The E3 Harelbeke organiser is taking the threat of terror seriously only two days after twin attacks in Brussels killed 31 people. The race will run on Friday, but only after meetings with the federal police approving the ramped up security measures.
Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas won the Belgian Classic last year, but is racing in Spain at the Volta a Catalunya this week. Favourites include Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) and world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). Like yesterday in the Dwars door Vlaanderen, they will race under a dark cloud of terrorism.
Twin blasts hit Brussels’s airport and shortly after, a metro stop. Director Jacques Coussens confirmed that Belgium has yet to drop the terror level below four, its highest mark, the country considers a ‘serious threat of imminent attack.’
Flanders Classics organised its Dwars door Vlaanderen yesterday without incident and tomorrow, 55-miles west of Brussels, it is E3 Harelbeke’s turn.
“We’ve been in meetings all day. A lot of them since Tuesday morning. We are meeting again this afternoon at 2pm,” Coussens told Cycling Weekly.
“We’re taking many extra measures to have the maximum security possible for everyone coming to the event.”
The organisation tightened security with 25 extra personnel. They will turn away anyone with a bag trying to enter the Harelbeke’s main square and watch everyone with a security camera system first used when German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited for the 100th anniversary of the First World War in 2014.
“We are fortunate that the camera system was already planned before Tuesday. This will be the first time it is used in a sports event in Belgium. It’s a 360-degree camera.
“In the communication centre, they have about 20 screens with an overview of the whole city. They see images from the federal police, the sports channel and the five camera stations. It’s a high-performance system.”
The race begins and ends in Harelbeke’s main square, where disco music and the smell of beer usually fill the air. In 2016, security will be in the mix, and perhaps dominate it. The open roads, the 206km through the fields east of Harelbeke towards Belgium will be harder to control.
“All the time they are in view of the cameras, we are taking all measures we can,” Coussens said.
“It can happen everywhere, if you are in a sports hall of 200 and there is one crazy lunatic who enters with a bombs, you have a disaster. It can happen in a church, in schools… everywhere where people meet you have a risk.”