The Belgian Classics season starts on Friday (23) with E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke.
Held for the first time in 1958, this historic race makes its debut on the prestigious UCI WorldTour calendar in 2012.
All of the 18 WorldTour teams will be represented for this extended lap in east Flanders that includes 13 sharp climbs or ‘bergs’, including the challenging Kwaremont.
Two men have won six editions of the race in the last eight years, and both are set to line-up in the town of Harelbeke tomorrow.
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) will be hoping to secure a hat-trick of victories, having won last year and in 2010. The four-time world time trial champion will also be keen to erase the disappointment of second place in last week’s Milan-San Remo, where he did most of the work in the closing kilometres before being outsprinted to the line by Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE). His victory earlier this month in the Strade Bianche proved he had already found good one-day form.
His chief rival could prove to be Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), joint record holder in the race with four consecutive victories between 2004 and 2007. Boonen’s exceptional start to the season (overall victory in the Tour of Qatar, a stage in Paris-Nice, second at Omloop Het Niewsblad) will make him a marked man as much as his record in the race.
Team Sky will be led by Edvald Boasson Hagen, whose chances at Milan-San Remo diminished when his teammates were deployed to help a struggling Mark Cavendish. The Norwegian turned sprinter when requested to so by his team with just 10km remaining of the second stage of the Volta ao Algarve and won.
BMC Racing’s Philippe Gilbert, still ranked number one on the latest IG Markets Pro Cycling Index after an astonishing 2011 season, will be anxious to get his 2012 campaign underway after finishing an anonymous 87th last week at Milan-San Remo, continuing a low key start that saw him abandon Tirreno-Adriactio, finish 48th at Strade Bianche, and 31st at the Omloop.
Oscar Friere (Katusha) must also be considered a realistic contender for victory. He finished seventh at Milan-San Remo and won his first stage for his new team at the Tour Down Under, proving that at 36, he is still a formidable contender.
Check back for our race report.