E3 Harelbeke organisers use female 'cowgirl' dancers to launch 2018 race

WorldTour race has used photos of naked women in posters in the past

The organisers of E3 Harelbeke have been at the centre of plenty of controversies over the years, being accused of sexism with a series of posters featuring either scantily-clothed women or, in two cases, women who weren't clothed at all.

As was the case in 2016 and 2017, organisers of the race have decided not to stir up controversy with their choice of poster, but still decided to use female dancers in skimpy cowgirl outfits to launch the race.

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The poster itself features a rider (who looks suspiciously like Tom Boonen) wearing a cowboy outfit and holding a gun while doing a wheelie, accompanied with the caption "Who will be the sheriff of the Texas of Flanders?"

Speaking at the launch event, E3 Harelbeke's head of PR said that the poster had been redesigned after Belgian television presenter Bart De Pauw parted company with Flemish public broadcaster VRT after several female colleagues reported him to VRT for sending inappropriate text messages.

"Our poster had been ready for a while, but when that whole thing came up with Bart De Pauw, we decided to change it", Jacques Coussens told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad.

"My wife said: 'Do not do that now'. That banner is therefore in the fridge until next year, because we do not want to be offensive. Current circumstances meant we had to adjust the design a bit, but we did not want to get into a corner."

The race itself will take place on March 23, with the riders covering 206km starting and finishing in the town of Harelbeke to the north east of Kortrijk. There is also a junior race on April 21, however there is no race for female riders.

The race is organised by KWC Hand in Hand, whereas the majority of the Belgian cobbled Classics, including the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem, and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, are organised by Flanders Classics.

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Henry Robertshaw began his time at Cycling Weekly working with the tech team, writing reviews, buying guides and appearing in videos advising on how to dress for the seasons. He later moved over to the news team, where his work focused on the professional peloton as well as legislation and provision for cycling. He's since moved his career in a new direction, with a role at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.