Our essential preview of E3 Harelbeke; a semi-Classic that always sees a stellar line-up

Races come thick and fast this time of year, but be sure not to miss the E3 Harelbeke (Friday, March 25).

In recent the years the E3 has been the most exciting pre-Tour of Flanders cobbled race of the spring, and watching riders battle it out on some of the toughest Flemish roads can’t help but whet your appetite for the upcoming monuments.

Part of the race’s appeal is its route. The riders take on such notorious climbs as the Taaienberg and the Eikenberg, while the inclusion of the Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont make the race a fascinating indication as to which riders are likely to go well at the Tour of Flanders.

>>> The defining cobbles, bergs and climbs of the Belgian Classics

The route has changed a little this year, with 10km lopped off the overall distance to shorten it from 215km to 205km, and the overall number of climbs reduced from 17 to 15. This should make the race a little easier, and perhaps reverse the recent trend of very selective editions (on only one occasion in the past ten editions has a group of over four riders contested for the win, and solo winners account for five of occasions).


All you need to know about the cobbled races


The E3’s other major appeal is the very strong line-ups it regularly attracts. A look at the recent list of winners testifies to the quality of rider that tends to succeed here – Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) has three wins in the past six, Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) holds the record of five victories, and, on the rare occasion that both those riders missed out, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) prevailed in 2014. And last year Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) proved his quality by winning with a classy solo move.

This year’s edition is no exception, with an array of stars taking the startline in Harelbeke. Three of the aforementioned former winners will be seeking to add to their tallies; Cancellara on the back of some excellent form that has seen him win Strade-Bianche and a time-trial at the Tirreno-Adriatico; Sagan still looking for his first win in the rainbow stripes; and Boonen as part of a very strong Etixx-QuickStep line-up from which virtually every rider, from Zdenek Stybar and Niki Terpstra to Stijn Vandenbergh and Matteo Trentin, is capable of winning.


Peter Sagan leads an escape in the 2015 E3 Harelbeke

E3 Harelbeke live TV guide

Eurosport have you covered for E3 Harelbeke coverage on Good Friday, with a live action starting at 2pm


Geraint Thomas misses out, however, as he’s off riding at the Volta a Catalunya. Team Sky still bring a very strong team, however, with the impressive Luke Rowe joined by Ian Stannard, who looked rearing to go at Milan-San Remo having started his season later than usual in a bid to be on top form for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

Greg Van Avermaet seems to be shirking his habit of not converting advantageous positions into wins and has been one of the riders of the season so far, having won both the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and (surprisingly) overall at the Tirreno-Adriatico. The likes of Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal) and Lars Boom (Astana) are all also in with a shout.

Then there are those who rely on their fast sprints to win, all of whom should benefit from the marginally easier parcours this year. Riders like Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud Demare (FDJ), on-form Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and arguably even Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) are usually taken out of contention due to the severity of the course, but may fancy their chances this time round.


A look ahead to the Tour of Flanders


E3 Harelbeke 2016: Teams

>>> E3 Harelbeke 2016 start list

Ag2r La Mondiale (France)
Astana (Kazakhstan)
BMC (USA)
Bora-Argon 18 (Germany)
Cannondale (USA)
Dimension Data (RSA)
Direct Energie (France)
Etixx-QuickStep (Belgium)
FDJ (France)
Fortuneo-Vital Concept (France)
Giant-Alpecin (Germany)
IAM Cycling (Switzerland)
Katusha (Russia)
Lampre-Merida (Italy)
Lotto-Soudal (Belgium)
LottoNL-Jumbo (Netherlands)
Movistar (Spain)
Orica-GreenEdge (Australia)
Roompot Oranje Peloton (Netherlands)
Southeast-Venezuela (Italy)
Team Sky (Great Britain)
Tinkoff (Russia)
Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise (Belgium)
Trek-Segafredo (USA)
Wanty-Groupe Gobert (Belgium)

E3 Harelbeke: Recent winners

2015: Geraint Thomas
2014: Peter Sagan
2013: Fabian Cancellara
2012: Tom Boonen
2011: Fabian Cancellara
2010: Fabian Cancellara
2009: Filippo Pozzato
2008: Kurt Asle Arvesen
2007: Tom Boonen
2006: Tom Boonen

E3 Harelbeke: Last year’s top 10 (2015)

1. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky in 5-14-57
2. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx-QuickStep at 25 secs
3. Matteo Trentin (Ita) Etixx-QuickStep at 38 secs
4. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
5. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo
6. Matti Breschel (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo
7. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
8. Jack Bauer (NZl) Cannondale-Garmin
9. Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge
10. Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing Team at same time