There's a group of 15 riders that seem to get clear a little. Some names: Jelle Wallays, Rick Zabel, Heinrich Haussler, Stijn Vandenbergh, Lukasz Wiszniowski, Jan Tratnik, Franck Bonnamour and Frederik Backaert.
There's a larger group getting away now. We see Backaert and Wiszniowski again. Also in front: Edoardo Affini, Alex Krisch, Lawrence Naesen, Boy van Poppel, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Davide Ballerini and eleven others.
The 19 leaders begin the second cobblestone section with a 30 seconds bonus. The names:
Frederik Frison (LTS)
Tom Van Asbroeck (ISN)
Davide Ballerini (DQS)
Lawrence Naesen (ALM)
Alex Aranburu (AST)
Maciej Bodnar (BOR)
Nathan Van Hooydonck (CCC)
Lukasz Wiszniowski (CCC)
Damien Touzé (COF)
Edoardo Affini (MTS)
Johan Jacobs (MOV)
Alex Kirsch (TFS)
Scott Thwaites (AFC)
Boy van Poppel (CWG)
Biniam Ghirmay (NDP)
Eduard Grosu (NDP)
Clément Russo (ARK)
Romain Cardis (TDE)
Frederik Backaert (BVC)
Meanwhile the 17 leaders begin the terrifying Trouée d'Arenberg. Almost 2,5 kms of pure horror with around 95 kms to go. Their advantage on the first part of the peloton is less than 3 minutes, and the group in front is splitting up. Backaert, Van Hooydonck and Thwaites seem strong.
The first part of the peloton consists of six Jumbo's (minus Eenkhoorn), five Deceunincks (minus Lampaert and Keisse), O. Naesen, Dillier and Vandenbergh for Ag2r, Garcia and Haussler for Bahrain, Stuyven, Pedersen and Simmons for Trek, Rowe and Van Baarle for INEOS and a dozen more with Terpstra, E. Viviani, Langeveld, Durbridge, Wallays and S. Kragh.
They enter the Wallers forest with 2'50 down on the leaders. Behind them the bunch is shattered.
Van der Poel with an impressive pace on the Arenberg cobbles. He leads a group of around 25 riders with GVA, Vanmarcke, Politt, Démare on his wheel. They also have teammates with Merlier, Vermeersch, Van Keirsbulck, Cort, Keukeleire, Greipel and Sinkeldam. Also there are Le Bon, De Vreese, Hermans, De Buyst, Burghardt, Oss and Stannard and a few others.
Kristoff and Philipsen are desperately trying to get back to them, but the Norwegian seems to suffer. For some reason, this race never suits him.
They have to make up 40 seconds to the Jumbo group.
Sagan is even further back and it seems almost impossible for the triple world champion to get back into contention. His brother and Drucker are at his side but the speed isn't there. Behind him we can also unravel Gilbert, Bettiol, Trentin and Moscon.
Frison, Van Asbroeck, L. Naesen, Aranburu, Bodnar, Van Hooydonck, Wiszniowski, Affini, Jacobs, Kirsch, Thwaites, B. van Poppel & Backaert
Touzé, Grosu, Russo and Cardis
Van Aert, Jansen, Teunissen, Van der Hoorn, Wynants, Roosen, Stybar, Asgreen, Ballerini, Declercq, Sénéchal, , O. Naesen, Dillier, Vandenbergh, Garcia, Haussler, Stuyven, Pedersen, Simmons, Rowe, Van Baarle, Terpstra, Petit, Viviani, Langeveld, Durbridge, Wallays, S. Kragh, Roelandts, Boasson Hagen, Bystrom, De Backer & D. van Poppel
Van der Poel, Merlier, Vermeersch, Van Avermaet, Van Keirsbulck, Vanmarcke, Cort, Keukeleire, Politt, Greipel, Démare, Sinkeldam, Kristoff, Philipsen, Le Bon, De Vreese, Hermans, Vanspeybrouck, De Buyst, Burghardt, Oss, Ganna, Siskevicius, Theuns, Stokbro, Cullaigh & Edmondson
With 80 kms to go, the Hornaing to Wandignies section is up next. With its 3,7 kms one of the longest of the race.
There the front group is getting diminished once again. Frison, Aranburu, Bodnar, Van Hooydonck, Kirsch, Thwaites, B. van Poppel & Backaert are the stronger ones. Almost two minutes behind them, we have a peloton of around 60 men again. But for how long?