The Belgian cobbled Classics are here!
The infamous Flemish trio — E3 Harelbeke, Gent–Wevelgem, and Tour of Flanders — will take place in rapid succession late this month, starting with the baby of the family, the E3. The pro peloton will take to Harelbeke on Friday, March 24th for the race affectionately dubbed The little Tour of Flanders.
As usual, Peter Sagan heads into Flemish Week as the favorite. The current World Champion has been in that position for every Classic this year, and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon.
Sagan won Gent–Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders last year, but he was out-sprinted by Michał Kwiatkowski at the E3. The two broke away together with just over 18 miles to go and successfully held off the chase. Sagan did most of the work, leading the way as Kwiatkowski held his tail. But with the finish line in sight, Kwiatkowski thanked Sagan for his hard work and nabbed the win.
Sound familiar? Milan-San Remo ended in pretty much the same way last week. Luckily for Sagan, Kwiatkowski has chosen not to take on the E3 this year.
Instead, Sagan’s greatest concern will be Belgian powerhouses Greg Van Avermaet and Tom Boonen. Van Avermaet has already claimed a Belgian cobbled Classic this year after he won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and came very close to picking up the Strade Bianche as well. Boonen holds a record five wins at E3 and is looking to make it six before he retires later this year. The last time Boonen won was in 2012, when he claimed all three Belgian cobbled Classics along with the Paris-Roubaix.
The Belgian classic is relatively kind to the more well-rounded sprinters, which leaves the likes of Arnaud Démare, Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb in with a fighting chance. Though none of those riders have made a mark on 2017 yet, the Classics season is just heating up and the E3 is one of the early opportunities to shine.
The E3 may still be in the shadows of some of the other Belgian Classics, but it’s a great race regardless. It’s a great predictor of Tour of Flanders success and an excellent warm up to Paris-Roubaix.
Odds to win the 2017 E3 Harelbeke
Peter Sagan: 4/1
Greg Van Avermaet: 17/3
Tom Boonen: 17/3
Arnaud Démare: 9/1
John Degenkolb: 15/1
Niki Terpstra: 20/1
Sep Vanmarcke: 35/1
Alexander Kristoff: 35/1
Lars Boom: 40/1
Ian Stannard: 60/1
Photo credit: filip bossuyt (flickr) CC BY-SA 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0].