After the appetiser of Niki Terpstra’s win at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, it’s now time for E3 Harelbeke, the first of the three Flanders classics which occupy spots on the WorldTour calendar. Gent-Wevelgem follows on Sunday, ahead of the big one next weekend: the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).
- The race is 212km long, starting and finishing in Harelbeke.
- In total there are 17 hellingen (hills), none longer than 3.4km and varying in average gradient from a gentle 3% to a leg-busting 12% (the Paterberg). Several of these climbs also feature on the Tour of Flanders route, making it an ideal preparation event.
- There are also ten cobbled sectors – four of the 17 hills and six flat sections, the last of which comes between the final two climbs.
- The final summit, the Tiegemberg (1,000 metres at 6.5%) is 15km from the finish.
- Unsurprisingly, the race has been historically dominated by Belgian riders, who have won 38 of the previous 56 editions of the race.
- Tom Boonen (a record five victories) and 2013 winner Fabian Cancellara (three) have exerted a near-monopoly on the race in the past decade, winning eight of the last ten between them.
- On five of those eight occasions, Boonen/Cancellara followed their win at E3 Harelbeke with victory at the Tour of Flanders.
- Australian Phil Anderson (in 1985) is the only non-European winner of the race.
Who to watch
The three hot favourites enter this race in varying degrees of form. Fabian Cancellara (Trek) has won three of the last four editions, but has yet to fully hit his stride in 2014, losing out in the closing time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this month. However, his second-place finish at Milan-San Remo on Sunday suggests he is peaking at just the right time for his cobbled classics campaign.
Five-time winner Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) missed Milan-San Remo after his partner suffered a miscarriage, but he has been looking lean and hungry so far this season – two wins in Qatar and a narrow victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne – and showed good form on his return to racing at Dwars door Vlaanderen, playing a big role in helping teammate Niki Terpstra to victory.
E3 was one of four spring classics last year in which Cannondale’s Peter Sagan finished as runner-up. He finished a subdued tenth in San Remo, never really looking completely comfortable. He has won just twice so far this season – in Oman and more recently at Tirreno-Adriatico – and does not seem to have quite the same power he had this time last year. but it would take a brave man to write the Slovak off completely.
Beyond the big three, Sky will field a triple threat of Geraint Thomas, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Ian Stannard – the first two were fourth and ninth respectively last year. BMC’s Daniel Oss occupied the third step of the podium in 2013 but will most likely defer to Greg van Avermaet, who was lively at Milan-San Remo and was second to Stannard at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
If Boonen falters or is too tightly marked, look to OPQS to send either Niki Terpstra or Zdenek Stybar on the attack. Both are powerhouse riders who are quite capable of pulling off a victory themselves. And don’t write off IAM, who will look to create opportunities for Heinrich Haussler and Sylvain Chavanel.
And if you fancy a more speculative bet, how about Katusha’s Luca Paolini or Garmin-Sharp’s Sebastian Langeveld? Both were at the sharp end of the finish in San Remo last Sunday, and both placed in the top eight here last year.
Live coverage and highlights will be shown by Eurosport in the UK. For other coverage check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website