We were over at E3 Harelbeke last Friday to watch the racing and soak up some of the famous Belgian atmosphere. While E3 is by no means as big in reputation as its brother, the Tour of Flanders (or Ronde van Vlaanderen, if you prefer), it’s a top level pro bike race in Belgium which means people come out to watch in their thousands and anyone who’s got pretensions of being someone in the Classics is there to ride.
And it is a brutal race too – just ask Fabian Cancellara,
whose spring campaign was ended by a crash on the Haaghoek cobbles.
As well as hitting some bergs ourselves for a bit of Flemish-style suffering, we got along to the start in Harelbeke to check out the pro bikes and see what tweaks they make for the cobbles.
Although the cobbles of Flanders are very different to that of Roubaix, they still pack quite a punch and if your bike’s not 100% then the Hellingen may well shake it to bits.
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Goldie Lookin Chain
While they are no longer a part of the WorldTour peloton, following Garmin-Sharp's merger with Cannondale, Cervelo sponsor MTN-Qhubeka. Some of the African team's riders use Q-Rings, while some prefer Rotor's No-Q round chainrings. They all use 3D cranksets. They're all running KMC chains, but some bikes have that extra little bit of bling by equipping gold ones
Keeping it personal
MTN Qhubeka's Edvald Boasson Hagen prefers Rotor's No-Q round chainrings on his 3D crankset. The cranksets have the rider's names on the inside (using stickers in this case) which as well as being a cool little bit of personalisation also makes it easier for the mechanics to remember which crankset belongs to whom when it's time to re-build the bikes.
The MTN riders had their standard Shimano Dura-Ace jockey wheels replaced with these Ceramic speed ones on their Di2 rear derailleurs. Ceramic Speed are bearing specialists that make bottom brackets, replacement bearings for hubs and single bearings as well as aftermarket jockey wheels
Even the pros don't get brand new equipment all the time. Crash damage was clearly visible on this rear derailleur, but since it was evidently still perfectly functional then it gets used again. Even though pro teams get huge shipments of equipment from their sponsors at the start of every season, it's part of the mechanic's jobs to make sure that things last as long as possible
MTN Qhubeka are the only pro cycling team sponsored by Enve Composites this season, and the squad use their wheels coupled with Schwalbe's One 26mm tubular tyres.
Canyon's new Aeroad stakes a claim as the most attractive aero road bike in the bunch. Some of the Katusha team were on Aeroads and some - Luca Paolini included - preferred to ride the Ultimate CF SLX. Movistar, who are also sponsored by Canyon, also appeared to have given their riders the option, but almost all of them lined up on the Aeroad for Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem.
Katyusha's power measurement is provided by SRM. The German-made units also come with a speed sensor that can be mounted on the forks or, as seen here, on the rear stays. Katyusha give all their riders an SRM for training, but let them choose whether or not they want to use one in races.
Last minute tweaks
Even right up until the last minute mechanics will be around to make any changes the riders want. Sven Erik Bystrom's race bike was getting the rear derailleur alignment checked and the mechanic spent a good five minutes running the chain up and down the cassette until he was satisfied that everything was perfect
Alexander Kristoff's gold Aeroad is an impressive beast. Even more impressive was that the Norwegian doesn't just have one as there were two spare gold coloured rides mounted to two separate team cars.
Kristoff also chose gearing that's not for the faint of heart: a 54/42 crankset would have most mortals walking up the feared Flandrian bergs.
One thing that the pros, like most of us, prefer to do is keep their pedals for as long as possible. A worn in set of pedals is always much more comfortable to use than a brand new set, and Kristoff's have clearly seen their fair share of kilometres
Drafting Sep Vanmarcke
A great thing about Belgian races is the access the public gets to the riders. This chap took the opportunity to jump on Lotto NL-Jumbo's Sep Vanmarcke as the Belgian favourite rode down to sign in
Ag2R are riding Focus's Izalco Max bikes again this season. Italian manufacturer Elite provide both bottles and cages. If you look closely, you can see that some of the bottle have a white 'x' on the top to mark what liquid is inside.
Flying the flag
The top tube of the bikes has two flags, one denoting the French nationality of the team, the other a nod to the German framesets they're riding.
One of a kind
Ag2r are the only World Tour team riding SRAM this season. Their bikes are equipped with the Red 22 groupset and Quarq's Red power meter.
Degenkolb loves drop
John Degenkolb has some serious drop going on his Giant Defy. The Giant-Alpecin leader's bike also has some pretty neat cable routing going on. If you look closely, you can see that the Di2 wires are bound to the rear brake cable and all threaded through the same hole in the frame.
Degenkolb also opted for a set of satellite shifters in the centre of his bars. A lot of riders like to have their hands on the tops when they go up the bergs, and this means he doesn't have to move his hands along the bars to change gear. It proved to be a difficult day in the saddle for the Milan-San Remo champion though, crashing in the same incident which brought down Cancellara and suffering bruises.
Giant-Alpecin are using Pioneer's power meter. Currently the superbly catchy SGY-PM910H is only available for Shimano's Dura-Ace 9000 crankset, meaning that it's not really an option for non-pros looking for power measurement.
Touches of a pro mechanic
The small finishing touches are often what set the pros bikes apart. Here the mechanic has used a single cable tie to hold the Di2 wire in place and neaten up the routing from the rear cable stop to the derailleur
FDJ pimp their ride
Française Des Jeux had pimped out one of their three team cars at the race with this eye-catching metallic blue front.
Weight doesn't matter
The combination of the 6.8kg UCI weight limit and the lightness of pro-level components means that a lot of pros don't always use the highest level bits of kit on certain parts of their bikes. This Movistar rider has gone for the Cromo axled version of Look's Keo Blade pedals rather than the Titanium offering
Are you tough enough to live in Hoogerland?
Etixx-QuickStep's riders were on a variety of bikes. Some chose Specialized's Tarmacs while others opted for the Roubaix with its shock-absorbing Zertz inserts in the forks and seat stays
Fabian Cancellara has stayed on his favoured Trek Domane this season, although his new Spartacus edition bike is white with silver detailing whereas last year's was black
Custom paint job
Wonderful as the paint job looks, the day would end in disaster for Cancellara as he fell heavily early in the race, fracturing two vertebrae in his back ruling him out for both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix
Trek's Bontrager wheels were shod with FMB's highly popular Paris-Roubaix tubular tyres. FMB may have only come into existence in 2005, but the French firm are incredibly popular across the peloton when it comes to racing on the cobbles
Stick with what you know
Even Spartacus didn't dare copy Kristoff's 54/42 gearing for E3. Instead, the Swiss went with a standard 53/39 setup at the front.
Supporting the support car
Ever the ones to find something flashy, Team Sky had this rather eye-catching Land Rover Discovery parked outside their team bus. Jaguar Land Rover are an official sponsor of Sky, and it seems that the British-based squad are expanding their range of team cars, at least when it comes to combating the cobbles anyway
Calm before the storm
Jack Bauer's Cannondale Synapse was resting against the team bus before the start of E3. Little did the poor bike know that it would be hurled into a ditch during Gent-Wevelgem just 48hrs later...
Bauer had some but not all of the day's climbs noted on his stem. But the Kiwi had added a few notes with information about turns into a couple of the climbs
Complex up front
Cannondale-Garmin are on SRMs mounted on Cannondale's own SISL2 Hollowgram crank arms with FSA K-Force chainrings. Bauer had opted for 53/39 standard chainrings at the front
A cobbled classic
Elsewhere Bauer's Synapse was kitted out with Mavic wheels, FSA K-Force bars and stem and an FSA SL-K seatpost. Fizik provided the saddle and bar tape and Shimano the Dura-Ace Di2 drivetrain