Good afternoon and welcome to live coverage of Hew-Cyclassics.
An estimated one million fans are lining the streets of Hamburg today to watch the 6th round of the World Cup. The HEW-Cyclassics has been part of the World Cup since 1998, when it took the place of the Rochester International Classic in Britain. The race has a deceptively simply parcours which Museeuw, one of the pre race favourites, said is "one of the most difficult to read."
The parcours starts with a 170 kilometre, figure of 8 which features the famous bridge over the Elbe, the Köhlbrandbrücke. With no climb in the parcours over 90 metres, the bridge is probably the highlight of the opening section.
Stephane Auge (Credit Agricole) attacked after only 5km and Roberto Lochowski (Wiesenhof) joined him shortly after.
The race is now back in Hamburg on the first of two laps of a 41.5 kilometre circuit, which includes the short but steep Grotiusweg and Waseberg climbs, which are tackled three times. The two climbs, situated about 15 kilometres from the finish, are always a launching pad for the major attacks of those riders wishing to avoid a bunch sprint finish.
We join the race in progress. With 65 kilometres to go, the two leaders have around 10 minutes on a very relaxed peloton.
Reminder of the World Cup Rankings:
1 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Lotto-Domo 200 pts
2 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank 140
3 Dario Pieri (Ita) Saeco 117
4 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Team CSC 100
5 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Team Telekom 100
6 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Davitamon 100
7 Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel) Quick Step-Davitamon 92
8 Mirko Celestino (Ita) Saeco 91
9 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Fassa Bortolo
10 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Saeco 74
11 Vjatceslav Ekimov (Rus) US Postal Service - Berry Fl 74
The race will be between two different types of riders; those wishing for a full on sprint finish - Zabel, McEwen, Dean and Cooke - and riders wishing to escape on the short but steep climbs like Museeuw, Bettini, Bartoli, Van Petegem and Hincapie.
Zabel is aware of this - "Of the five remaining World Cup races, this is my favourite. Having said that, I know that there are about 20 riders who can win and I have to keep an eye on all of them."
”A small group could also break away," said Zabel. "It wouldn't be the first time that happened in Hamburg.”
Stéphane Auge (CA) was born on 6/12/1974 in Pau, France, and has been a pro since 2000 when he started with the Festina team. He has two victories to his credit, including the 6th Stage of the Tour of Germany last year, so he is well used to riding these roads.
No surprise to see Roberto Lochowski (Wiesenhof) in the break - the "Chicks" were always very likely to get a man in the break for publicity purposes - although Roberto has had success this season on stage one of the Sachsen-Tour 2003 - where he had a good solo victory. However, surely the peloton will wake up soon and the gap will drop dramatically.
15.04: The gap is indeed dropping very quickly with Lotto and Bianchi pulling at the front. Jan Ullrich has been the focus of pop star-like reception in Germany since his return after the Tour de France - he is working a very hectic schedule and has only seen his family for a couple of days. "Those who know me know that I'm always fired up after the tour. I'm certainly not coming just to take part." He certainly looked very fit and focused this morning.
Auge and Lochowski, coincidentally both in a similar green, have been working well together, although the climbs are beginning to take their toll, with the Saeco team also doing a lot of work at the front.
Over the Waseberg, the peloton is strung out as the speed increases, Ullrich looking very comfortable at the front of the bunch, as the peloton swoops down through the wooded country lanes.
15.15, 51 km to go: The peloton seems to have lost a little momentum, and there is a little regrouping going on; several half-hearted attacks are pulled back. Robbie McEwen has a little dig off the front but he is pulled back into the peloton as Quickstep take control of affairs with Rabobank and Bianchi also helping to keep the race together.
48km to go: Saeco now puts the pressure on the front of the peloton; the speed is very fast and it's very difficult for anyone to make good an escape - Bettini seems to be everywhere and the pre-race favourite is obviously in champion form.
15.21, 45km to go: Hincapie, Van Petegem, Bettini, Pellizotti, Ullrich and a few other riders have got a 15 second gap.
Matt White is also in the break; he is showing signs of an earlier crash. He is doing an enormous turn at the front as the leaders go through the finish line with an 18 second gap.
Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Stefano Zanini (Saeco), Matt White, George Hincapie (USPS), Peter Van Petegem (Lotto), Ruggero Marzoli (Alessio), Matthias Kessler (Telekom), Raphael Schweda, Andy Flickinger (Ag2r), Bram de Groot (Rabobank), Paolo Bossoni (Vini Caldirola) and Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) are the men in the break as George Hincapie and Bettini attack together.
Bettini and Hincapie off the front together, they have gained a small advantage on the other escapees.
It's the little and large show, with Bettini and Hincapie working well together off the front.
White has dropped straight to the back of the chasers; he has no interest in the chase.
Now there is a reaction, as Flickinger and Wegmann attack to try and bridge the gap. Hincapie and "Il Grillo" are working well together though, and look in determined mood.
15.36, 37 km to go: Attack to try and bridge the gap by Paolo Bossoni (Vini Caldirola), as Bettini and Hincapie now have a 35 second advantage on the chasers.
Behind them the peloton is strung out like a long coloured ribbon as they head straight down the Autobahn.
15.40, 31 km to go: All over for the escape - Hincapie and Bettini are swept up by the peloton.
The peloton is all back together after hard work at the front of the peloton by Rabobank, who are now very prominent at the head of affairs.
So the peloton is full steam ahead towards the decisive climbs of the Grotiusweg and Waseberg; the favorites start to come to the front again, knowing that they must be near the front to cover any attacks.
Now Ullrich moves to the front of the peloton, protected by his team - he is looking very dangerous today.
15.46, 25km to go: Rabobank still force the speed for Boogerd, Bettini is there, Petegem too, as Cofidis rider Jo Planckaert blasts out the pack - he gains a small gap. US Postal lead the chase down.
The peloton still very large as Rabobank and Gerolsteiner also do their turn at the front, and the peloton hits a speed of 61 km/ph.
Rolf Aldag does a turn at the front as Bettini finds himself on the wrong side of the dual carriageway.
Planckaert is pulled back as Saeco lead the charge.
15.52, 20 km to go: The peloton is speeding with a suicidal tendency towards the Waseberg, everyone nervous and looking for a good position...
Saeco setting a storming pace as they swing around back into the woodlands.
15.55, 19 km to go: The road is almost too narrow for the number of riders wanting to be at the front. Telekom and Bianchi take up the pace. Zabel looking very cool as near the front, as does Ullrich, at the head of affairs again, keeping a very high tempo.
The riders speed along the banks of the Elbe through the wood lands as Saeco attack...
Onto the Waseberg climb! Ullrich attacks!
He is powering up the climb, followed by Bettini with two Saeco men. Behind them they leave chaos.
Astarloa and Bettini have broken clear. Ullrich and Celestino chasing hard, while a couple of crashes leave riders by the roadside.
Bettini, Astarloa, Ullrich, Celestino and Rebellin have made the break.
These 5 men were strongest on the Waseberg and have got a working gap; not surprisingly they are working well together.
So 4 Italians, one German, try to keep the peloton from catching, which has been reduced to around 25 men.
16.05, 10km to go: 25 seconds the gap - 5 versus 25, Ullrich doing huge lung bursting turns at the front, Lotto chasing hard behind as the peloton regroups.
9.3km to go: Bettini now takes up the pace; these 5 will be very difficult to catch as the Astarloa does his turn.
Telekom will be spitting feathers once again - they have failed to make the break in an important German race while Gerolsteiner and Bianchi have.
16.09, 7.9 km to go: The 5 Musketeers roll on; they cannot start thinking about victory until they are under the flamme rouge - their gap still at 22 seconds. Phonak lead the chase, with O'Grady helping.
Hincapie is riding like a man possessed - the gap is hovering around 20 seconds.
5.2 km to go - Still the gap 22 seconds. The 5 men still working well together - team pursuit stuff. Behind the peloton has not given up; it will be very close.
4.7km to go: 20 seconds the gap. Lotto lead the chase, the peloton now regrouped and recharged speeds towards Hamburg town.
3.9 km to go, the gap is dropping - 17 seconds!
Bettini is riding with the strength of a man twice his size - and the gap goes out to 21 seconds.
2.6 km to go - Igor Astarloa and Mirko Celestino (Saeco), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Jan Ullrich (Bianchi), Davide Rebellin Gerosteiner still working well together - Postal lead the peloton.
1.7 km - Rebellin does his turn at the front - 15 seconds the gap!
They are in the town now - the crowds huge - they still work together...
1.00 km to go - Celestino in the front, Bettini on his wheel. Betinni attacks...It's Bettini! Then Rebellin, Ullrich.
The bookies are seldom wrong and the race favourite has proved them right again!
Bettini placed himself perfectly for the sprint behind Celestino; he jumped early but had the strength to hold off a late lunge by Rebellin. Ullrich was third, then Astarloa, then Celestino, while Zabel won the bunch sprint just behind. Baldato and Lombardi followed him home.
So a marvellous victory for "Il Grillo," active throughout the race and who proved to be the fastest of a very select group. Ullrich says, "I realised my chances to win against sprinters like Bettini and Rebellin who are specialists in this sort of move were slim, but I was glad to be able to be part of the key move and enjoyed the race in front of such a great crowd." (Huge cheer from crowd.)
So the Italian national anthem rings out as Bettini stands atop of the podium, with Rebellin dwarfed by the figure of Jan Ullrich who is receiving huge applause.
Peter Van Petegem was 23rd and gets 3 points, to lead the the World Cup standings by 3 points from Bettini, with Boogerd in third with 140 points.
That concludes our coverage for today's World Cup race. Thanks for joining us!
World Cup Standings
1. Peter van Petegem (Bel-Lot) - 203
2. Paolo Bettini (Ita-Qsd) - 200
3. Michael Boogerd (Ned-Rab) - 140
4. Mirko Celestino (Ita-Sae) - 127
5. Davide Rebellin (Ita-Gst) - 123
6. Dario Pieri (Ita-Sae) - 117
7. Tyler Hamilton (Usa-Csc) - 100
8. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz-Tel) - 100