'Mini' Tour of Flanders sets tone for cobbled Classics
Deceuninck-Quickstep continued their domination of the Spring Classics, delivering Zdenek Stybar to the victory in the E3 BinckBank Classic.
Stybar was part of a five-man split that came together in the final 10km when his teammate Bob Jungels was reeled in after a long solo move.
Greg Van Avermaet led out the sprint, but Stybar had enough power to overhaul him, having sat on the wheels as the rest of the four-man group chased after Jungels.
Belgian prodigy Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) also came around the CCC Team rider for second.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team|
|1||Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|2||Wout Van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma|
|3||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team|
|4||Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education First|
|5||Bob Jungels (Lux) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|6||Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin|
|7||Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott|
|8||Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale|
|9||Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team|
|10||Marc Hirschi (Swi) Team Sunweb|
The E3 BinckBank Classic – often described as a 'mini Tour of Flanders' – gets the riders in the mood for the more famous cobbled Classics in Belgium and northern France that are to come, and gets them used to the rough stuff again after a March spent competing at Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo.
Part of the UCI WorldTour since 2012, the race's new-for-2019 title of the E3 BinckBank Classic is slightly less of a tongue-twister than the race's old name: the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke. It's no great surprise, then, that, until this year, the race had become known as the E3 Harelbeke, while locals tend to call it simply the E3.
The E3 actually used to be the name of a nearby motorway – although the road in question is now called the A14 – while Harelbeke is the West Flandrian town in which the 204km race still starts and finishes.
The now-retired Belgian superstar Tom Boonen holds the record for the most wins at the E3, having won it five times, including four times in a row between 2004 and 2007.
Last year's winner, Niki Terpstra, was a long-time teammate of Boonen's at QuickStep, and no doubt riding in his colleague's service helped inform the Dutchman's decision to go on the offensive on the climb of the Taaienberg with just over 70km to go, assisted by teammate Yves Lampaert.
Terpstra went solo with 25km left to race, crossing the line alone some 20 seconds ahead of another QuickStep teammate, Philippe Gilbert, with BMC's Greg Van Avermaet third and AG2R's Oliver Naesen fourth.
Terpstra left QuickStep for French Continental squad Direct Energie over the winter, but is back to defend his title. His old team, meanwhile, will look to continue their winning purple patch, and will be the team to beat, again fielding Lampaert and Gilbert, with this year's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Zdenek Stybar, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne champion Bob Jungels and winner of Le Samyn, Florian Sénéchel, all on the roster.
It's hard to look past the newly named Deceuninck-QuickStep outfit, then, but other names to keep an eye out for on West Flanders' pavé include 2017 winner Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), Bora-Hansgrohe's Peter Sagan, who won here back in 2014, AG2R's in-form Oliver Naesen and three-time cyclo-cross world champion Wout van Aert, who will likely be the crowd favourite, as well as a very good bet for victory.
While the race has in the past borrowed the famous climb of the Muur van Geraardsbergen from the Tour of Flanders, it doesn't currently feature on the E3 route. Instead, the cobbled climb of the Oude Kwaremont is the principal difficulty, coming just under 40km from the finish in Harelbeke, followed by the even tougher, although not cobbled, Karnemelkbeekstraat, and one more sector of pavé on the run-in to the final climb of the Tiegemberg.
Both the start and finish in Harelbeke attract huge crowds in what is a traditional cycling heartland of extremely knowledgeable fans, all champing at the bit at the thought of the Tour of Flanders, which used to come the weekend after E3, but is now another couple of days later, with E3 happening on a Friday [March 29] and Flanders on Sunday, April 7.
E3 BinckBank Classic 201929 March 2019 | Harelbeke
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