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Startline gallery: E3 Harelbeke

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Eyes on the prize: Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) can lay down a marker at E3 Harelbeke.

Eyes on the prize: Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) can lay down a marker at E3 Harelbeke. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) before the start of E3 Harelbeke.

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) before the start of E3 Harelbeke. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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A relaxed Luca Paolini (Katusha) waits for the start.

A relaxed Luca Paolini (Katusha) waits for the start. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) is co-leader with Philippe Gilbert.

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) is co-leader with Philippe Gilbert. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Alessandro Ballan is one of many options for BMC.

Alessandro Ballan is one of many options for BMC. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) ready for action.

Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) ready for action. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Philippe Gilbert (BMC) is hoping that his season takes off in April.

Philippe Gilbert (BMC) is hoping that his season takes off in April. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) rolls to the start of E3 Harelbeke.

Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) rolls to the start of E3 Harelbeke. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is always in demand in Belgium.

Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is always in demand in Belgium. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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The peloton lines up for the start of E3 Harelbeke.

The peloton lines up for the start of E3 Harelbeke. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Ian Stannard (Sky) has shown his ability on the cobbles.

Ian Stannard (Sky) has shown his ability on the cobbles. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar) before the start of E3 Harelbeke.

Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar) before the start of E3 Harelbeke. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Huge crowds as ever in Harelbeke.

Huge crowds as ever in Harelbeke. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Some late adjustments for Thomas Voeckler (Europcar).

Some late adjustments for Thomas Voeckler (Europcar). (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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George Hincapie (BMC).

George Hincapie (BMC). (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM).

Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM). (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) has enormous potential on the cobbles.

Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) has enormous potential on the cobbles. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Frederic Guesdon (FDJ-BigMat) is on course to race Paris-Roubaix.

Frederic Guesdon (FDJ-BigMat) is on course to race Paris-Roubaix. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) gets ready for the off.

Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) gets ready for the off. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Italian champion Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) wants to get off the mark for 2012.

Italian champion Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) wants to get off the mark for 2012. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) is fast becoming a firm favourite with the Flemish faithful.

Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) is fast becoming a firm favourite with the Flemish faithful. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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E3 Harelbeke joins the WorldTour for the first time in 2012.

E3 Harelbeke joins the WorldTour for the first time in 2012. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda) is a popular figure in Belgium.

Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda) is a popular figure in Belgium. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) enters the race on a high after victory at Dwars Door Vlaanderen.

Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) enters the race on a high after victory at Dwars Door Vlaanderen. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Oscar Freire (Katusha) at the start in Harelbeke.

Oscar Freire (Katusha) at the start in Harelbeke. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Jeremy Hunt (Sky) ready for action.

Jeremy Hunt (Sky) ready for action. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Kevin Hulsmans (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) is a key lieutenant for Filippo Pozzato.

Kevin Hulsmans (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) is a key lieutenant for Filippo Pozzato. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Svein Tuft has been hugely impressive for GreenEdge thus far in 2012.

Svein Tuft has been hugely impressive for GreenEdge thus far in 2012. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda).

Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda). (Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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David Millar (Garmin-Barracuda) at the start in Harelbeke.

David Millar (Garmin-Barracuda) at the start in Harelbeke. (Image credit: Barry Ryan)

E3 Harelbeke has proved a most reliable indicator of form lines ahead of the Tour of Flanders in recent seasons, and all of the principal contenders for De Ronde were on the start line on Friday as the race makes its debut in the WorldTour.

Winner for the past two years, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) is the favourite to triumph once again this time around, particularly given his recent exploits in Italy. However, in spite of his undoubted power, the Swiss rider found himself pipped at the line at Milan-San Remo, and there is no shortage of willing challengers in a high-class field in Harelbeke.

Leading the line is the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team of Tom Boonen. The Belgian has been a remarkably consistent performer on the cobbles for the past two seasons, and flanked by Dwars Door Vlaanderen winner Niki Terpstra and Sylvain Chavanel, Boonen seems well-placed to renew his enduring rivalry with Cancellara.

Philippe Gilbert and his BMC squad are still chasing their first victory of the season, but with Thor Hushovd, Alessandro Ballan and Greg Van Avermaet in their ranks, they should have a significant say in the finale here. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) are some of the other danger men.

There were raucous cheers too for the young Belgian talent Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) as he went to sign on. Cancellara may be the man to beat, but home hopes are certainly not lacking at Harelbeke.