No Tour of Flanders dress rehearsal carries quite the same weight as E3 Harelbeke. The first WorldTour race of the year on the cobbles, it is also the first time that all of the principal contenders for De Ronde face off against one another in competitive action.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory) has already won this race three times – in 2010, 2011 and 2013 – and on two of those occasions, victory was the precursor for a Tour of Flanders win a week later. The Swiss was among the final riders to line up at the start on Friday.
“There are a lot of options today, especially with the changes in the parcours and the new final," Cancellara said, pointing out that there is a slightly longer but more complicated run-in from the last climb of the Tiegemberg to the finish in Harelbeke.
As per tradition, the previous year’s winner was feted on the signing on podium, with Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) awarded his weight in beer in recognition of his efforts last year. Other contenders on show include Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), while Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is also on hand for a further sample of the cobbles ahead of the pavé stage at this year’s Tour de France.