The E3 Harelbeke usually is the first one-day race in which the Spring Classics specialists collide with each other on the cobbled hills of Flanders. While world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) isn't a pure Classics specialist, he tends to perform well.
Gilbert is more of a man for the longer, paved Ardennes climbs. On Friday afternoon, he was never in contention for the victory and only briefly appeared in the picture.
With nine days to go before the Tour of Flanders, the world champion doesn't seem ready to take on another favorite, Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack).
"Cancellara was very strong. Personally I hope to be much stronger next week," Gilbert said to Cyclingnews.
Racing the Spring Classics is a sub-specialty of its own. There is a continuous fight to stay near the front of the peloton on the narrow roads which connect the multiple, short, cobbled climbs.
At 62 kilometres from the finish of the E3, the peloton hit the Taaienberg. In front, Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) powered away, with men like Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) and Cancellara following the Belgian champion swiftly. Gilbert was much further back.
A few kilometres further up the road after the following climb, Gilbert tried to set things straight when a group of four riders went in the counterattack. Lars Boom (Blanco), Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Vincent Jerome (Europcar) and Sebastiaan Langeveld (Orica-Greenedge) already had a good gap on the peloton when Gilbert was caught by the camera, trying to close the gap on his own.
A few moments later, it was painful to see him lose the battle to bridge up. He looked behind and sat up. The peloton swallowed him up and no more was seen from the world champion.
At the team bus after the race, Gilbert explained that he lacks a passion for the E3 race. His results confirm this. Last year, Gilbert abandoned the race. His best result came in 2007, when he finished seventh.
"This race doesn't suit me, it never did," said Gilbert. "I lack the passion for the race to perform better in it. I was always too far back in the peloton and lacked the energy to move up."
Twice finishing third in 2009 and 2010, Gilbert has the potential to perform well well in the biggest Flemish race of the year. If passion is the factor that makes the difference, then Gilbert remains a man to take into account for the Tour of Flanders next Sunday.