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2015 E3 Harelbeke Preview

E3 Harelbeke 2015

Forget about Milan-Sanremo, the dust has settled on “La Classicissima”, which is already history! Now it’s the moment for the cobbled one-day races, with five of them in the space of just two weeks. After Dwars door Vlaanderen took place on Wednesday, the riders are now ready for E3 Harelbeke, a semi-classic that is widely considered the dress rehearsal for the Tour of Flanders, thanks to its cobbles and hills, which have the role of preparing the big guns of the peloton for the main appointment on Sunday 5th.

A race for the specialists and for the real strong men of the peloton, E3 Harelbeke will celebrate this year its 58th edition, and should provide a great entertainment, as many cyclists are keen on going to the attack, light up the race on the hellingen and take a win which brings more peace ahead of the next two Monuments. Add this to some wind and some showers in the last hour of the race, and we’re up for maybe one of the best Classics of the season.

The course

The 218 km race – that includes 17 hills – starts in Harelbeke and the first 30 kilometers will be completely flat, before the bunch will hit the first climbs of the day, the Katteberg (600 m, 6,7% gradient) and Leberg (700 m, 6,1% gradient). Then, the next hour or so will be a quiet one, before the climbing carousel begins once the peloton will tackle La Houppe. From that point, the hills will come in a very quick succession, with Berg Stene, Boigneberg, Eikenberg, Stationsberg and Taaianberg ready to lay the mark on the peloton.

Very important will be the last of these, Taaianberg, a 1250 m long climb with a 9,5% average gradient, were some heavy attacks are expected. Although there are around 90 kilometers more from the Taaianberg until the finish, if a favorite isn’t in the main group because of a crash or bad positioning, is very likely he’ll lose the race. After Taaianberg, five more hellingen will make the riders’ life tough, but none of these should have any serious impact on the race.

This can’t be said of the Paterberg, which gives the favorites the perfect opportunity to attack and distance their rivals. Paterberg is short – just 360 meters – but is very steep, having a 12% average and a 20% maximum gradient. The battle for a good position will be intense and the riders won’t have any chance to rest, because Oude Kwaremont comes in just 3,5 kilometers from the top of the Paterberg. One of the iconic hills of Flanders, Oude Kwaremont has 2200 meters and a 4,2% average gradient, but can be split in two parts, with the second one being more tough.

Although there are two more climbs – Karnemelkbeekstraat (1530 m, 4,% gradient) and Tiegemberg (1000 m, 6,% gradient) – it’s not likely to have a proper attack there, so if a group is at the front on the last flat 20 kilometers of the race, we should see the winner emerging in a sprint that takes place on the new finale of E3 Harelbeke, one that has much more turns than in the past.

The favorites

Three years have passed since Sep Vanmarcke’s last victory in an important one-day race (Omloop Het Nieuwsblad), so it’s about time for him to win again, after notching countless top 5 placings in the past one year and a half. The Belgian skipped Milan-Sanremo last week-end, preferring instead to do a reckoning of Paris-Roubaix’s last 150 kilometers, so he’s in top shape for this important rendez-vous that comes a week before the Tour of Flanders. Vanmarcke is maybe the strongest guy in the race and can win with a big attack on one of the climbs, but also in a sprint from a small group; very important for him will be to play his cards to perfection, especially as he’s going to be a marked man on Friday.

Another cyclist expected to attack at some point in order to escape from the bunch and take a solo victory is Fabian Cancellara. The Swiss is hitting top form for thes important two weeks around which his season is built and we’ll look to shrug off the disappointment of missing a podium in Milan-Sanremo, and thus take an important success for his confidence. Last year, Cancellara crashed just before a key point of the race (Paterberg) and didn’t get to fight for the win, so this season he will be very eager to add a fourth victory in E3 Prijs to his palmares, despite the fact that it will leave him with even less space in the Tour of Flanders. Also, the Belgian semi-classic will show if Fabian Cancellara can still rely on his brute force which helped him in the past to drop the hammer in the Monuments, or will have to be more defensive in the Classics.

Coming from Milan-Sanremo, where he played to perfection the role of the invisible man before sprinting to the biggest victory of his career, John Degenkolb will look to follow it with a triumph in E3 Harelbeke, a race which saw only two German riders win it in the past (Dietrich Thurau and Olaf Ludwig). People still consider the Giant-Alpecin to be more of a sprinter, but he can really climb over the hellingen, and this makes him a contender for the win. Being so fast in the sprint, he doesn’t need to attack, just to take wheels and play it cool, like he did last Sunday.

What should Peter Sagan do to win a one-day race after a year? In 2014, the young Slovak emerged from a four-man group to finish first in E3 Harelbeke, but since then he’s had some problems finding the right tactic in the key moments of the Classics. The same happened in Milan-Sanremo, where he wasn’t sure if he should go to the attack or just wait the finale to see how it will pan out in the sprint, so something should change in his strategy. If Sagan fails to win the race, then it will add up to the huge pressure that he already has after a not so impressive start to the season in the Tinkoff-Saxo kit.

Greg Van Avermaet is a strong favorite to bring the host nation its first victory here in three years, and also show he is ready for the Tour of Flanders, his biggest goal of 2015. After some impressive results in Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico, the Belgian cyclist is ready to lead BMC, which is sending the likes of Jean-Pierre Drucker and Silvan Dillier to help him nab the win. Van Avermaet can break away on the climbs, but also has the advantage to go for it in a sprint, and this makes him one of the most dangerous men out there.

Niki Terpstra failed to win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad earlier this season, but now he’s ready to fight for the victory in the first World Tour cobbled one-day race of the year and show that he can fill in Tom Boonen’s shoes, who’s out of the Classics after his crash in Paris-Nice. It remains to be seen if the Dutchman will be the captain of Etixx-Quick Step, or if the team will allow Zdenek Stybar – who is in an incredible form – to lead the squad, thus supporting him and playing the race into the Czech’s favor. Etixx has an incredible depth for the cobbles, so don’t be surprised if at some point you’ll see Yves Lampaert or Guillaume Van Keirsbulck at the front, with a big chance of winning the race.

Alexander Kristoff was left empty handed after “La Primavera”, missing the win after being caught by John Degenkolb in the final meters, and now the Norwegian will be poised to take his revenge in the Belgian semi-classic. Kristoff didn’t raced here one year ago, choosing to focus on Gent-Wevelgem, but since than he became stronger and stronger on the cobbles and hills, which makes him a big favorite for the victory, seven years after his countryman, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, finished first.

Ian Stannard crashed in the last hour of Milan-Sanremo, but fortunately he didn’t require hospitalization. Still, he has some cuts, abrasions and bruises after the first Monument of the season, so it remains to be seen if he can be a genuine contender in E3 Harelbeke. If he’ll not be ready for it, then Geraint Thomas gives a solid option to Sky, in a race that he has finished third last year. Thomas is expected to step up in the Classics and show he’s a real leader, and E3 will provide him with the perfect opportunity.

A perennial contender for the cobbles, Edvald Boasson Hagen will be supported by a strong MTN-Qhubeka squad, and will be keen to show that he can be a protagonist in the next two Monuments, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Another interesting outsider is Lars Boom, although the Astana rider has crashed in Dwars door Vlaanderen, and the aftermath of that incident could have an impact on him this Friday.

Cannondale-Garmin comes with a young team, spearheaded by Sebastian Langeveld, who is tipped for big results ever since he defeated Juan Antonio Flecha, in the 2011 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The Dutchman was 14th in Milan-Sanremo, and inspite of not finishing Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, he has an important card to play. Also, don’t forget of IAM’s duo – Heinrich Haussler and Sylvain Chavanel – who will have something to prove after not such a great display in March so far.

Race stats

– The first edition took place in 1958 and was won by Belgium’s Armand Desmet, ahead of Lucien Demunster and Briek Schotte

– Tom Boonen holds the record for the most wins – 5 – between – 2004 and 2012

– Belgium leads the nation standings, with 38 victories, ahead of Netherlands (5) and Italy (4)

– Ten times throughout history, the winner of E3 went on to take the victory in the Tour of Flanders

– The only non-European victorious in the race is Australia’s Phil Anderson (1985)

– The youngest ever winner is Dietrich Thurau (22-years-old in 1977); oldest one is Andrei Tchmil (38-years-old in 2001)

– Highest average speed was recorded in 2013: 45,9 km/h

– William Tackaert is the winner of the longest edition – 236 kilometers – in 1983

– E3 Harelbeke is one of the few one-day races Eddy Merckx has never won, his best result being a second place in 1972

– The record for the longest time span – 8 years – between the first and last victory belongs to Tom Boonen: 2004-2012

– Belgium will have the most competitors in the 58th edition – 38

– Southeast has the youngest (Jakub Mareczko – 20 years) and the oldest rider (Alessandro Petacchi – 41 years) in the race

– Three former winners are at the start in 2015: Fabian Cancellara, Filippo Pozzato and Peter Sagan


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