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52nd E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - 1.HC

Belgium, March 28, 2009

Belgian Classics get rolling with E3 Prijs

By Gregor Brown

Heinrich Haussler is in top form this spring
Photo ©: Tim Van Wichelen
(Click for larger image)

The Belgians know their cobbled classics have truly started in full force with the E3 Prijs and Brabantse Pijl weekend. The 208-kilometre E3 Prijs will be a key indicator of form and favourites for the Ronde van Vlaanderen, only one week later.

The 52nd GP Harelbeke (as it is sometimes called) may not stack up to the distance of De Ronde, but its climbs offer an interesting appetiser for the main event in Flanders. Three riders in recent years have gone on from E3 to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen: Johan Museeuw (1998), Peter Van Petegem (1999) and Tom Boonen (2005 and 2006).

Even if you don't pull off Ronde, E3 is a worthy win in its own right. Past winners include Rik Van Looy, Roger De Vlaeminck, Jan Raas, Phil Anderson and Mario Cipollini. Norwegian Kurt-Asle Arvesen won the race last year to add to a palmarès that includes stages in the Giro d'Italia. He went on to win stage 11 of the 2008 Tour de France in Foix.

The E3 packs many of the same torturous hellingen (Flemish for 'hard climbs'), like the Oude Kwaremont, which will be used in the Ronde. The 10th of 12 climbs features 1500 metres of cobbles over its 2200 metres. In 2008, Arvesen and Greg Van Avermaet used it to drop four escape companions and arrive in a group of six 30 kilometres later.

The hellingen:
La Houppe
Berg Stene
Eikenberg (1000m of cobbles)
Stationsberg (500m)
Taaienberg (500m)
Oude Kruiskens (900m)
Paterberg (400m)
Oude Kwaremont (1500m)

The number one favourite for E3 is Belgium's favourite rider, Tommeke Boonen. He is a four-time winner of the race, so he knows the parcours well, and he displayed he has the winning hunger in Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) has won the race four times already
Photo ©: Tim Van Wichelen
(Click for larger image)

Mister photo finish, Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam), is our pick for the win, though. He is filled with rage following a close miss in one of cycling's biggest races, Milano-Sanremo. He went on a bit of a sortie in Dwars, but expect more from the German in the E3 Prijs as he builds for the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Other top favourites are Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam), Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto), Gert Steegmans (Katusha), Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), Marcus Burghardt (Columbia-Highroad), Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank).

Cyclingnews will cover the 52nd E3 Prijs Vlaanderen live on March 28 at 14:30 local Europe time (CEST)/ 0:30 Australian time (CDT)/ 9:30 (USA East)