Etixx – Quick-Step to E3 Harelbeke
The 59th edition of the Belgian race will take place on Friday, on a 206-km long course.
E3 Harelbeke, the first cobbled World Tour event of the season, is also one of the numerous races on which Tom Boonen left his mark throughout the years. The Belgian won it on five occasions, which puts him ahead of another cycling legend, Rik Van Looy. After missing it last season because of an injury, Tom now returns at the start, where he'll be joined by Zdenek Stybar and Matteo Trentin – who came second, respectively third at the 2015 edition – Iljo Keisse, Tony Martin, Niki Terpstra, Stijn Vandenbergh and Lukasz Wisniowski.
One of the most exciting classics out there, E3 Harelbeke will see the riders battling it out on the legendary climbs that made racing in Belgium so great. There will be a plethora of hills on the course of the 59th edition, with the likes of Taaienberg (600 m, 9.5%), Paterberg (700 m, 12%) and Oude Kwaremont (2.2 km, 4.2%) expected to play a major part in the outcome. The final hurdle on the way will be Tiegemberg (1 km, 6.5%), which comes with less than 20 kilometers to go, and will give the attackers one last opportunity to drop their opponents and solo to the win.
Although this year's race has been shortened by 10 kilometers, to 206 km, and the number of hills was reduced from 17 to 15, E3 Harelbeke is still expected to provide top quality racing – as the climbs and cobbled sections will come thick and fast after the first hour – and act as a preview of what could happen next week, at the Tour of Flanders.
"Harelbeke is a race with a great tradition, not only for the world of cycling, but also for Etixx – Quick-Step, due to the wins we got here in the past. It's a mini-De Ronde, and also a World Tour event, so it will be important to be up there. We have a good team, and we're coming at the start with riders suited to any kind of scenarios, riders who can play a role in the finale", said sport director Wilfried Peeters, who'll guide the team from the car on Friday, together with Tom Steels.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele