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"E3 Harelbeke is a completely different race to Milano-Sanremo, but I believe that finally everything will unfold in my favour. This race will not be easy for the sprinters, and the profile of E3 Harelbeke suits me more - I showed this...

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ADAM BLYTHE

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E3 HARELBEKE

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JAY MCCARTHY

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JURAJ SAGAN

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MACIEJ BODNAR

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MICHAEL GOGL

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NIKOLAI TRUSSOV

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OSCAR GATTO

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PETER SAGAN

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24.03.2016 @ 14:03 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The cobblestone classics have arrived – this Friday sees the 59th E3 Harelbeke take place in Belgium. The race takes in some of the most fearsome climbs in professional cycling and will be an indicator of riders’ form for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, while being an exceptionally tough race in its own right.
 
The winner of the 2014 edition of the race, Peter Sagan, will be returning to contest the 206.4km E3 Harelbeke. After starting his Spring classics campaign in fine form, finishing strongly at Strade Bianche and being held back at Milano-Sanremo only by a crash in the last few hundred metres, the World Champion will be leading a team of eight riders over the difficult climbs and challenging cobblestone sectors.
 
Saganhimself believes in his chances, saying: "E3 Harelbeke is a completely different race to Milano-Sanremo, but I believe that finally everything will unfold in my favour. This race will not be easy for the sprinters, and the profile of E3 Harelbeke suits me more - I showed this in winning the race in 2014.
 
"As well as the performance, a smart head will also undoubtedly play a key role. There will be very strong competition and we obviously cannot underestimate anyone. However, I know that I can count on a strong team around me. I'm looking forward to this race, and what's more I will also race with my brother after some time."
 
Sport Director, Tristan Hoffman, sees the race as a key element of the team’s preparation for the remaining classics.

 

“We sometimes call E3 Harelbeke the mini Tour of Flanders because of its tough parcours and you often see all the guys for Flanders will have a big test at E3. In his build up to the big classics, Peter Sagan will be our leader here.”

Joining Sagan in Harelbeke on Friday will be Maciej Bodnar, Adam Blythe, Oscar Gatto, Michael Gogl, Jay McCarthy, Juraj Sagan, and Nikolay Trusov. Most of the team has raced with Sagan already this season, and will play an instrumental role in this race.
 
At 206.4km, the E3 Harelbeke is the shortest of the cobblestone classics, but this does not make it any less difficult, taking in many of the climbs of the Tour of Flanders. The first 110km are relatively flat, taking in only the Kattenberg and La Houppe, but this part of the course covers exposed sections of road, along with cobblestones that will sap the riders’ energy.
 
While anything can happen in the classics, Hoffman was preparing the team for a hard race.

 

“Like any of the other classics you have to be aware of the morning break and if possible we’ll try and get a guy up the road for later on. It’s a tough balance as having a guy up the road for Peter later on is good, but you also need people around him for the climbs and positioning.”
 
After 110km come the climbs – starting with the Oude Kruisberg, the next 80km of the race cross 13 climbs – some of which are cobbled, offering little rest for the riders. A mechanical or puncture on any of these climbs can spell disaster – while the narrowness of some of the climbs mean that any bottlenecks will allow the front of the race to escape, leaving anyone caught behind unable to chase. The sheer steepness of the Patersberg followed by the difficulty of the Oude Kwaremont is sure to be a deciding factor in the race.
 
The E3 Harelbeke is a race where anything can happen, but Peter Sagan knows the roads well, having taken the win in 2014 in a four-man sprint finish after a daring breakaway effort.

 

“Peter was strong here last year,” Tristan continues. “missing a bit in the final few kilometres but he’s looking stronger than last year. It’s a shame that we lost Daniele Bennati as he’s a strong guy for positioning ahead of the climbs, and also I don’t think we can take responsibility for the race like some other teams so we will have to race to our strengths.”
 
“It’s a big race for the younger guys like Michael Gogl, Jay McCarthy and Juraj Sagan. They’re really excited for this, and it would be good for these guys to try for the early break, and this would mean that we can then save our energy in the bunch behind. However this is always difficult and it depends on the situation.”
 
This is a race where a solo breakaway is as likely as a group sprint and is sure to be thrilling from start to finish.

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