E3 Harelbeke 2014
Guide to the Belgian cobbled Classic
Last Updated: 27/03/14 2:46pm
Two days after riding Dwars Door Vlaanderen and two days before Gent-Wevelgem, Classics specialists will have to contend with several cobbled sections and no fewer than 17 climbs on a demanding 212km route.
The race provides a stern test just over a week before second Monument of the season, the Tour of Flanders, ascending a number of the same hills and providing a perfect chance to recce the course.
Infamous ascents of the Eikenberg, Taaienberg and Paterberg, to name just a few, pepper the parcours, which starts and finishes in Harelbeke.
The riders have over 30km of rolling road on which to warm up before first two ascents of the day, the Katteberg and Leberg, which top out after 34km and 44km respectively.
The climbs are isolated, though, so the real action is unlikely to start until the day's third climb, La Houppe, which arrives just after the 100km mark and kicks off an almost non-stop barrage of ascents.
In one brutal 19km stretch, there are five sharp ascents to negotiate, with the last three being on cobbles: the Eikenberg, Stationsberg and notorious Taaienberg, the latter of which also adds a maximum gradient of 18 per cent into the mix.
The punishment is not over yet, though, because the 14th of the 17 climbs, the Paterberg, 37km from home, throws up a maximum gradient of 20 per cent over cobbles and is promptly followed by two more vicious ascents.
This section won't be where the race is won, but it will be where it is lost for any riders unable to follow inevitable attacks.
All that remains on the run back to Harelbeke is the 17th and final climb, the Tiegemberg (1km at 6.5 per cent average), which arrives with just over 10km to go.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) has won the race in three of the last four years and is the defending champion, so is inevitably one of the favourites. However, his total of wins is eclipsed by Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step), who holds the record with five and is eyeing a sixth triumph this year. Both men are in good form, but they can't just concentrate on beating each other, because Peter Sagan (Cannondale) is on the start line as well and will be keen to go one better than his second place last year.
2013: Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
2012: Tom Boonen (Bel)
2011: Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
2010: Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
2009: Filippo Pozzato (Ita)
2008: Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor)
2007: Tom Boonen (Bel)
2006: Tom Boonen (Bel)
2005: Tom Boonen (Bel)
2004: Tom Boonen (Bel)