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Davide Ballerini takes the win
Amazing from the men in blue, once again. Looks like Britain's Jake Stewart and Sep Vanmarcke made the podium too.
Recap: Which teams 'won' the spring classics campaign and which must do better...
It's looking good for Ballerini!
And he wins that by a country mile. The Italian is in incredible form and takes it by a few bike lengths.
A crash in group sees Ethan Hayter and Andrea Pasqualon taken out. That's two potential sprinters for their respective teams. Kristoff is also out of the running.
4km to go – Still no attacks
What is happening?!
7km to go – Lull in proceedings
This is tense stuff now. They have taken their feet off the gas considerably and Julian Alaphilippe is pulling the bunch for his teammate, Davide Ballerini.
There are plenty of non-sprinters here in the bunch, so surely we'll have some attacks?
10km to go – Downhill to home
Moscon is caught on the Bosberg, which gives us a huge group now together as we head into the final 10 kilometres.
There is not much left in terms of climbing, with the remaining road basically all downhill. It will take something special to rip this one open.
The balance of power has tipped toward the sprinters.
The Italian on Ineos has opened himself a healthy little gap. The strongest-looking rider in the race up to know has been Tom Pidcock, his teammate. This is looking marvellous for the British squad.
He's onto the Bosberg with 10 seconds.
16km to go – Over the Muur
It's a compact peloton of about 30 riders that tackles the Kapelmuur together. Gianni Moscon gives it a big dig, with Sep Vanmarcke close in attendance. Ivan Cortina and van Avermaet are all near the front.
Moscon is the leader of the race at the summit of the Muur.
18km to go – Alaphilippe sits up
He has decided not to race the Kapelmuur alone. He joins the chasing Pidcock-Trentin-van Avermaet group.
And the peloton, such as it is, is also catching the break.
They are on the lower cobbled slopes of the Muur now.
We are heading for the Kapelmuur.
We will see the race decided on the Muur van Geraardsbergen I suspect. Either Alaphilippe will power over it and re-extend his gap, or the chasers with sweep him back up. He has 16 seconds.
That second group on the road is only about 12 seconds ahead of the peloton at the moment which doesn't bode terribly well for their chances.
25km to go – Crash for Stybar
A touch of wheels has taken the Czech rider out. That means just one Deceuninck rider is left in the chase group behind Alaphilippe.
And the Frenchman's lead is dwindling now under the efforts of Tom Pidcock, Sep Vanmarcke and Matteo Trentin who are all chasing hard and working together smoothly.
Start 'em young, I always say
30km to go – Julian is Alaphilippe-ing
He's doing that thing. You know, the thing where he attacks and rides everyone off his wheel? He has made himself a gap of 20 seconds.
This is tactically perfect from Deceuninck – QuickStep because the chasing group also contains two of the world champ's teammates. There doesn't seem to be much of a concerted chase effort yet.
As I say that, El Pidcockito is off again!
35km to go – ¡Vamos El Pidockito!
We've just seen Tom Pidcock ride across the gap with a devastating show of power. He made it look so easy, and now the entire peloton behind is struggling to replicate what he did solo.
There'll be fines before bedtime, mark my words
40km to go – Crucial moments
It's really now or never for those riders who've missed the move.
Bora also missed the move, so they're also throwing men into the chase.
Sep Vanmarcke has made it into this starry group of favourites. Deceuninck have Stybar and one other rider up there with Alaphilippe.
Pidcock launches an attempt to get over to the lead bunch!
The world champion has got clear with Greg van Avermaet. This could be the race-winning move.
Trek Segafredo has missed out and they MUST chase this down fast, or concede the loss.
45km to go – Jacobs and Kooij make a move
We've got a couple of youngsters on the attack now, Johan Jacobs from Movistar and Jumo Visma's Olav Kooij. They've been allowed a little but of leeway.
Speaking of younglings, Tom Pidcock is having a great race, positioning-wise. He's keeping his head up at the front of the peloton in his first classic for Ineos snce turning pro with them.
Dan McLay, British sprinter on Arkea Samsic has just had a crash.
50km to go – Not long now
The break's lead is just a scant 20 seconds-or-so now. It won't be long before they are caught. I think what we're going to see soon is a flurry of counter-moves, as riders attempt to set up a new break – or, indeed, a race-winning solo move.
I'm looking at you Tim Wellens.
And there you go...
The inevitable nervy crashes have happened. First Thimo Willems of Sport Vlanderen Baloise has a very small and slow-mo crash into the ditch on the outside of a right-hander, followed by a much bigger pile-up shortly after. Plenty of riders staying down after that one and a few Omloops brought to an early end.
Jonas Rutsch's perplexing adventure has come to an end on the Wolvenburg as he is gobbled up like a marble by the peloton's hungry hungry hippo.
55km to go – DSM marshalling
The team formerly known as Sunweb is mobbing the front. They have Omloop debutant Romain Bardet in the squad today. How will everybody's favourite French flaneur handle the rigours of cobbled classics riding? We'll find out very shortly.
Cofidis also looking very motivated at the moment as we approach some very technical bits of this course. Positioning will be vital.
This is well-cagey.
60km to go – Man in the middle
It's Jonas Rutsch out there between the break and bunch for EF Nippo. He has made 40 seconds on the peloton while the breakaway's lead has slightly increased – now around 2'23".
Quite what Mr Rutsch hopes to achieve with this move I'm not sure. You'd get short odds on him making the bridge to the breakaway just in time for the whole Deceuninck-led peloton to smash by them at 60kp/h.
This photo just *feels* cold...
65km to go – Break still breaking
It would be harsh to ignore the breakaway while they are still up front. They have a good two minutes of their five-minute lead left and are doing their best to stay away.
Meanwhile, off the front of the peloton we have a rider from EF Nippo who has got himself a gap of roughly 15 seconds.
70km to go – Attacks are flying
There will be no more peace today, mark my words. Attacks are going off the front of the peloton, with Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck QuickStep) the latest to have a dig.
His team are by far and away the favourites today, with an option for basically every possible scenario. Julian Alaphilippe is the overall favourite, while Davide Ballerini has been in sparkling form so far this year. They can attack all day, from far out, and not worry about being left without an option should it go to a sprint. Terrifying.
75km to go – Strung out in cobble heaven
The peloton is tortuously strung-out at the moment as a result of that crash and the generally high pace of the racing. We are not far away from the early crunch-points of the race. The final 70km of this course are absolutely brutal.
Greg van Avermaet, we are hearing, was also invoved in the Vanmarcke-Doull crash.
Deceuninck are trying to seize control of the race now, as the bunch barrels down a nice wide bit of perfectly laid tarmac. It won't be this smooth for long!
Today was always going to be a nervy one, and we've seen a few crashes already. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) hit the deck earlier in an incident involving Mitch Docker of EF Nippo as well. We've just seen a handful of riders in a relatively slow-speed crash, including Ineos Grenadiers' Owain Doull.
Sep Vanmarcke was also involved. He's Israel StartUp Nation's leader today.
Tim Declercq has been doing a lot of the pace-setting for Deceuninck in the early part of this race, so it's nice to know that pandemic or not, some things are utterly immutable.
The five leaders are Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana-Premier Tech) Ryan Gibbons (UAE-Team Emirates) Kenny De Ketele (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) Bert De Backer (B&B Hotels p/b KTM) and Matis Louvel (Arkea-Samsic) and they have 3'45".
Good afternoon and welcome*...
It's finally here, opening weekend. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is already underway, with an escape group up the road at about 5 minutes lead, and around 100km of the race still to come – including all those lovely-jubbly, bobbledy cobbledys.
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with your thoughts, questions, predictions and sundry yammering.
*...to everyone except Quinn Simmons.
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.
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Head here to read the latest Re-Cycle from Felix Lowe on Ian Stannard's heroic title defence at Omloop 2015, or listen to the podcast on all major platforms now.
How to watch the event
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2021 is live on Eurosport.
You can watch the race unfold on eurosport.co.uk and the Eurosport app from 1pm GMT. You can download the Eurosport app for iOS and Android now.
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