Pozzato, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard), Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) – who all opted to skip Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday – will be among the favourites for E3 Harelbeke, an event that marks a crucial test ahead of the Tour of Flanders on March 31.
“Harelbeke is a race that I really like a lot, and not just because I won it in 2009,” Pozzato said. “The route suits me, the level of competition is high and it’s played out in an atmosphere of great intensity, given that it’s a sort of test ahead of the Tour of Flanders. The favourites study one another, try to understand how their rivals are going, and at the same, try to land the winning blow.”
Pozzato – who served a three-month suspension for his links to Dr. Michele Ferrari last year – joined Lampre ahead of the new season, and began the campaign with a win at the Trofeo Laigueglia and second place at Roma Maxima, before falling short at Milan-San Remo. He is looking for a return to form in Belgium.
E3 Harelbeke’s significance increased still further last season when it was added to the WorldTour calendar and shifted from Saturday to Friday – as well as a test ahead of De Ronde, it is a crucial opportunity to score UCI points.
“Now that it’s been put on the WorldTour calendar, the level has gone up another notch,” Pozzato said. The Italian named Boonen, Cancellara and Sagan as the pre-race favourites but anticipates that others will emerge. “With Flanders in mind, it will be very interesting to see if there are some other riders riding strongly.”
The long weekend in Flanders continues on Sunday with Gent-Wevelgem, a race in which Pozzato reckons that he will be less competitive, although “it might still take a different complexion depending on how Harelbeke is raced.”
Alessandro Petacchi will lead Lampre at Gent-Wevelgem and, like Pozzato, he is coming off a disappointing showing at Milan-San Remo. “The cold and the two-part race limited me. I was very disappointed but I’ll try and take a positive stimulus from that disappointment,” Petacchi said. “I would really like to get a good result in Gent-Wevelgem. I think I have the credentials to do so, given that my form is good. This year, luckily, I haven’t had physical problems or illnesses, so I’ve been able to train well.”
Petacchi will also take part in E3 Harelbeke but even though the race finished in a bunch sprint last year, the Italian insisted that he races on Friday primarily to reacquaint himself with the pavé ahead of Gent-Wevelgem.
“It’s been a few years since I raced on these roads, so Friday’s race will be useful to get a degree of confidence in the face of the dangers of Belgian racing,” he said.