Spring is in the air and for cyclists that means temperamental weather, switching between spring and winter kit, desperately trying to shift the last of your winter weight and the classics. Whilst many of us have tried to keep the wheels rolling throughout the winter months, the Pros have been training hard to get over the cobbles and top the podium.
Belgium is the home of the Spring Classics and E3-Harlebeke is the second of the UCI World Tour classic races of the season. Since 1958 the race has started and finished in Harlebeke and is now a total of 211km with up to 15 climbs along the route. Traditionally held on a Saturday E3 moved to a Friday when it was granted World Tour status in 2012 to give the riders a rest day before competing in Gent-Wevelgem.
The biggest sting will come at 172km when the riders hit the Paterberg. This cobbled climb is 362 metres in length and has a max gradient of 20%. I will now hear many cyclists saying “pfffft, short and sweet. Easy!” However, you should remember that the Paterberg is listed as the 12th climb on the stage, and when you have been chasing down the peloton at an average pace of at least 40km per hour it may not be as simple as you imagine.
Tom Boonen (OPQS) holds the record for the most wins, taking the title in 2004,05,06,07 and 2012. Boonen seems to have the ability to make cobbles look easy. Without wearing cycling gloves to protect his hands from the constant vibrations, he battles through any course often looking relaxed and unbothered by the competition around him.
I am always hoping that Fabian Cancellara (RSLT) and Tom Boonen will have another battle like in the 2010 Tour of Flanders. Unfortunately I am always let down as Cancellara shouts at the others around him to “Do some work!” rather than take the race into his own hands and simply ride away. Maybe there was something to the engine in the bike rumours after all or maybe it will be Fabian’s time to celebrate. He has won it twice in 2010 and 11. He knows the course; he might have the legs, if he would just stop bloody wining about people not sharing their time on the front and go for it!
Of course Gilbert (BMC) and Sagan (CAN) will be there too along with Boasson Hagen (SKY) although Stannard (SKY) seems to be working rather hard to get some air time as well, it may turn out to be another Team Sky competition for the win.
The classics are hard to call though. Milan San Remo and Dwars door Vlaanderen were both won by riders in continental teams rather than the world pro tour teams and with 6 continental teams taking part it may just be another shake down by the little guys.
Could it be time for an IAM Cycling to introduce themselves to the world? Marco Bandiera did manage a 6th place finish at Omloop and of course there is always Heinrich Haussler who finished ahead of Bandiera at Omloop in 4th.
The problem with E3 is that it falls on a Friday and it can be a bit hard to watch if you are from an English speaking nation because we don’t seem to get any coverage. Thank goodness for live streaming, although it is a bit confusing when the picture isn’t great and the commentating is in Flemish or Dutch. If you aren’t able to watch the race because you are at work, check out YouTube when you get in as someone is always kind enough to put the race up for you there.
I adore the classics, there is just something about being a spectator with a bottle of Leffe and some Frites to make you feel the warmth in the cold spring air. I do often think that if I were a pro, I wouldn’t want to be a grand tour rider. I want the cobbles, the short sharp climbs, the dirt and the pain, and I would want it to be over when I crossed the line, not have to do it all over again for 3 weeks. Nope the classics are where it’s at, and E3 Harlebeke is a great race.