Kasper Asgreen wins the E3 SaxoBank Classic.

Preview: The route and the favorites for the E3 Saxo Bank Classic

The Paterberg and the Oude Kwaremont will host plenty of big names on Friday in Flanders.

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With Milan-San Remo now in the rearview mirror, the Classics are in full swing, and there are quite a few big events ahead on the cobbles in Belgium. The men’s peloton will take on the Minerva Classic Brugge-De Panne on Wednesday, and then Friday’s E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem will follow.

Fans of Flemish Classics will have plenty to keep them busy this week, and the E3 will be of particular interest to anyone trying to work out which riders are in good form ahead of the region’s biggest bike race, the Tour of Flanders. Covering much of the same terrain and set to feature plenty of stars, the E3 is a great preview for De Ronde while also being a major race in its own right. Last year’s race, where Kasper Asgreen stormed to victory a little over a week before winning the Tour of Flanders, offered one of the most entertaining finales of the year, and hopefully we will see another great battle in 2022.

Here’s what you need to know about the route and the favorites for Friday’s race …

The route

The E3 Saxo Bank Classic may have added a financial institution to its official name, but it continues to stick with the tradition of starting and finishing in the town of Harelbeke, West Flanders. Along the way, riders will cover 203.9 km and tackle 17 hellingen, i.e. hills.

The first 80 km will not feature too many challenges, with the Katteberg the only climb on the profile. Things will start to pick up after that with La Houppe, the Kanarieberg, and the Oude Kruisberg, and then, starting with the Knokteberg, the climbs will start to come in quick succession. The up-and-down nature of the course will likely see the pack whittled down considerably from the Knokteberg onward, and then the final 50 km could be especially decisive.

The punchy Kapelberg will wear away at riders before the steep, cobbled climb up the Paterberg, which only lasts for 400 meters but averages 12.9%. There will be little chance for respite after that as the grueling, cobbled Oude Kwaremont awaits. The riders won’t be done climbing after the Kwaremont, however, with the Karnemelkbeekstraat climb and at last the Tiegemberg following as the final ascents on the profile.

From the top of the Tiegemberg, it’s a little under 20 km to the finish line on mostly flat roads. That’s a lot of ground to cover for anyone who gets off the front on one of the late climbs, which will inject some final intrigue into the race. All told, the challenges on the course make a late attack the likeliest path the victory, but a sprint out of a whittled-down pack is not entirely out of the question.

As of Tuesday, the forecast for Friday’s race looks relatively pleasant, with only a small chance of rain and not a whole lot of wind on tap. That said, weather conditions can change quickly in the Flemish spring, so keep an eye on the radar as the race approaches.

The favorites

Quite a few of the peloton’s biggest Classics racers will be in attendance for the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, and thus the list of contenders will feature plenty of stars. All the same, three days out from the race, the start list is not quite finalized yet, so be sure to check back for updates.

For now, the race headliners could herald another chapter in the Jumbo-Visma vs. Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl saga, with Wout van Aert leading the way for the former and defending champion Kasper Asgreen heading up the latter.

Wout van Aert wins the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Van Aert may have “only” finished eighth at Milan-San Remo, but he’s looked great so far this season and already has a big one-day win in the bag after the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. With Tiesj Benoot, Mike Teunissen, and Christophe Laporte for support, he will be a very hard rider to beat. Van Aert can win the race in pretty much any possible scenario, and that makes him an obvious favorite.

The collective firepower of Quick-Step, however, has proven more than capable of standing up to Van Aert’s skillset, and Asgreen has established himself as a premier Classics talent. His third-place finish at Strade Bianche, a race that doesn’t suit him as well as this one, suggests that he is in great shape for his big goals of the season. Considering how fast Van Aert is in a finish, Quick-Step will probably have to find a way to put someone up the road, but Asgreen is quite good at making a powerful attack stick.

Kasper Asgreen at Strade Bianche.

What’s more, Jumbo-Visma and the rest of the field will also have to account for the likes of former winner Zdenek Štybar, Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchal, and Davide Ballerini, any of whom could sneak away with the win. As ever, Quick-Step has strength in numbers, and with so many potential launching pads in the final 50 km, this race will reward teams with multiple cards to play.

Trek-Segafredo will bring its own strength in numbers to bear with Jasper Stuyven (assuming he’s healthy) and Mads Pedersen leading the way. Teams will have to mark Stuyven as he looks to get off the front in the finale, while Pedersen is one of the few riders who might be able to challenge Van Aert in a reduced sprint; at the same time, Stuyven is a speedy finisher and Pedersen has a sizable engine of his own, so Trek has options.

So too does TotalEnergies, with 2014 E3 winner Peter Sagan and rising star Anthony Turgis both expected to make the start. Niki Terpstra is another former winner on the roster. Speaking of former winners with strong teams, Greg Van Avermaet‘s AG2R Citroën squad will have cards to play with Oliver Naesen and Bob Jungels also in the mix.

Matej Mohorič en route to victory at Milan-San Remo.

A flying Matej Mohorič will be one to watch at Bahrain Victorious, Bora-Hansgrohe has Nils Politt, the Ineos Grenadiers have Dylan van Baarle and Jhonatan Narváez on the provisional start list as potential attackers and Elia Viviani is expected to be there as well just in case the race ends in a sprint.

Others potential contenders include Victor Campenaerts of Lotto Soudal, Sep Vanmarcke of Israel-Premier Tech, John Degenkolb and Søren Kragh Andersen of DSM, Gianni Moscon of Astana Qazaqstan, Alexander Kristoff of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux, Matteo Trentin of UAE Team Emirates, and Stefan Küng of Groupama-FDJ.

CyclingTips star ratings

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Van Aert
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Asgreen
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Stuyven, Štybar, Mohorič, Van Avermaet
⭐️⭐️: Benoot, Lampaert, Politt, Sagan, Van Baarle, Naesen, Pedersen, Turgis
⭐️: Campenaerts, Vanmarcke, Degenkolb, Kragh Andersen, Moscon, Kristoff, Trentin, Küng, Laporte

When to watch

The race will roll out from Harelbeke at 12:15 pm local time (7:15 am ET/11:15 am GMT/10:15 pm AEDT). Riders are expected to arrive at the Kapelberg at around 4:00 pm local time (11:00 am ET/3:00 pm GMT/2:00 am AEDT), and with the Paterberg, Oude Kwaremont, and Karnemelkbeekstraat to follow, things should be action-packed from that point onward.

Be sure to check back for updates as the start list for the race continues to take shape, and stay tuned for our previews of Gent-Wevelgem, coming later in the week. In the meantime, the Minerva Classic Brugge-De Panne gets underway on Wednesday with the Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne to follow on Thursday.

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