.
25km to go – Squeeeeeeeeaky
This is scintillating stuff. Really vintage classics racing. The gap is holding steady at 25 seconds-ish, but the chasers are now beginning to invest properly too.
Qhubeka Assos are well-represented in the third group on the road, but at 55" they are maybe too far behind at this point.
Bora are in a nice position, with their main rider, Nils Politt, safely in group 2, and Patrick Gamper up at the front of the race.That'll give Politt an easier run-in. He probably won't fancy his sprinting chances, so we might see him go from around 10km out.
30km to go – Vital moments
The next five kilometres are massive. We have sprinters trying to skip turns in the pursuing group. We have puncheurs who wont win a field sprint trying to break things up. We have van der Poel 25 seconds up the road battling manfully to keep the leading quintet away.
There are so many variables at play it's impossible to guess how this race will play out.
One thing's for sure though – Mathieu van der Poel is doing an absolutely horrible job of riding for Tim Merlier.
Trentin goes big
The Italian makes a big dig and he's thinned things down even more. He leads the pursuers in a quartet with Greg van Avermaet. The big acceleration has chopped 10 seconds out of the break's lead. Asgreen and Dylan Teuns are also getting stuck in.
The gap is 31".
35km to go – Splits!
The wind is making life super-difficult for the chasing groups. That larger group with all the big names is now about three smaller bunches. It's not quite echelons, but its chaotic and it's playing right into the hands of the escapees.
But the gap to the leading group is growing. It's 48" now.
Five riders are there, van der Poel, Narvaez, Hvideberg, Zakharov and Gampert.
The ratio of turns taken is roughly 50:50 at the moment between Mathieu van der Poel and the other four lads together.
45km to go – José still confident
Eurosport commentator – and, it must be noted, Dutchie – José Been, still thinks van der Poel can win this, even if they do get caught.
Teuns back in group two
The Belgian on Bahrain Victorious has been brought back by the starry second group. We are told Pidcock is in this group as well as the names we just ran through.
Pidcock was in pugilistic form yesterday, but has been a bit more subdued today. We'll see if that's if he's knackered, or simply playing a cannier game today.
Gap to the front is 42".
50km to go – Hvideberg hanging in
Jonas Hvideberg the yougnster on Uno is hanging in there on the wheel of van der Poel and Narvaez. Of the original break, he's the only one who has matched their accelerations over the Kluisberg.
Gampert and Zakharov have battled over the gap to catch up.
Final climb of the day
The break is taking on the one-kilometre ascent of the Kluisberg, our last climb of the day, and it's that man van der Poel pushing on at the front with Narvaez in the wheel.
Meanwhile, a minute back down the road Dylan Teuns has attacked the second group on the road.
55km to go – Just a minute
There's not really a peloton left to speak of. We have two large groups that are comprised of riders who used to be in the peloton. And then the gap up to the leading septet, with van der Poel, Bodnar, Narvaez and co., is 1'12".
There's some big firepower in the second group on the road. We can see Benoot, van Avermaet, Degenkolb, Asgreen, Oliver Naesen, Jasper Stuyven, Nils Politt and Bryan Coquard.
60km to go – And they have made the junction
Let's see if the leaders have enough left in their legs to assist van der Poel or if the Dutchman just powers on past them. The peloton is breaking up on the Oude Kwaremont under the forcing of Trek Segafredo.
The US team had a spectacularly bad day yesterday and will be looking to bounce back big. Degenkolb of Lotto Soudal and defending champ Kasper Asgreen are up at the frontof the single-file peloton too.
65km to go – Almost there for pursuing pair
The pace has ratcheted up one or two notches in the last few kilometres. Van der Poel and Narvez have nearly made it to the breakaway, and this seems to have put the wind up Bora-Hansgrohe who are now trying to drag the peloton along. The peloton is 90 seconds in arrears of van der Poel and two minutes behind the leaders.
The breakaway are on the Oude Kwaremont, the most iconic berg to be featured in the course today.
We've also just seen a dog almost cause absolute carnage in the peloton.
70km to go – A minute for Mathieu
It's a real tug of war going on here. Van der Poel and Narvaez are gaining all the time on the break of six who went away early. They are just 1'22 down on the front of the race at the moment.
And they are also managing to keep roughly the same distance between themselves and the peloton. The gap back to the bunch had dipped to around 45 second from 60, but is now back to a full minute.
These next few kilometres will be crucial. Narvaez and van der Poel will be hoping to make the bridge soon and get a bit of a breather on the back of the breakaway, before the peloton catches up.
The magic Mathieu moment
80km to go – Ferocious stuff
A small mechanical issue seems to be hampering the progress of van der Poel as he and Narvaez take on the Kruisberg. The Dutchman is in a gear that is perhaps just a little too big for his comfort.
Still, they've opened up a minute on the peloton already these two, with Victor Campenaerts also trying to bridge across.
Clearly, plenty of teams are invested in making sure this is not a sprint today.
83km to go – Van der Poel attacks!
This is a surprise. The Dutchman has powered off the front of the peloton in the company of Jhonatan Narvaez.
Van der Poel has told media he's just here to lead-out his teamamte Tim Merlier, but he said that last weekend in UAE Tour and then went and won the first stage.
Still, this is very, very far out to attack from – even for the Alpecin Fenix phenom.
90km to go – Grand Kanarie-ers?
One of the best-named bergs in Flanders up next, the Kanarieberg.
And speaking of the Canaries, no Peter Sagan today who is still in the Atlantic training after a case of coronavirus set back his season start significantly earlier this month.
In the 2020 edition of KBK it was Kasper Asgreen of Deceuninck Quick-Step who won the race. The year before it was Bob Jungels of whatever Deceuninck Quick-Step were called two years ago.
Deceuninck Quick-Step are very good at winning this race, is what I am saying.
Highlights: Asgreen holds on to seal thrilling Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne win
100km to go – The break
Plenty, plenty more to come still in this edition of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
We have six riders up front; Maciej Bodnar & Patrick Gamper (Bora-Hansgrohe), Ludwig De Winter (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Artyom Zakharov (Astana-Premier Tech), Tom Paquot (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles) Jonas Hvideberg (Uno)
They have about five minutes of lead.
If by some rare freak happenstance you managed to miss the opening day of opening weekend, you're in luck. We got highlights, baby.
Highlights: Anna van der Breggen wins Omloop Het Nieuwsblad women's race
And the men also raced.
Highlights: Davide Ballerini powers away to take men's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
And welcome to the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne live blog.
I'm on Twitter if you want to chat!
When Stannard outfoxed the Wolfpack and upset the odds at Omloop in 2015
Six kilometres from the finish, the leaders pass over the Schelde river. The three Quick-Step riders still have to solve a problem named Stannard.
"How do they play it tactically?" Hatch mused in the commentary box. "Are they content to just ride Ian Stannard in? He's going to be the freshest of the four riders. Pretty sure about that. He's the guy that's done no work at the back."
For Stannard's part, it was hard to pick out one rider over the others; he had to keep tabs on all three. "They all ride for Quick-Step,” he explains. “They all live in that territory. They all want to win that race. They're all dangermen. They were some of the best riders in the world. Two of them won Roubaix, the other one's been up there in Flanders."
As it happened, it was Quick-Step's best sprinter – the apparent ace up their sleeve – who made the first big move. Boonen, the four-time Paris-Roubaix and triple Tour of Flanders winner, went with 4.6km remaining – to the delight of Hatch.
"Oh, here goes Boonen! Here goes Tom Boonen! He's not waiting for the sprint today – and Stannard will have to go with him. It's no use looking around, Ian Stannard, he is going to have to go. And I'm not sure what he has here. Boonen goes alone and Stannard is forced to chase. And Boonen has this win on a plate if he can ride it away."
But riding it away is exactly what Boonen failed to do. Deep into his illustrious career and even deeper into the 70th edition of a race he had never before won, the Belgian clearly didn't fancy his chances in a slugfest against Stannard. Perhaps mindful of how the Briton despatched Van Avermaet a year before, as well as the fading zip in his own 34-year-old legs, Boonen went for broke.