Relocation of Gent-Wevelgem may be the death of the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Relocation of Gent-Wevelgem may be the death of the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen

by Ben Atkins at 8:50 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics
“Little Ronde van Vlaanderen” cannot compete with the WorldTour event on the same weekend

tom boonenThe decision to move WorldTour Gent-Wevelgem to the Sunday before the Ronde van Vlaanderen is having a catastrophic effect on the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke, which takes place on the Saturday before, Sporza reports. The E3 has traditionally served as a warm up for the Ronde, covering many of the same roads, while Gent-Wevelgem traditionally occupied the mid-week slot between the Ronde and Paris-Roubaix.

Gent-Wevelgem’s place in the International Cycling Union (UCI) WorldTour, the top level of the sport, means that it can attract a better field, and actually pull riders away from the E3.

The final straw appears to have been the decision of 2009 winner Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) but, most importantly of all, four-time E3 winner Tom Boonen (Quick Step), to miss the race in favour of Gent-Wevelgem. Boonen himself has expressed a preference for the E3, and had originally announced that he was going to ride it this year, but his team’s failure to score even a single WorldTour point so far this season means that Quick Step is sending all of its big guns to Gent-Wevelgem.

This kind of thing threatens to kill the E3 race off entirely, according to race organiser Bart Ottevaere.

“Moving the E3 Harelbeke to another date is not an option,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws. “This is not a race for Wednesday; that’s the stumbling block. Gent-Wevelgem has the experience of running well on a Wednesday.”

One problem for the E3 organisers is that Gent-Wevelgem is now run by Flanders Classics, which now controls most of the cobbles races of northern Belgium; these include the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Dwars door Vlaanderen and the first event of the ‘openingsweekend’: the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

The E3, and next week's Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, are independent of any such organisation and so hold little power against the calendar changes of the bigger races. There is an option though, according to Gent-Wevelgem race director Frank Hoste.

We will not give up or Sunday position,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws. “We have taken a sensible decision to join the Flanders Classics project; we are aiming to win. To survive they must move Harelbeke to a different date.

“The ideal scenario would be for the E3 Harelbeke to move to the ‘openingsweekend’” Hoste suggested, “while the Omloop [Het Nieuwsblad] could come to between Gent-Wevelgem and the Ronde.”

Host also has a suggestion for De Panne-Koksijde: “The Driedaagse De Panne and West-Vlaanderen can merge,” he said.

Ottevaere though, it seems, is not keen on bending to the pressure from the Flanders Classics.

“You can’t transplant an old tree, it dies,” he said. “I have now had this quarrel for two years running; at the end of the year I would like to stop this.

"It's a never ending story,” he continued. “I'm not in the mood anymore. I earn some money from it, but I don’t need that money. I'm not in the mood to argue any more, but I'm sure that we’ll reach an agreement in future; when we meet in a photo to shake hands and say: ‘We were ‘chickens’.’"

If Ottevaere’s pessimism proves justified, and a compromise cannot be reached, tomorrow’s 54th edition of the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke might well be the last.


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