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By VeloNews Interactive
Good morning. Welcome to our updated reports from this year’s Ronde van Vlaanderen. There were 192 riders at the starting line today, with Gerolsteiner’s Saulius Ruskys the only rider on the original start list not to make the race. There are 264 kilometers of racing ahead, punctuated throughout the last half by short, but brutally steep climbs that will cut the peloton down to just a few by the time they reach the finish.Postings are now in chronological order
At the start The weather in Flanders is bright and sunny and there is a cold wind, which should place the peloton into a head wind for most of the opening two hours.
Check back in throughout the morning for updates from John Wilcockson, VeloNews’s editorial director, who is plying the roads of Flanders and keeping track of the action. We expect those updates to increase in frequency as the race nears the finish line.
12:35 p.m. After about two-and-a-half hours on the road, the situation is pretty calm. There are four riders up the road – Alexis Rodriguez (Kelme), Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner), Jan Kuykx (Vlaanderen – T Interim – Eddy Merckx) and Erwin Thijs of Palmans – with a healthy 14:30 lead.
The break was initiated after about an hour of racing by Rodriguez and Scholz and they were soon joined by the other two. Clearly, the peloton is not chasing with great intensity, but Mapei is moving to the front and it is expected that the four escapees will have their lead cut in half by the time they reach the day’s first climb, the Molenberg.
1:40 p.m. The peloton has now crossed the halfway mark.
The four leaders – Alexis Rodriguez (Kelme), Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner), Jan Kuykx (Vlaanderen – T Interim – Eddy Merckx) and Erwin Thijs of Palmans – actually saw their lead grow to a maximum of 19:20. Finally, the impatience of some riders in the peloton, triggered a few escape attempts and iBanesto’s Jon Odriozola Mugarza and Rafael Diaz Justo (ONCE) made the first serious attempt to bridge.
Those two are now at 13:07 behind the four leaders. Two more riders — Roger Beuchat (Phonak) and one other we have yet to I.D. – are now another 2:00 behind Mugarza and Diaz Justo.
All of this action has triggered some response and as the peloton passed through the toughest section of pave’ thus far today – a 1.7km stretch at km 120 – the speed began to increase and the field split into two groups.
Leading the main field now, is Mario Cipollini, the current World Cup leader and right behind him Domo’s Fred Rodriguez, the man who finished second at Milan-San Remo. Also in that first half of the peloton are George Hincapie and Lance Armstrong. This is beginning to shape up into a good race.
2:10 p.m. When the four leaders — – Alexis Rodriguez (Kelme), Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner), Jan Kuykx (Vlaanderen – T Interim – Eddy Merckx) and Erwin Thijs of Palmans – crossed the Mollenburg (km 151) about 20 minutes ago, their lead was down to around 15:10.
Now the leaders are at km 165 and the peloton is about 11 to 12 km behind. The two small chase groups have been caught and a new pair has charged off the front of the peloton – Telekom’s Erik Zabel and Tristan Hoffman, the Dutch rider from CSC-Tiscali.
John Wilcockson reports that the wind is really picking up along the course. Right now, the twisting and turning route places the field right into a tough headwind. We’ll see how the escapees fare.
2:40 p.m. The four leaders — – Alexis Rodriguez (Kelme), Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner), Jan Kuykx (Vlaanderen – T Interim – Eddy Merckx) and Erwin Thijs of Palmans – have hit the Kluisberg. Our editorial director John Wilcockson reports that Kuykx and Rodriguez appeared to be struggling on the climb. It could be a sign that the valiant escape effort is beginning to fade. Right now, they still maintain a lead of a more than 11:00.
Cipollini is still active at the front of the field, perhaps inspired by his World Cup leader’s jersey and that fancy rainbow zebra paint job on his bike.
3:10 It looks like the break is on its way to being swallowed up. About 15 minutes ago, Thijs decided that he might be better off on his own and left his companions on the Knokteberg.
With the Postal team leading the chase in the peloton – now made up of around 95 riders – the gap is beginning to narrow quickly. Thijs remains on his own and our favorite headbanger Jacky Durand is now trying to escape from the field. Man, that guy never quits.3:40 p.m. The four men that started today’s action — Alexis Rodriguez (Kelme), Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner), Jan Kuykx (Vlaanderen – T Interim – Eddy Merckx) and Erwin Thijs of Palmans – are still off the front, but each man is out there on his own now.
Thijs was the first over the Koppenberg, a tough half-kilometer climb that hits an amazing 22 percent.
Leading the main field over the top of that killer climb were Mapei’s Paolo Bettini, Fassa Bortolo’s Michele Bartoli and Domo’s Johan Musseuw.
Once past the climb, a new group of five has formed with a slight, 40 second advantage over the main field. Included in that group is the U.S. Postal team’s George Hincapie, Domo’s Enrico Cassani, Gabriele Missaglia (Lampre), Mapei’s Andrea Tafi and Rolf Sorenson (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago). They are about 5:30 behind Thijs.
4:01 p.m.Things have changed in this race. Thijs’s lead is now down to around two minutes. Behind him a dangerous, dangerous group that includes Hincapie, Domo’s Enrico Cassani, Gabriele Missaglia (Lampre), Mapei’s Andrea Tafi and Rolf Sorenson (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago). They are about 5:30 behind Thijs. Sensing the threat, Museeuw, race favorite Peter Van Petegem Mapei’s Daniele Nardello made the jump and eventually joined up with Hincapie’s group. This could well be the decisive move of the day. Stay tuned. 4:15 Thijs’s lead is now down to 2:10. Behind him the group that includes Hincapie, Cassani, Missaglia, Tafi, Sorenson, Museeuw, Van Petegem (Lotto) Mapei’s Nardello and one of the men who was in the early break, Jan Kuykx (Vlaanderen – T Interim – Eddy Merckx).
Another minute behind is another formidable group that includes Americans Fred Rodriguez (Domo) and Hincapie’s teammate Lance Armstrong. Also there are Marc Wauters and Markus Zberg (both from Rabobank), Mapei’s Stefano Zanini (which makes three Mapei riders among the leaders) , Coast’s Frank Hoj, Nico Mattan(Cofidis) and Gerolsteiner’s Ronny Scholz, one of the men in that early break.
Behind them, the field is “totally scattered,” VeloNews’s John Wilcockson reports. “This is the race… now let’s see what happens. It should be great.”4:28 p.m.Thijs’s lead is down to less than a minute.
Van Petegem is leading the chase group which includes Hincapie.
The Rodriguez/Armstrong group is just about 30 seconds behind.4:45 p.m. Johann Museeuw (Domo) attacks on the cobbled section leading to the famous climb, the Muur, a grade that reaches 21 percent. We are now just 15 km from the finish.
Hincapie, Van Petegem, Tafi and Nardello have managed to follow. John Wilcockson reports that Van Petegem and Hincapie both look rested and ready for a fight over these closing kilometers.4:32 p.m.After nearly 200km off the front, Thijs has been caught.
The race is now going to be decided by someone in one of these two lead groups. The Hincapie/Van Petegem group has a very slight advantage over the Rodriguez/Armstrong group. 4:53 p.m.Five kilometers to go. This race is down to five men: Museeuw, Van Petegem, Tafi, Nardello and, of course, Hincapie.4:50 We have eight kilometers to go. Museeuw continues to be aggressive.
Hincapie and Van Petegem, however, have been able to stick with him and appear to be playing their cards wisely, saving it for the sprint.
Three kilometers to go Tafi attacks… Hincapie leads the chase.1.5k to go Tafi still on his own 1k to go Tafi still has 50 meters. Van Petegem chases.500 meters to goMuseeuw and company have given up the chase. They are now angling for second-place.Tafi wins! … Musseuw second, Van Petegem, third and Hincapie is fourth.Our man on the scene John Wilcockson is doing his interviews and we can expect a full post-race wrap-up in a little while. In the mean time, we’ll be posting wire service stories and complete results as they become available.