11.00 CET So a bright sunny day, tempered by an easterly breeze which may have an effect an the race towards its finish, saw 192 riders set off from Grote Markt in Brugge - Saulius Ruskys, a winner this week in De Panne is missing from the starting line up.
Assisted by the wind the peloton started off at a fair pace and after a small "attack" by Steel and Baldato - Rodriguez (Kelme) and Scholz (Gerolsteiner) have made a move.
Interesting really that the Kelme squad are invited to the race, whereas a team more suited to the northern one day classic with a genuine contender, Pieri, did not get invited.
Rodriguez, Scholz, Kuyckx (Vlaanderen-T-interim) and Thijs (Palmans) have 3'15" on the peloton. Speed so far 42.4km per hour.
12.00 The four leaders now have a lead over around 12 minutes on the peloton.
12.20 - Sleepy peloton the four leaders now have around 17 minutes on the peloton.
12.50 - Steven de Jongh and Coen Boerman of Rabobank have fallen - first casualty of the race. de Jongh who is taken to hospital - to add to Rabobanks injury woes. Race now through Aarsele.
Rodriguez, Scholz Kuyckx and Thijs now have 20 minutes on the peloton.
The riders are now riding into the wind and the speed has fallen to 40.3 km/p/h
13.40 - Peloton getting nervous - Jos Verstrepen, Diego Ferrari and Olaf Pollack crash but remount - Jan Verstraeten, Raivis Belohvosciks (Lampre) and Gabriele Balducci (!) have all retired.
13.45 - Another blow for Lotto - Eeckhout has crashed
Lead still around twenty minute mark - remember Jacky Durand in 1992 - surely the peloton must start eating into the breakaways lead soon.
Bartoli said before the race, " We have had a good start to the season - and we are quietly confident this morning - for this great race."
108 kilometres to go; lead at 15.45 seconds.
Derganc (Acqua) has just fallen heavily .
14.20 - Peloton starting to string out now as the speed increases - Eeckhout has retired.
The Molenberg van Petegem at the front - Telekom well represented at the front.
huge crowds line the route- and the lead starting to drop - now at 14m 12secs -
Zabel and Hoffman (CSC) have attacked over the top of the Molenberg and have a small lead on the peloton - Sean Kelly reckons Zabel wants to avoid the dangers of the main bunch.
Ralf Grabsch (Telekom) has just crashed - Postal men at the front of the peloton - bring back an attack by Kroon (Rabobank) - peloton back together - while the Posties lead the peloton - by cycling down the pavement to avoid the cobbles.
14.30 - Ludo Dierckxsens - attacks the US Postal lead peloton - with a very smart Cipo in the WC jersey just behind them.
Over the Wolvenberg - lead to the breakaways down to 13.25 - Ludo is reeled in by the peloton - and Buxhofer (Phonak ) tries to launch an attack .
14.35 - The peloton all together in one long string as they race through Oudenaarde; a small group forces a gap from the peloton.
9 riders including Tafi, de Waele, (Mapei) ,Cruz (postal) and Ludo have a small gap - meanwhile the four leaders Rodriguez (Kelme), Scholz,(Gerolsteiner), Kuyckx (Vlaanderen-T-Interim) and Thijs (Palmans) are tackling the Kluisberg with 11 minutes 35 seconds on the main bunch -Rodriguez for Kelme is struggling up the berg .
Peloton back together and immediately the attacks start again - Kroon (Rabobank) and Hunter (mapei) have now got the gap on the peloton . . .
Postal at the front of the peloton again; Cruz doing huge amounts of work again leading the team as they approach the Kluisberg.
Meanwhile Thijs has left his three fellow breakaway men behind on the Knokteberg - the four men are still around 9 minutes thirty up on the peloton . . .
14.50 - Thijs now tackling the Kwaremont - huge crowds cheering on the Belgian who now has a lead of around 8 minutes - his face is a picture of pain and determination as he tackles the cobbles.
15.00 - The peloton (now reduced to about 70 men only) approach the Kwaremont - Cipo and Telekom boys at the front of the peloton; Fred Rodriguez and Museeuw well placed.
What's left of the peloton has split into two as they approach the Paterberg with 64 kilometres to go . . .
Rodriguez leads the peloton up the Paterberg - stars and stripes at the front of the group ahead of Van Petegem.
Thijs is now on the infamous Koppenberg; his lead is 6.45 - he is beginning to look very tired.
What is left of the peloton attack the Koppenberg - Bettini , Museeuw , Armstrong, Cipo, Rodriguez van Petegem are in the front group amongst others.
Hincapie, Cassani, Sorenson, Tafi and Missaglia have gained a small advantage on what is left of the peloton.
15.25 - 50 kilometres to go - Thijs still has 5 minutes - Cassani has punctured so now Hincapie (USPS), Sorenson (Lan), Tafi (MAP), Missaglia (Lampre) are a four man group with an advantage over what is left of the peloton of maybe 45 seconds.
Museeuw, Nardello and van Petegem start to chase the four down . . .
Group Museeuw has reached the Hincapie group - just as they approach the Eikenberg - Cassani has made it back to the group as well - while Bartoli is making a huge effort to bridge the gap.
15.50 - 43 kilometres to go - Thijs still has a four minute lead; Cassani , Museeuw, van Petegem, Hincapie, Tafi, Missaglia, Sorenson, Nardello, are the first chasing group, Hincapie leads this group up the Kapelleberg - but the peloton is closing the gap on them.
16.00 - 38 kilometres to go. Thijs is now climbing the Leberg and still has three minutes on the 8 man Museeuw group who have managed to keep their lead on what is left (not much) of the peloton.
Brave Thijs is now on the Berendries - he now has 1.59 on the Museeuw group - who in turn have around 30 seconds on group three containing Armstrong, Rodriguez, Bodrogi (MAP),Wauters, and Hoj (Coast).
16.20 - 28 kilometres to go - Thijs now approaches the Tenbosse - all of Belguim seems out on the streets to cheer their man on - his lead is down to 1m 14seconds - meanwhile Cassani (Domo) is working at the front of the Museeuw group, van Petegem looking good, Hincapie also near the front of the 8 men - Group three containing Armstrong and Rodriguez is now 48 seconds behind . . .
16.25 - Thijs lead down to 20 seconds - for the first time since the 28th kilometre he looks over his shoulder and can see the chasers gaining on him - they will catch him before the Muur - but it was a brave effort by the young man - as they catch him Tafi pats him on the back - nice gesture.
16.30 - Cassani, Museeuw, van Petegem, Hincapie, Tafi, Missaglia, Sorenson, Nardello approach the Muur . . .
Museeuw attacks on the Muur
van Petegem, Hincapie, Tafi and Nardello respond - van Petegem and Hincapie seem most comfortable on the infamous climb.
So 5 men left at the front after the Muur but the peloton is not too far behind.
16.45 - So two Mapei men, Tafi and Nardello, van Petegem for Lotto, Hincapie for Postal and the Lion himself Museeuw left in contention for this great race - as they tackle the final climb the Bosberg - Museeuw attacks again - but the four men respond again and the five are still together over the Bosberg.
Sorenson, Missaglia and Cassani are thirty seconds back . . .
16.50 - 10 kilometres to go - the lead five men know they cannot hang around or they will be caught by the chasers - Tafi tries a couple of small attacks -which come to nothing, but now van Petegem attacks!
8 kilometres to go van Petegem has got a very useful gap - only Nardello responds - he joins van Petegem at the front.
Finally Hincapie and Museeuw respond and the five are back together again with 6 km to go.
4 km to go - Tafi attacks again - van Petegem leads the chase down.
Now Museeuw takes up the chase on the flying Tafi.
Now van Petegem picks up the chase . . .
1 kilometre to go - still Tafi - Museeuw looks round the chase has finished Tafi must surely win now - arms aloft Tafi wins.
The four men sprint it out - Museeuw, van Petegem and Hincapie - Nardello is too busy clapping Tafi to care . . .
Well it must be said that of the five men Tafi was the most active - so maybe deserved the win most -post race interview:
" It was a beautiful race - one of the best of my life - it's such a big race and I must thank Nardello and my team - van Petegem was very strong today but i had my chance. Nardello and I had the advantage towards the end and he worked very hard for me. To me Paris Roubaix is the bigger race but it is marvellous to win today - next Sunday is a different race so we will see what happens. "
Full race report, etc., to follow . .
Thanks for reading - see you later