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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — The E3 Saxo Bank Classic opens Flanders Week on Friday with one of the most challenging and prestigious one-day races on the calendar.
Though not quite a monument, anyone who wins the “mini Tour of Flanders” will be one of the hot favorites at Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Warm, springlike weather welcomed the peloton Friday morning for the start of the race named after a motorway that no longer exists. It’s the steep climbs, narrow roads and lumpy cobblestones, however, that mark the race.
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Three riders — Mikkel Honoré (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Lawson Craddock (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Pascal Ackermann (UAE Emirates) — did not start.
VeloNews’ Sadhbh O’Shea was at the start line. Here’s what some of the top favorites said:
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma):
I feel ready and I’m really looking forward to this week, the most beautiful week of racing in Flanders. I’m happy to start.
On paper, there are not many races that we’ve won. I’m happy to be here with a super strong team with all the sickness that has been going around the peloton I think we have got through it well. It’s a bit advantage for us.
Our only goal is to win these races doing the best possible with the team. I think [Matej] Mohorič, [Kasper] Asgreen, and [Jasper] Stuyven and Mads [Pedersen] at Trek are the favorites. I think I’ve probably forgotten a lot of other guys.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious):
It feels nice [to have won in Milan-San Remo] it gives you a lot more confidence. We have brought a very strong team here for the classics. I think that Jumbo-Visma has a strong team with Van Aert and, of course, Quick-Step is strong. We will see how it goes, it’s a long race.
I don’t think it is a big advantage to use a dropper post today so today I have gone for a standard setup. A dropper post lowers your saddle by five or six centimeters and it lowers your center of gravity so it’s easier to control the bike.
My condition is pretty good and I’m confident that I have a good team around me so we will try to fight for the win. I think today is overall harder than San Remo because San Remo has a hard final, which is very intense, but the race itself is bit easier. Today has a lot of hills and the race will open up plenty of opportunities to empty the legs before the final.
John Degenkolb (Team DSM):
I was sick and missing out on Milan-San Remo was a big disappointment, of course. Now I’m happy to be on the start here, but obviously, I don’t know how the last few percentages are for being in the final here because for me this is the hardest race of the season here. This is definitely the hardest, everything is so compact, and the climbs are so close to each other. Every rider can confirm this.
Wout van Aert is in great shape and his form in recent weeks has been fantastic. I think that Søren Kraugh Andersen is the top rider for our team. It is important to stay with him as long as possible.
Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo)
The goal? To win the race. To cross the line first. I think E3 is a very intense race, and the weather is good, to there will be a lot of guys fighting. It’s a very hard middle part of the race. That will be decisive there about what happens in the end. For me, it can be a little bit colder, but it’s OK for everyone. It’s a nice race day and a nice day for the fans to be out. It’s hard to compare my form at the moment because I had to miss out on San Remo.
Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl):
Just because I’ve won before is not a guarantee I can win again. I think it’s going to be a tough race, E3 is always tough. So, it’s going to be a tough day, I think. I think it’s possible to win twice in a row but it’s going to be difficult. Racing here in Flanders is always difficult. Last year, I had a good run but it’s not a guarantee for this year.