Last year, we wondered how Ghent-Wevelgemâ€™s move to the Sunday before Flanders would affect Harelbekeâ€™s E3 Prijs Vlaanderen. This year, weâ€™re starting to get our answer. Tom Boonen, Filippo Pozzato, as well as the entire BMC and Sky teams have opted-out of this yearâ€™s edition, causing many to wonder just how long this terrific event can maintain its prestige without many of the sportâ€™s marquee names. For now, the E3 Prijs offers those participating a terrific warm-up for next Sundayâ€™s Tour of Flandersâ€”201 kilometers and 12 bergs, many of which will be seen again in the Ronde.
Hereâ€™s a quick run-down of this yearâ€™s favorites:
Fabian Cancellara – Last yearâ€™s winner, Leopard Trekâ€™s Fabian Cancellara comes to this yearâ€™s E3 Prijs looking even stronger than he did a year ago. And unfortunately for the competition, his Leopard Trek team is firing on all cylinders and looks set to dominate.
Thor Hushovd – Garmin-CervÃ©loâ€™s Thor Hushovd found himself on the wrong side of the split in Saturdayâ€™s Milan-San Remo, denying us a chance to gauge his fitness for the cobbled classics. That said, I suspect Thorâ€™s just fine and ready to announce himself as a major contender for Flanders and Roubaix.
Heinrich Haussler – Heinrich Hausslerâ€™s had a disappointing springâ€”after winning two stages in Qatar, he failed to take a stage in Paris-Nice and was unable to make the final selection in Milan-San Remo. But Wednesday he showed glimmers of his top form. Riding with Thor will likely help him as other teams will be faced with choosing which star to mark.
Stijn Devolder/Bjorn Leukemans – Weâ€™ve seen a lot of Stijn Devolder so far this springâ€”unfortunately, itâ€™s been at the rear of the field, chasing back after a crash, or trying to bang sand out of his shifter. At Wednesdayâ€™s Dwars door Vlaanderen though, we saw a glimpse of the man who won the Tour of Flandersâ€”twice. As for Leukemans, heâ€™s been pretty quiet since February, but I suspect Saturday will be our first opportunity to see Vacansoleilâ€™s kopman at his best.
Niki Terpstra – 4-time E3-winner Tom Boonenâ€™s been asked to ride Ghent-Wevelgem in Quick-Stepâ€™s quest for World Points, so Niki Terpstra gets a chance to lead the team Saturday. One of Wednesdayâ€™s most aggressive riders, Terpstra should thrive as captain. Even better, with Gerald Ciolek waiting in the wings for a possible group sprint, teams might give the Dutch Champ a bit more leeway should he find himself up the road.
Nick Nuyens – Nuyens took a terrific win Wednesday, so heâ€™ll certainly receive no favors in Harelbeke. That said, his team is dedicated and underrated in its talent and experienceâ€”Nuyens knows these roads well. After such an aggressive performance in Dwars door Vlaanderen, would you count him out?
Thomas De Gendt – With Devolder and Leukemans targeting the following two weekends, Vacansoleilâ€™s Thomas de Gendt could profit from the extra bit of freedom he might receive. Unafraid to attack when he senses the moment is right, heâ€™s a not-so-dark horse candidate for the win Saturday.
Yoann Offredo/Steve Chainel – FDJâ€™s Offredo and Chainel did their best to grab Milan-San Remo by the gnocchi, now they come to the E3 Prijs hoping for a breakthrough. With Marc Madiot at the wheel and Frederic Guesdon on the road, anythingâ€™s possibleâ€”especially if the duo races as aggressively as they did Saturday.
Leif Hoste/Sergei Ivanov – Without Filippo Pozzato to rule the roost at Katusha Saturday, Leif Hoste and Sergei Ivanonv will take the line as co-captains in a race won by Ivanov in 2000. Of the two, Hoste might be the better betâ€”the three-time Flanders runner-up looked incredibly strong in Milan-San Remo and knows these roads like the back of his hand.
Rabobank – Lars Boom and Sebastian Langeveld finished fifth and sixth in Harelbeke last year. Both return Saturday hoping to improve upon those results. Boomâ€™s been a bit quiet since winning the Prologue on Qatar, while Langeveld hurt himself Saturday in Milan-San Remo. Can they rebound Saturday?
My Prediction: I made a promise last season that I would trust my gut more when picking races. Wednesday I went with Niki Terpstraâ€”he rode valiantly, but failed to come through for me in the end. Tomorrow, something tells me Katushaâ€™s Leif Hoste finally gets his big Flemish win. Cancellara, Hushovd, and Terpstra will be up there, but theyâ€™ll mark themselves out while Hoste sneaks away to win.
Share your picks for Saturday below–and don’t forget to join us Saturday (and Sunday) in The Feed Zone for live commentary and conversation.