Complete Live Report
Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of E3 Harelbeke. We have full live coverage of all the action from Belgium.
- Classics heavyweights ready for famed Flemish terrain at E3 Harelbeke
- E3 Harelbeke start list
- Past winners
- Kristoff follows tried-and-trusted road to Tour of Flanders
- Boonen and Gilbert team up for Quick-Step Floors at E3 Harelbek
Hello and welcome to our full live coverage of the 2017 E3 Harelbeke race.
It's a surprisingly spring-like day in Flanders as the riders gather for the start in the centre of Harelbeke.
We'll have blow by blow coverage of all the 206km of racing.
Our reporters are at the start, gathering the latest information on the riders and tactics we should see later.
In the absence of 2016 winner Michal Kwiatkowski, world champion Peter Sagan is wearing number one.
He is the big favourite for victory after finishing second at Milan-San Remo.
And they're off!
The riders are rolling out of the start area.
They face a 3km neutralised section and then the 206.1km race will begin when the flag drops. We can expect attacks straight away as riders fight to get into the early break of the day.
Who is your favourite for today?
According to Sporza in Belgium, Sagan and van Avermaet both deserve three stars and are the two favourites.
Sporza award two stars to Philippe Gilbert, Nikki Terpstra and Alexander Kristoff.
Jasper Stuyven, Tom Boonen, Oliver Naesen, Tiesj Benoot and John Degenkolb get one star.
Greg van Avermaet was at the centre of attention at the start. It will be interesting to see if he is back to his best after a quiet Milan-San Remo.
Tom Boonen got a huge cheer at the start and was given a special present before his final ride in the race. He has won E3 Harelbeke five times!
Out on the race the flag has dropped and we've already had some early crashes.
Riders from Astana and Katusha went down.
Boonen present was a special montage of his five victories at E3. He won in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2012.
Can he take number six today?
The fans at the start are happy after a race sponsor gave out some free frites and mayo. That's perfect sponsor activation at a Flemish race.
The fans at the start are happy after a race sponsor gave out some free frites and mayo. That's perfect sponsor activation at a Flemish race.
After 10km of racing, the peloton is still all together.
All the riders signed on and started today, giving us a field of 200 riders. There are 25 teams of 8 riders.
Fancy a flutter on E3? These are the odds with local bookmakers in Belgium. (via Cyclingneuws).
You don't win much if Sagan wins today.
With 15km covered there is still no attack. The riders seem to be enjoying the sunny weather.
They could be stopped at two train crossings soon and then the first climb of the day - the Katteberg - comes after 29km.
The Katteberg is only 60m long but has a gradient of 6.7% with on point at 8%.
The race is now close to Oudenaarde, one of the centres of Flanders and Flemish racing.
Quiet start to the race so far. 20 kilometers left behind and still no break. #RBE3H
@quickstepteam Fri, 24th Mar 2017 11:58:20
It's a busy day of racing, with E3 Harelbeke, the queen stage of the Volta a Catalunya and the Coppi e Bartali race in Italy.
We will have live coverage from Spain shortly on Cyclingnews, with with a race report and a photo gallery from Coppi e Bartali.
Philippe Gilbert stands out in his Belgian national champions jersey and is rider to watch after his aggressive ride on Wednesday at the Dwars door Vlaanderen race.
Any excuse to post these pictures from #RBE3H
The pace is high on the Katteberg but no break for now.
There are huge crowds along the route, with the local Flemish fans enjoying the racing and the sunny weather.
This is the race profile for today's race. You can see the hills and cobbled sections, where the race will be decided.
Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) is one of the riders to go down.
According to the Lotto Soudal team Gallopin has climbed off after his crash. That's a blow to their chances today.
This is the official map of the race, with the climbs and cobbled sectors indicated and named.
John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) spoke to the media before the start.
"I'm very happy to be back in Belgium. It so very special to race on these roads, so I'm very excited," he said.
"I think my shape is good and so it that of the whole team. Milan-San Remo was a good kick off. The team is all good and I felt okay. I was close to making into the break, so I'm really looking forward to getting some new chances."
In the race the speed is high, with the first hour covered at 43.3km/h. The riders clearly love the nice weather.
When Degenkolb was asked Trek’s race tactics, he said:
"We did a big meeting yesterday, it’s about knowing the parcour and feeling comfortable with the knowledge. We’ve got several good options.”
“I will say nothing. If I tell you I'd have to kill you…
“I think its going to be very aggressive race because Peter is super, super strong and people are afraid they can’t follow him in the deep finale. They want to start the race early and be up front. For that reason it's going to be very interesting but I think we have a great team for that kid of race.”
- 150km remaining from 206.1km
After 56km of fast racing the peloton is still together.
It is a surprise not to see the smaller teams send riders on the attack. Perhaps they are awaiting live television coverage before trying to get their colours and sponsors in the spotlight.
#RBE3H ☀️Great weather is making for fast racing in Belgium, over 43km covered in the first hour and still all together.
@OricaScott Fri, 24th Mar 2017 12:35:08
Greg van Avermaet revealed that he came down with a slight cold after Milan-San Remo but is upbeat about his chances for E3 and the rest of the classics.
"I’ve already won a nice race, I won the Omloop, I was second at Strade Bianche, then Milan-San Remo didn’t go so well. This is the fourth race I’ve been targeting this year, I’ll try to do something, but the important thing is next Sunday," he said.
"At San Remo, it’s true that I wasn’t at the level I’d wanted, but today is another day, and I hope the team is there with me on the most important parts of the race. I think we’ll be ready. We’re not the strongest team, like Quick-Step, but I think the team is good and ready."
"Harelbeke is always important I’ve never had a very good result here, but it’s an important test of condition ahead of Flanders."
60 kilometers covered and still no breakaway. #RBE3H
@quickstepteam Fri, 24th Mar 2017 12:42:16
The start of the season didn't go very well for the Veranda's Willems - Crelan team of Nick Nuyens.
There were reports of problems with the team's Felt bikes. Jan Verstraeten played down those stories when chatting with Cyclingnews at the start of the E3 Harelbeke.
“Those stories about the bikes were exaggerated. Anyway, right now, everything is taking care of in this team so it’s up to the riders now to get results.”
The team’s leader in Harelbeke is double Flanders-winner Stijn Devolder. His best result in Harelbeke was third in 2003.
On Wednesday the USA's Kiel Reijnen crashed in ditch at Dwars door Vlaanderen. Fortunately he wasn't seriously hurt.
He's not racing today but is out riding with Trek-Segafredo teammate Ed Theuns, they're looking at the new sections added to the Gent-Wevelgem route for Sunday.
Here we go! We have first attack of he day.
Ryan Mullen (Cannondale) and Berden De Vries (Roompot) have jumped away.
The two have been joined by Marco Coledan (Trek) and have opened a 10-second gap.
Will this be the break of the day?
- 130km remaining from 206.1km
No luck for the trio, with the peloton bringing them back.
We mentioned Stijn Devolder earlier. He is riding E3 for the 16th consecutive time this year. That's an impressive record from a true Flemish hardman.
#RBE3H A quiet but fast race start. 3 riders tried their luck on the attack, but their move didn't stick. We're riding safe in the bunch.
@TeamSunweb Fri, 24th Mar 2017 13:09:01
Our reporters Barry Ryan and Patrick Fletcher are at E3 Harelbeke and gathered these quotes and photos at the start. Click here to see the gallery.
They include Peter Sagan and Tom Boonen, who is riding his last E3 Harelbeke before retiring after Paris-Roubaix.
- 120km remaining from 206.1km
With 120km to race, we finally have a break of the day. Six riders have gone clear.
In there are Gougeard, De Vreese, Masson, Van der Hoorn, Per and Van Hoecke.
They are working hard to open a gap.
De Bondt (Verandas Willems) is trying to go across to the attack while the rest of the peloton seems happy to let them go, with many riders stopping for a natural break.
The six riders have a 1:45 lead on the peloton, with De Bondt at 45 seconds.
The average speed for the second hour of the race was 45km/h. That's fast!
- 110km remaining from 206.1km
It's no surprise to see Gougeard (AG2R) in the attack. He's always aggressive and loves to be in the thick of the action.
The riders have covered the La Houppe climb and the other climbers will soon come thick and fast.
The break leads by 2:30 now.
We have some early photos from E3 that captured the early crash that forced Tony Gallopin to retire.
Matti Breschel of Astana also went down.
Christian Knees (Team Sky) was caught in the crash, with Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) on the ground and unable to continue.
We have a second attack trying to go across to the break. In the move are Delage (FDJ) and Van Asbroeck (Cannondale) but they are 2:00 back. It will be hard for them to get across.
The race is on the Oude Kruisberg now. One of the legendary climbs in Flanders.
In the early crash, Gallopin seemed to have smashed his left knee. He was in huge pain.
#rbe3h 95km to go. The six-rider breakaway has 2'06" on the chasing duo and 4'52" on the peloton, where our riders are.
@BMCProTeam Fri, 24th Mar 2017 13:51:11
- 92km remaining from 206.1km
The gap to the peloton is up to 4:50 now as the race hits the Knokteberg climb.
Positioning is vital now.
Sky, Quick-Step, Katusha and Orica are all on the front of the peloton, fighting for position.
Oliver Naesen is the team leader in the French AG2R team, together with Stijn Vandenbergh.
He wasn’t a factor in Dwars door Vlaanderen. He didn’t hide behind his wheel problems but admitted he was caught by suprise by the move from Philippe Gilbert on the Berendries.
“The attack on the Berendries came as a big surprise. The guys from Quick-Step showed guts and made the race. They were the deserved winners. I couldn’t be there because I didn’t expect it at all. In hindsight it made sense. There’s a lot of good riders in that team so they’ve got to attack first. At the E3 Harelbeke, the finale is longer anyway. They can’t attack at 100 kilometres from the finish, can they,” Naesen told Sporza. With less than 100 kilometres left in the race, it’s clear that will not be the case."
As the speed and tension, rises there are more crashes.
Several riders went down but seem okay and slowly get going again. Docker and Teunissen were two of the crash victims.
The peloton is packed tight on the Flemish country roads. A simple touch of wheels can spark a crash.
- 85km remaining from 206.1km
#RBE3H Six escapees have a 4'30" lead to the bunch, 85km to go. #VoltaCatalunya Fifteen breakers have a 4'25" gap to the pack, 72km to go.
@Lotto_Soudal Fri, 24th Mar 2017 14:03:51
The two chasers are stack in no-man's land at 1:45.
Oliver Naesen (AG2R) expected things to get underway at the Kortekeer. Frederik Willems echoed the same sound.
After today's fifth climb, the Hotondberg, the course heads down at high speed towards Ronse.
Riders with a cyclo-cross background, like Zdenek Stybar, Mike Teunissen and Lars Boom will surely know that the Hotondberg is the location of the GP Mario de Clercq. Shortly after, the Kortekeer is coming up.
The peloton is on a wide road and there is a crash, with Lutsenko going down.
He gets up and several teammates help him chase back through the cars.
The speed is high as the riders near the Kortekeer climb. The race is on early today!
Benoot needs a bike change and help from a teammate and is going to have to fight to get back.
#RBE3H things are heating up as we head into the final 78kms. We have moved into the front positions. Taaienberg comes with 72kms to go.
@TrekSegafredo Fri, 24th Mar 2017 14:16:12
There are more flats and Stannard is at the back.
Attack! FDJ light it up at the front of the peloton.
It's Olivier Le Gac of FDJ.
It's Olivier Le Gac of FDJ.
Quick-Step is leading the peloton as they head to the Taaienberg climb.
Quick-Step seem determined to kick off the race early and use their strength in depth to isolate and then attack Sagan.
There are huge crowds on the Taaienberg, they can expect a great race today.
Crash! Two Quick-Step riders tangle and Bauer goes down hard.
Terpstra was also delayed.
However Boonen is now on the attack on the Taaienberg. He leads the peloton up the gutter.
There is a selection but Sagan and others are there. The riders ease up and take bottles.
Behind the peloton is split into several lines of riders.
Van Avermaet calls for the front group to work together. He has Oss there to help him.
- 68km remaining from 206.1km
Boonen seems keen to make it work and pushes clear with Oss. This is an interesting move.
Gilbert has now dragged a group clear, van Avermaet is in there as they catch riders from the earlier chase.
Naesen is also in the Gilbert attack. They are clearly trying to make Sagan and Degenkolb chase.
But Bora has Lukas Pöstlberger in the move and so Sagan can sit back and wait.
Other riders have come up to the move including Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale).
Sagan tries to go across to but is closely marked by Stybar and a Trek rider.
It's time for the 1200m Eikenberg climb.
Gilbert leads the chase group and they can see the break now. But the peloton can also see the Gilbert attack group.
However there are only 50 or so riders left in the peloton. The speed and attacks have split the race.
The riders in the attack are: Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Oliver Naesen (AG2R), Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step), Lukas Postlberger (Bora-hansgrohe) Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott) and Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac).
Those riders have now caught the early break to create a 12-rider move.
It is now up to the peloton to chase them if they want to get back in the race.
Team Sky, Katusha, Lotto Soudal and Trek have missed the move and will have to chase.
The gap is up to 45 seconds.
The break is on the Stationberg - the 10th sector of 15 in the E3.
Behind Tony Martin tries to drag an attack clear but Trentin does a great team job for Quick Step and stops the move.
But Martin goes again on the cobbled road, with Sagan trying to join him.
Here we go!
They also face a 1200m sector of cobbles.
Sagan is on Martin's wheel but Terpstra and others are also there.
The chasers ease and so Degenkolb launches a new chase but the BMC and Quick-Step riders are blocking perfectly.
Sagan has slipped back to the centre of the chase group. He seems to know it will be difficult to win today.
Up front in the break, they are driving hard, extending their lead to 50 seconds.
AG2R have two riders in Naesen and Gougeard.
Martin tries again but Oss is glued to his wheel.
The break is going away.
Next up is the Kapelberg as we go into the deep finale of the race.
Stijn Devolder is now trying to inspire the chase but with so many strong teams represented in the attack, he gets little help and lots of blocking.
Now Felline tries his hand for Trek. But the chasers are 1:00 back.
There are 10 riders in the attack, including Gilbert, van Avermaet and Vanmarcke.
Flat for Las Boom. That's unlucky in a key moment of the race.
Katusha is now massing on the front of the chase group and seems ready to sacrifice their strength to chase for Kristoff.
On the Kapelberg, Gilbert goes deep to keep the pace high.
Trek-Segafredo have joinedforces with Katusha to create a block of red jersey on the front.
Will it be enough to close the 1:10 gap?
Next up is the Oude Kwaremont at 38km to go. It is 2200m long and so we could see some attacks up front to try to drop some of the riders in the move.
Crash! Sagan is involved.
Sagan seems to have a problem with his front brake and is still to get going. His race seems over.
Gilbert surges up the Paterberg and the break has split as expected.
Trentin leads the group behind but they've lost some horsepower. The gap at the top is still 1:00.
Sagan gets a push away but stops again with brake problems.
His race is surely over.
The team cars are up to the break and so Gilbert gets some instructions from QS DS Wilfried Pieters.
Now it's time for the Oude Kwaremont.
Naesen ups the speed and vanmarcke is in trouble. He is pain after his rib injury at Tirreno-Adriatico but that is a surprise.
We have just Naesen, Gilbert and van Avermaet up front now.
The chasers are at 1:15.
- 35km remaining from 206.1km
Luke Durbridge is trying to chase after the trio but is struggling.
On the long straight road, the trio take turns to keep the speed high. Durbridge is alone and 30 seconds back.
Terpstra tuck very low over his bike and leads the chase group but Quick-Step seem happy to have Gilbert up front.
- 30km remaining from 206.1km
Vanmarcke is drifting back to the chase group. He is perhaps hoping that the race can come back together before the finish.
However that seems unlikely with just 30km to go.
The break hits the Karnemelkbeekstraat climb in the trees. This is where Sagan and Kwiatkowski attacked last year and stayed away.
Felline is leading the chase but there is a lack of cooperation in the chase. Nobody seems to have the legs to close the 1:20 gap.
Durbridge has slipped to 45 seconds back on the Gilbert, van Avermaet and Naesen trio.
- 23km remaining from 206.1km
A taste of cobbles for the break. They handle it well and keep doing turns on the front.
They are riding in the fading sun in Belgium with huge crowds out cheering the riders.
The chasing group seems to have lost heart and is back at 2:00 now.
Trentin flats and eases up.
- 20km remaining from 206.1km
Gilbert takes a gel and gets ready for the finale.
We asked when the trio would start to attack each other and it is Gilbert who kicks it off first.
Van Avermaet goes with Gilbert. Naesen is trying get back on as the road kicks up.
Naesen is closing the gap but he's made a big effort to do it.
There are some cross winds today and so every effort comes with a price in the finale today.
For sure this trio of Gilbert, van Avermaet and Naesen will fight for victory in just 16km.
They are now playing mind games with each other as the kilometres tick down.
Van Avermaet and Gilbert know each other well but they need be cautious with Naesen. He proved he can win big last season.
- 10km remaining from 206.1km
The chasers are still 2:00 behind. Their race is over but they will sprint for the placings.
- 8km remaining from 206.1km
Despite being dropped earlier on the last climb, Naesen continues to do his part in leading the trio home.
On paper van Avermaet is the fastest in the trio but will there be attacks before the finish.
- 4km remaining from 206.1km
The run in to Harelbeke is almost over. Were getting closer and closer to the finish.
Gilbert, van Avermaet and Naesen are all taking turns on the front.
But who will become the first Belgian winner since 2012?
Will someone attack before the sprint?
The pace is slow as the trio play mind games and wait for the sprint.
All three think they can win from the sprint.
This is almost like a track sprint from a standstill.
Naesen goes first!
He is strong but van Avermaet catches him and holds off Gilbert. Just.
Van Avermaet and Gilbert were close at the line but the BMC rider got it.
Gilbert was as strong as van Avermaet. He pushed a bigger gear as he chased him but couldn't get up to van Avermaet.
Van Avermaet punched the air as he crossed the line, confident that he had won.
It is his first E3 victory.
Van Avermaet's win makes him a natural favourite for the Tour of Flanders now.
He has won Omloop and now E3 so far this season.
Speaking before the podium ceremony as he still fought for his breath, van Avermaet played down reports that he had a cold after Milan-San Remo.
"I was happy how I felt. I didn’t feel so good on Wednesday but I’m happy things are not so bad,” he said.
Van Avermaet played down suggestions that riders rarely perform well in E3 and then the Tour of Flanders.
"I don’t know. I was never so good here, I was never on the podium and I was always good in Flanders," he argued.
"It’s just nice to win a Classic in Flanders and I think E3 is one of the nicest ones."
"It gives a lot of confidence for Flanders. I’m just happy to have won two nice victories in my pocket and hopefully the third will come next week."
This is the provisional top ten for today:
1 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 4:48:22
2 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
3 Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale
4 Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-Scott 0:00:38
5 Lukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:00:40
6 Michael Valgren Andersen (Den) Astana Pro Team 0:00:51
7 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida 0:00:53
8 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
9 Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Cannondale-Drapac
10 Alberto Bettiol (Ita) Cannondale-Drapac.
Van Avermaet climbs into the top step of the podium and gets a huge cheer from the crowd.
The crowd sings along to the Belgian national anthem after being congratulated by the prince of Belgium.
Thanks to his victory, van Avermaet is also the new leader of the UCI WorldTour standings.
It's been a good day for the Olympic champion.
The top ten shows that Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-Scott finished fourth at 38 seconds. That's another strong ride by the Australian.
With Peter Sagan marked out of the race and then caught in a crash, Lukas Pöstlberger flew the flag for Bora-Hansgrohe, finishing fifth, just behind Durbridge at 40 seconds.
Michael Valgren was sixth at 51 seconds, while Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) won the sprint for seventh place at 53 seconds.
Tom Boonen was right there with the chasers, finishing eighth.
Dylan Van Baarle and Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale-Drapac) finished ninth and tenth.
We have some early photos from E3. This is a great one of van Avermaet celebrating the moment.
This wider shot shows the sprint to the line.
Here van Avermaet takes a corner at speed.
There was some speculation and rumours that Nairo Quintana crashed while training at home in Colombia today.
He and Movistar quickly clarified that he was fine. The confusion perhaps came about due to Dayer Quintana crashing hard in Belgium at the E3 Harelbeke.
Movistar said he needed 18 stitches in an injury but did not suffer any fractures.
@NairoQuinCo Fri, 24th Mar 2017 16:46:41
This was the break of the day that saw van Avermaet go on to beat Gilbert an Naesen.
This was the podium of the E3Harelbeke.
The cobbles and climbs inspired some great racing, with Gilbert's attacks causing the split. That left Peter Sagan stuck in the group and heavily marked.
Sagan tried to go across to the attack at one point but was marked. He later crashed and lost a lot of time.
For more great photos from E3 Harelbeke, full results and a full race report, click here.
Thanks for following our blow by blow live coverage from E3 Harelbeke and the Volta a Catalunya.
Join us during the weekend for more coverage from the Spanish stage race and then Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem, when the Classics riders clash with the sprinters in the echelons and on the famous Kemmelberg climb.