Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) says he'll aim to make the E3 Saxo Bank Classic as hard a race as possible for everyone as he searches for his maiden victory in the race.
The Belgian Classic, which takes place this Friday (March 26), is often referred to as a 'mini Tour of Flanders' because of its similarity to the Monument's parcours, but the race has a huge amount of prestige in its own right, now heading into the 64th edition.
Van Aert has had a strong start to the season with a fourth place at Strade Bianche, two stage wins and second overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, as well as third place at Milan-San Remo, and is now looking to hit the ground running in the cobbled Classics as he builds towards the Tour of Flanders in just over a week's time.
E3 serves as an ideal 'warm-up' to Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, says Van Aert, but he will try to break up the race as much as possible in search of victory, saying a bunch sprint is 'virtually impossible'. The 26-year-old's best result in E3 came on his debut in 2019 when he took second place, with the 2020 edition then cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. That result on his first outing in the race gives him confidence he can deliver a victory in Harelbeke this year.
“The cobbled races are the most beautiful there are. In the end, I make a lot of sacrifices for those races," Van Aert said.
“I always like to come back to the place where it all started for me. I remember that I had good legs then. That debut with a podium place gives me a lot of confidence for this edition. In addition, with the E3 you have an ideal warm-up for what’s to come: the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
“The race is difficult early on, so you can make the race tough right away. The long stretch towards Harelbeke makes the race exciting. It always creates a game between groups or a group versus a breakaway rider. This ensures that a group sprint is virtually impossible. It’s simply going to be a great race.”
Van Aert will of course face some stiff competition in the fight for E3 victory, and will be joined by a number of riders who will also want a difficult race early on to aid them to victory. Chief among them will be the flying Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Van Aert's long-time rival and the man who beat him to the win in Flanders last year. The Dutch champion has already taken a Classic victory at Strade Bianche earlier this month, and backed that up with two impressive stage wins at Tirreno, so expectations will be that the race could come down to Van Aert and Van der Poel.
There are still huge threats to Van Aert's chances of victory elsewhere of course; Milan-San Remo winner Jasper Stuyven lines-up with Trek-Segafredo team-mate and former world champion Mads Pedersen, Tom Pidcock makes his race debut for Ineos Grenadiers, while there's a number of former winners set to take part, including Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r Citorën Team), Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal), Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie), and defending champion Zdeněk Štybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).
After E3 on Friday, Van Aert will then ride Ghent-Wevelgem two days later, before skipping Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday ahead of Tour of Flanders the following Sunday (April 4)
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