Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) proved that he masters almost everything when he claimed his first big win on the cobbles in the traditional dress rehearsal for the Tour of Flanders at E3 Harelbeke. Having joined forces with Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) on the penultimate climb, he cooperated with the world champion to keep a strong group of favourites at bay and then surprised the Slovakian by launching a long sprint. Ian Stannard attacked from the chase group to make it two Sky riders on the podium.
We have gathered several reactions.
Michael Kwiatkowski: I knew I had to catch Sagan by surprise
Michal Kwiatkowski claimed his first Team Sky triumph in fine style at E3 Harelbeke, with Ian Stannard also joining him on the podium.
Kwiatkowski jumped from an elite group with Peter Sagan in the last 31km and the duo worked brilliantly together to hold off a group of 13 riders on an undulating run to the finish.
As they swept past the 300m to go banner, Kwiatkowski then left the world champion for dead as he powered to Team Sky's second consecutive victory in this famous Flemish race.
And to cap off a memorable day which also saw Wout Poels win in Catalunya, Stannard then raced home in third position, 10 seconds later.
Immediately after the race Kwiatkowski said: "I was really motivated today and I did my best. I was perfectly protected by my team-mates, Ian Stannard was always there for me and then me and Peter worked together well.
"We were in a similar position at Strade Bianche two years ago and that brought back memories for me. I knew I had really good legs today and I had to go for the win, there was no other option.
"Me and Peter did a really good race. I knew I had to go with a long sprint because his kick is bigger than mine, and that worked out. I didn't look back and went full gas to the finish."
The 59th edition took place under dry conditions and Team Sky looked lively from the off with Andy Fenn, Michal Golas, Christian Knees and Elia Viviani keeping their protected riders well positioned near the front of the peloton.
The first significant split came when Jurgen Roelandts (BMC Racing) and Tom Boonen (Etixx - Quick-Step) set a hard pace on the Taaienberg, and although Kwiatkowski and Stannard both missed that move, they were brought back into contention thanks to a determined chase from Luke Rowe and Salvatore Puccio.
The pace remained high, and by the time Kwiatkowski led the race over the Paterberg, only Stannard and 11 further riders remained in contention.
Only Kwiatkowski could follow as well when Sagan (Tinkoff) attacked on the Oude Kwaremont, and the pair took equal turns as they held off their pursuers on the fast run back in to Harelbeke.
Kwiatkowski stuck to Sagan's wheel on the long, flat finishing straight before catching the world champion unaware with a devastating turn of pace. The 25 year old then pressed home his advantage in consummate style, earning Team Sky their second triumph in the space of an hour after Wout Poels's solo heroics at the Volta a Catalunya.
Stannard then won the sprint for third place to round off a memorable Good Friday.
Speaking exclusively to TeamSky.com, Kwiatkowski added: "I've come really close to victory a few times this year and have been aiming for that since the start of the season. To get it at such a prestigious Classic is an amazing feeling.
"The team rode amazingly today - all eight guys - and I felt so protected as a leader. I was really happy that I could finish it off so well.
"You have to believe you can win. I struggled to hold Peter's wheel at first but quickly got into a rhythm. It's not an easy thing to beat a world champion but I'm really thankful to him. We worked well together at the front trying to protect the gap to the chasers.
“I surprised him: he didn't expect such a long attack and that I could hold it. When I launched at 300 metres to go, I think that he had expected I'd wait for his move, but I did it on purpose.”
“It's similar to Strade Biacnhe but with a different final. I'm always happy to race with Peter, and I was glad it was Peter and not someone else with me, because we worked very well together after we went on the climb.
“With the headwind, it was not that easy to keep that gap on the guys from Etixx. I think that Trek were also chasing us, so I'm happy that it was Peter and not someone else with me.”
“I know the feeling of Peter, I know how it is to wear the world champion jersey as well. It’s very difficult. I think both of us did a really good race.
“For sure no, I think the Ardennes suit me better. But of course, I love to race in the classics, and I believe that you can ride both kinds. Ok, maybe not all the cobbled campaign together with Roubaix, but I believe that E3 and Flanders can be easily connected with the Ardennes classics.
“I’ve done the Tour of Flanders a few times but I’ve never done it very well. I don't know what to expect from myself in Flanders this year, but I have to say that I'm really happy to be the leader, with Ian Stannard, in such a classic like today. To have all your teammates riding for you is just what I need.
“Cancellara had bad luck in such a bad moment by having a flat, but right now, he seems to be the strongest guy in the bunch.
“I didn't see Boonen’s preparation, but he seems ready to rock. A lot of guys from Etixx were there when it mattered. They have so many numbers, and when you have the numbers, you will for sure be there in Flanders.”
Peter Sagan: I had no legs, maybe I had worked too much
The first of the cobblestone classics – E3 Harelbeke – was one to remember, with a strong breakaway from Peter Sagan the defining moment in a hard-fought race. The World Champion looked strong, attacking from 30km out and contesting a two-man sprint finish that saw the Tinkoff team leader cross the line second. Sagan is in excellent form for the remaining cobblestone classics.
The 206.4km cobblestone classic, while not the longest, was plenty hard enough, taking in some of the most feared climbs of the Belgian landscape. The Tinkoff leader has plenty of experience riding these roads, having won the race in 2014. In contrast to his ride in 2014, which was won in a four-man sprint, the Tinkoff leader attacked from 30km out, with a strong break that stuck until the finish, taking second to Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski.
From the outset, the racing was fast and furious, with the top contenders pushing hard and forming a group ahead of the bunch. The World Champion was working hard for much of the early part of the race, making sure that when the decisive moment came, he was in a position to contest the win. The Slovakian rider’s experience in the race was clear, as he attacked after the race’s hardest climb, the Oude Kwaremont, 30km from the finish. The Kwaremont is a notorious climb, not only for its difficulty, but in the potential for riders to be caught on its narrow sections. With clear roads ahead, Sagan saw his chance.
Sport Director, Tristan Hoffman, commended Sagan’s strategy “I think in the end Peter did a fantastic race today. He stayed calm until the Kwaremont, and was always at the front but not using too much energy. He sped up there and created a break before Fabian Cancellara came back after his mechanical.”
After the attack, the duo took it in turns, and from there the gap kept growing. Both riders looked comfortable and in control, and working together, the gap grew to as much as thirty-six seconds.
“It was a strong move when he got away with Kwiatkowski,” Hoffman continued. “Together they worked really well and gave it their all. They both did their part and in the sprint he just ran out of legs, and today Kwiatkowski was stronger at the end.“
Sagan concurred with his Sport Director’s comments.
“I was with Michal on the front. In the last two kilometres on the radio I heard ‘you have to pull, you have to pull’ because they were coming from the back.
“I think I did a lot of work and I was just without legs in the final. You know, the race is never like you expect. I did a lot of work on the front. I wanted to come together in the finish and I worked more, I think, and I was just without energy.
“I did my attack and we were working together, but in the finish I was without energy and he was stronger than me. I think I did a lot of work in the finale and was without legs. I’m happy with how it went though – I didn’t crash, I was in the front.
“I attacked there to try to break up the group because we did the Kwaremont, then a little descent afterwards. But on the Kwaremont, I felt good. I tried to attack, because I really felt good. Maybe I came to the front too late, though, and everybody stayed on my wheel.
“When Cancellara came back, I tried to attack directly to see what would happen, and then it was just me and Kwiatek on the front. It depends, maybe if Cancellara didn’t have the technical problems, it would have been a different race, because he used a lot of energy to come back.
“I didn’t expect him to come back because on the front they were pulling full gas and behind us, Trek was also pulling full gas. It seemed he wouldn’t get back anymore, but after the Kwaremont he did. He used a lot of energy to get back.
“Cycling is simple sometimes. I've got a fast finish but after a race like this, everything is different. In the last two kilometres the group was closing behind and I pulled a lot on the front and in the finale I ran out of legs.”
Hoffman was positive about the outcome, however.
“Of course we are disappointed and we try to analyse what we could have done better, but at the end there were more teams behind with more than one rider and attack is sometimes the best form of defence otherwise if he had waited until the flat roads he would have again been isolated and alone. At the hard best moments he had the best legs today and he made the race.“
The E3-Harelbeke is only the first of the cobbled classics and more races await, as Sagan explained.
“This is good training after Milano-Sanremo for Flanders, and I’m keeping in good condition. We’ll see after Sunday how things will be ahead of Flanders. I am preparing all the year for the Tour of Flanders”
Fabian Cancellara after impressive chase: Inside I am proud of how we rode
Fabian Cancellara marked a key move in E3-Harelbeke, joining a select group of favorites after a big attack on the Taaienberg with some 70-kilometers remaining when disaster struck. A broken derailleur left Cancellara stranded on the roadside, and with the race in pieces, the team car was far back. It looked like game over.
"I don't know how the mechanical happened, I think I was touched by someone's wheel, or I hit a hole or whatever, but the chain went down, and the derailleur was broken," explained Cancellara. "I had to wait, quite a long time, and at first, I thought the race was over. But suddenly I knew like this it cannot be over, because I need quite an intense race, and I was angry of the situation because I was with the front and then I was over 2 minutes behind.
“I’m kind of disappointed but inside and performance wise, how I was racing, there is also some pride. At first, it was just that the race was over, and then the anger came. Somehow, I found energy left, and I tried to move on because it is a race that you can’t give up. I knew that it was important today, not only for a result but the fatigue you need to do for next week.”
“It was definitely not the time for Segafredo coffee break. Suddenly the chain went down, and the derailleur broke so I could not go down, I also could not go backward to pick up the bike a bit earlier because everything was broken in pieces. I had to wait. It was quite a lot of time.
“I thought that the race was over because when I looked back, I knew that there were thousands of groups. In a race like this, it’s not like the next bike is around the corner and you can go on.”
Once he was back on a new bike, the team leaped into action.
First, Yaroslav Popovych and Markel Irizar pulled furiously, allowing Cancellara to claw his way back into the peloton. Once there, Gregory Rast and Stijn Devolder, ready and waiting, put the hammer down and moved Cancellara close enough to find his way to Boy Van Poppel, who had purposefully slid back on the Paterberg.
From Van Poppel's wheel, he was able to make his way to Jasper Stuyven, the only teammate left in front.
"Boy and myself were in the front, and we tried to stay in the wheels and slow the group down a little bit," Stuyven explained when Cancellara had his mechanical. "On the Kwaremont, I did not feel super and decided to ride tempo and wait for Fabian so we can close the gap to the front together."
With Stuyven and Cancellara working together, they joined the leaders with 32 kilometers to go; an enormous team effort all around to get back into the fight.
“It’s not a chase behind a car or a moto or on a climb, it’s just a chase back by team support and in all the small groups I had some riders, and they slowly dropped out. On the radio we said that Jasper and Boy stay in the front, don’t move and just stay on the wheel and we see what happens,” Cancellara explained. “I talk about the whole team; everyone was great. I think that’s important. We go home without the win, but we go home with some pride because of the effort I did.
“I made it with Jasper before the second to last climb. When Kwiatkowski and Peter went, I tried to follow, but I had something missing. At least, I didn’t drop out because there was a key moment. I’m happy with the fourth place, but still I race to win. But, when you have a technical problem, and you’re so far back we can still be proud of the way we rode.”
"When Fabian was back he asked me how I felt," continued Stuyven. "Tired, I told him. 'Me too,' he said.
"It was heavy racing for the last 80 kilometers. In the finale, everyone was kaput."
There was little the two Trek-Segafredo riders could do when Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) attacked in the next cobbled climb. Behind, Etixx-Quick Step led the chase, but there was a whole heap of tired legs and Sagan and Kwiatkowski successfully held off the group to fight out the win.
"When Kwiatkowski and Peter went, I tried to follow, but I had something small missing," said Cancellara. "There was the moment. I am happy with the fourth place. To come back from so far... inside I am proud about how we rode. It was a chase back with full team support."
Kwiatkowski jumped away for the victory, leaving Sagan with yet another second place while Ian Stannard (Sky) was the best of the bunch to take third ahead of Cancellara and Stuyven.
"It was only with a big support from the team I could come back slowly, step by step, and I could recover behind them. But I had to move quite hard to the front in the last part to finally get to Jasper in the second to last climb," added Cancellara.
"The team did such a fantastic job to help me. Everyone: Greggy, Popo, Stijn, Jasper… I speak for the whole team; we go without the win, but we go home with the confidence with the effort we did."
"It started already on the Taaienberg when Etixx-Quick Step went all-out, and I had to close already there a gap, and from there until the finish, it was just full gas. Intensity was good; results were small. I was racing for winning, so kind of disappointment, but on the other hand, performance-wise, how we were racing, was good. Now recovery, and I look forward to the next races."
Although the team fell short of the podium, Director Dirk Demol was impressed with the team spirit he saw in the race, from Marco Coledan pulling for the first 100 kilometers to keep the breakaway in check, to the huge chase that resulted after the mechanical:
"We took our responsibility at the beginning and had Marco [Coledan] pull. When Fabian had his mechanical, there were riders everywhere, and we were 3-minutes behind. When he came over the radio that he needs another bike, there was nothing we could do with such narrow roads – we couldn't pass the other cars.
"So it took forever to get there. I have to say wow! for how he fought back, and also the team. I told the boys to stay where you are, and I will let you know if Fabian is coming or if you have to drop back.
"I saw a great team today. At the end, (Stuyven and Cancellara) were not cooperating anymore because we had made such a big effort to get back - they were so tired! I have to say chapeau that they still finished fourth and fifth. You come for the win, and you can say that only the win counts, but today how the race went, and how they fought back… it's promising for the next week."
Lars Boom: As it stand now, I will be right there in Flanders and Roubaix
“It’s been a good day for me and I am happy with my sixth place,” said Lars Boom.
“What a pity on the Karnemelkbeekstraat with less than 30 km to the finish, I was a bit closed and I could not get into the breakaway which decided the race.
"On Sunday, Gent-Wewelgem will be a different race with fewer climbs, but the weather will be bad and this will make the narrow roads of Flanders even more insidious."
"On the Taaienberg I was right in front,” he told De Telegraaf. “I moved easily forward. When Sagan attacked on Karnemelkbeekstraat with Kwiatkowski, I was just on the edge of the road. I could move up a little later to the wheel of Cancellara, but did not have the legs to personally go right away into pursuit of those two. That was unfortunate. It's getting better. I'm really looking forward to the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. As it stands now, I'm going be right there. "
"The team was united,2 commented sport director Stefano Zanini, “and did a good job until the race exploded on the Taaienberg with 70 km to go. We have not made big mistakes and also Laurens De Vreese was with the best group in the decisive stages of the race.
"I am optimistic for the next race: Lars’ condition is very good and the team is ready to help him the best”.
Strong Tiesj Benoot laments Roelandts’ back problems in Harelbeke
“The group that entered the finale contained the best riders of the race,” Tiesj Benoot said after hacing finished seventh. “Bit by bit some riders were dropped but when Sagan and Kwiatkowski placed their attack, no one was able to react. Everyone was racing at his limit and had to give full gas.
“Logically, the riders of Etixx – Quick-step needed to pull in the chasing group because they were represented with four riders. We came close in the final kilometre but that was mainly because the two leaders were preparing themselves for the sprint. I finished seventh and that’s a good result I think.
“We tried to be attentive at the front of the peloton since the beginning of the race. The first key point was on the Taaienberg where Jürgen [Roelandts] caused a first partition in the peloton. After that several riders were able to join the front of the race.
”It’s a pity for us and especially for Jürgen that he had some back issues on the Paterberg, in that way I was isolated in the front group. If you’re with two riders in that group, it’s easier to create some opportunities. Now it was mainly the case to try to stay in that group in order to obtain a nice result.
"The fact that the Taaienberg came so early changed the race. We were immediately with the favorites in front and it was full gas 80km from the finish. On Saturday I checked the course on the bike and knew that it was the place it would happen. I was brilliantly positioned by the team.
"Ultimately, it was every man for himself, but the two best in the race were gone. It was fast, so I did not know what was happening. But if Fabian was there, perhaps he rode alone to get there. Etixx-QuickStep has not made mistakes. They are in the race. It was a difficult course and in the classics, it is difficult to organize a team.
”It was a very tough race due to the very high speed. But in my opinion, if the weather conditions would be more severe, the race would be even tougher and more selective.
"I'm having a good feeling. I felt better than the day before yesterday and I hope next week to be something better at the Tour of Flanders. For Sunday we have a strong team: Greipel is motivated and Debusschere is also there. Roelandts was not feeling well, he had problems with his back.
“I will participate in Gent-Wevelgem, that wasn’t planned beforehand but I like it though. Last year I watched this race on television but I really wanted to participate. The weather forecast isn’t good so that’s an advantage for me. I’m always better when it’s cold, windy and rainy. Next week I’ll prepare myself entirely for the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.”
As mentioned before, Jürgen Roelandts has troubles on his back. He had a very good feeling till after the Eikenberg but on the Paterberg his back blocked and he had no power in the legs. Tonight and tomorrow he’ll be treated so he can perform as well as possible on Sunday.
Jelle Wallays was involved in a crash at the end. He has a scratch on his left side. Wallays will participate in the Driedaagse van De Panne-Koksijde.
Sep Vanmarcke: It was not my job to work to bring Sagan and Kwiatkowski back
Sep Vanmarcke finished eighth in Belgium’s E3 Harelbeke on Friday. Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s Belgian front man was in the right place most of
the time, during the final 80 kilometres of the race, but wasn’t able to follow Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and the winner of the race, Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) when they escaped from the leading group.
The final began already at 80 kilometres out on the climb of the Taaienberg.
“I said to the team that we had to be in front at that point and that happened,” Vanmarcke said. “I want to thank my team-mates for that.
Since that moment, the race was on fire, but I didn’t have to do too much during it. Etixx - Quick Step was with four riders in front and Team Sky with three. When Timo Roosen bridged to us, we took our part in front, but after the Oude Kwaremont it changed again.”
"It was not for me to ride in pursuit. There were other teams with two or three riders. But chapeau to the two in front.
"Everything went really well, on the Taaienberg we were good. A big compliment to the guys in the team. I was a bit behind on after the Taaienberg so we had to ride but we finally came back to the front. On the Kanemelkbeekstraar everyone rode as quickly as possible to the top and I had to follow. When they atatcked, I was at theback. Even the two Etixx-QuickStep riders did not close the gap.
"In the sprint I was hoping to finish good, I had the legs for it, but there were some skirmishes in the sprint so I did not really come out. “
Vanmarcke wasn’t able to follow Sagan and Kwiatkowski when they attacked 30 kilometres out.
“They were the strongest riders today,” he continued. “I wanted to do a good sprint in the end so I decided to ride the slipstream of Etixx’s Matteo Trentin. He wasn’t able to find enough space to deliver his sprint, so I was too far back.”
Sports Director Nico Verhoeven saw an impressive Sep Vanmarcke today.
“He was in the right place when he had to be,” Verhoeven added. “That’s his good work, but the team’s as well. Besides that, Timo did a great job when he was with Sep, but we were counting on Bram Tankink and Tom Leezer as well at that point. Sep did what he had to do eventually. He couldn’t do anything more than wait for the sprint.”
Dries Devenyns confirms classics potential in Harelbeke
“Of course I am disappointed because an 11th place does not qualify as a top-10,” explained Dries Devenyns just before heading off to a doping control. “Admittedly, my chance to rejoin the group of the favorites was thanks to Cancellara, who was chasing and the strongest. I had to dismount on the Paterberg in the gutter because I caught up to the other climbers too fast. Because of that I had to produce a huge effort after, and then paid for it in the sprint. But I have good legs, and that bodes well for the Tour of Flanders.”
“The idea was to put someone in the break in order to help both of our two team leaders, who were Dries Devenyns and Heinrich Haussler today,” Thierry Marichal, directeur sportif for IAM Cycling, commented. “And Reto Hollenstein managed to fit himself into the right move. Then Dries Devenyns again proved his great form when he caught onto the group of favorites. Unfortunately, he was edged out of a top-10 by just a few centimeters after reviewing the photo finish. But there is nothing of which we need to be ashamed; the team was equal to the event.”
Hollenstein proved to be among the strongest in his getaway with eight other riders.
”We worked well towards our goal,” Hollenstein said. “When the favorites really hit the gas and we were caught after the Taaienberg, it was impossible to follow. I felt good, but I’m in my place.”
With digestive issues, Vicente Reynes. abandoned at the feed zone and will not be well enough to participate at the Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.
Etixx-QuickStep boss: I only saw cowards in the chase group
The 59th edition of E3 Harelbeke included 15 climbs, but the first to make a real difference was Taaienberg, the day's seventh hill. Just 650 meters long, Taaienberg averages 9.5%, and that's where Etixx – Quick-Step put the hammer down and forced an important selection. Only 10 riders made the cut, four of them coming from Etixx-QuickStep, and they continued to ride full gas in order to keep the gap and reel in the eight escapees.
With the likes of Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) – who suffered a mechanical – and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), who was dropped on the climb, missing that important move, Etixx – Quick-Step gave it all at the front, but unfortunately it didn't get any help from the other teams, who were content to stay in the group as three-time ITT World Champion Tony Martin and Stijn Vandenbergh pushed a frantic pace on the arduous hills of Flanders and left it all on the road, in an attempt to make sure the riders who were behind won't come back.
Missing from the group in the key moment of the race was Zdenek Stybar, because of a puncture, but in the end he came back, just as the junction was made between the first two groups. After Oude Kwaremont, on Karnemelkbeekstraat, Peter Sagan attacked and was soon joined by Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), and the two of them surged clear and opened a 30-second gap. Etixx – Quick-Step returned at the front of the group, with Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar doing some huge pulls and clawing back more than 20 seconds on the two leaders. Unfortunately, this wasn't enough, and as a result, Kwiatkowski and Sagan fought for the win, which was netted by the Pole. The group came 11 seconds later, Terpstra being the best placed Etixx – Quick-Step rider there, in 12th.
"Our team sticked together at all times, was really united and did a good race. We were a real team. When Sagan and Kwiatowski went, we tried to go there with Matteo and Styby, but we came a few meters too short. Then we started to pull to close the gap, but we were alone in the chase, and Sagan and Kwiatkowski are great riders, it's not easy to catch them back. We didn't get any cooperation from the other teams, which was awkward, because the race was still open with 18 km to go", said Tom Boonen, who holds the all-time record for most wins in E3 Harelbeke, with 5 victories.
“Everybody seemed to be waiting for the final 17 kilometres. Everybody seemed afraid to take a pull which wasn’t necessary. On the Karnemelkbeekstraat those men were too fast for me. I was expecting that there would be a cooperation, but then you see that other teams are riding really flabbily for third place. It’s stupid because they’re in the same situation as us. It’s not that you have to hang off the back for third place. Matteo said he was really good so we rode for him. In the end, we didn’t catch them, so it didn’t matter.
“We can’t complain of course since we had four men up front but we have to check how we will handle it. Especially as the position that we were being forced into wasn’t good. The other teams start watching us, and that’s their right to do so, but we have to make sure that we don’t get in such a position. We’ve got some analysis to do. We’ve got to hope that the races are doing their work so we can improve. Then everything will be alright.”
The Belgian, riding here for the 12th time in his career, continued: "In the final kilometers I worked for Matteo to try to go for the sprint with him, but it didn't work out as we expected. I think we have to analyze a bit the race, in order to avoid arriving in the future at the finale with all the other teams looking at us. We really have to avoid this situation. Concerning me, I'm happy about my race. It was my best race of the year, but I can improve. I know myself. I feel I'm on the right road and I know that in the next two weeks I can be better.
“I was able to ride myself totally empty. All in all, I’m satisfied. It was my best race of the year so far. It’s only my second or third final. That’s pleasing but it still needs to get better. I think I’m on the right track and I’m feeling improvement all the time. On those short accelerations I’m falling a little short but it’s massively better than a few weeks ago.”
His feelings and comments were echoed by the ones of sport director Tom Steels: "We tried to make the race hard, and reached this goal with the help of Tony and Lukasz. Unfortunately, we lost Styby because of a flat tire on the Eikenberg. We had to control the race in the last two hours, and Stijn and Tony did an amazing job by pulling hard and making the life of the riders who came back really tough. On the Karnemelkbeekstraat, we came only five meters short. Those five meters made the difference. It wasn't impossible to bring Michal and Peter back, but we couldn't do it, because the other teams didn't feel the need to collaborate with us. I found that very strange, to see that they were defensive and didn't want to be more aggressive. We gave it all out there, but couldn't do all the work, and that was that in the end."
“We were the strongest teams but there were other teams that weren’t riding to work, they were riding maybe for the UCI points,” manager Patrick Lefevere said. “I don’t want to name names, but if you’re a rider with a number one on your back then you’re supposed to be a leader, but I didn’t see leaders today, I saw only cowards.”
Marco Marcato best pro continental rider in Harelbeke
Wanty-Groupe Gobert lined up for the E3 Harelbeke on Friday. The following riders took the start in this WorldTour race: Frederik Backaert, Dimitri Claeys, Robin Stenuit, Kévin Van Melsen, Antoine Demoitié, Simone Antonini, Marco Marcato and Mark McNally.
Team captain Marcato was the team's top finisher in 17th place. This made him also the best procontinental rider in Harelbeke.
"I am happy with what we showed today. This is after all WorldTour level," sports director Hilaire Van der Schueren stated briefly.
The first goal of Jean-François Bourlart's team in these races is always to have a rider present in the day's breakaway. Antoine Demoitié fulfilled this role very well. He found himself in a breakaway of nine riders which was granted a maximum lead of six minuted by the peloton.
"I am really happy to have been part of the day's breakaway in my first WorldTour race ever. I did what was expected of me," Demoitié beamed.
Wanty-Groupe Gobert didn't finish the race without some setbacks unfortunately. Frederik Backaert crashed on the Stationsberg.
"I have pain in my left leg but I hope it will prove to be a minor thing," he said after the race he didn't manage to complete.
Unfortunately the day's breakaway group wasn't granted more time at the front because the final of E3 started early. On the Oude Kwaremont Demoitié felt the consequences of riding at the front all day.
"I was completely à bloc. It was too hard. I did see Marcato fly by and tried to jon his group to help him but I was toast," Demoitié honestly concluded.
At the finish in Harelbeke team captain was 17th. He was the best pro continental rider of the day.
"When I compare today to the past weeks, I am happy. This was the mini Tour of Flanders. We showed ourselves well and were the best pro continental team in the final result," Van der Schueren concluded.
No result for Movistar on cobbles in Harelbeke
Over at the land of cobblestones, Movistar could fortunately bring a full squad during Friday's E3 Harelbeke (206km), which ended with a surprising win by Michal Kwiatkowski (SKY) over World Champion Peter Sagan (TNK). The duo escaped during the finale against strength in numbers from Etixx-Quick Step, which eventually got no top-10 places.
Following an infructuous attempt in the day's early break by Jasha Sütterlin, the Blues - which featured many debutants in the pavé with Arcas, Pedrero and Betancur - fought in the second main field. Fran Ventoso, third into that group's sprint, finished in 18th spot, with Andrey Amador in 36th. Nelson Oliveira and Juanjo Lobato also got to the end of the race in time.
Bora-Argon left disappointed after 20th place in Harelbeke
This time no BORA – ARGON 18 rider made the selection for the breakaway of the day. The team was not able to follow the race favourites when the pace accelerated in the last 50k.
In the sprint for 16th, Scott Thwaites led-out Ralf Matzka, who finished in 20th place, 4:48 behind the winner as best BORA – ARGON 18 pro.
“I am a little disappointed today because no one of our boys made it into the early breakaway today. When the big guys made their mark, we could not follow. Also Scott had not his best day today. But they fought hard, and a 20th place for Ralf in the end, is still a very respectable result in a WorldTour race,” sports director Steffen Radochla said.
A wake-up call for Orica-GreenEDGE in Harelbeke
Jens Keukeleire and Luke Durbridge were the best placed finishers on a difficult day of racing at E3 Harelbeke for ORICA-GreenEDGE.
Keukeleire and Durbridge finished 29th and 37th respectively, as both ORICA-GreenEDGE riders came home in the second group of chasers that had formed when the race split on the final climbs of the day. Sam Bewley was unfortunate to crash after the races halfway point and needed a bike change but thankfully was not seriously injured.
“We got caught out of position when the attacks came on the Taaienberg,” said sports director Laurenzo Lapage. “It is so important in these races to get into the right positions going into the final climbs.
“We were doing a great job with Sam (Bewley) and Svein (Tuft) on the front in the first half of the race, up to that point we were happy with our plan.
“The second half of the race we were in the wrong place when Cancellara attacked and with that kind of attack you end up using all your energy chasing for the rest of the race,” explained Lapage.
“Today is a good wake up call for us, we have a lot of races coming up and we will use what we have learned today in those races.”
Alexander Kristoff: I was never in the race and I don’t know why I felt so bad
Despite having a cold for the days leading up to Friday’s cobbled E3 Harelbeke, Team KATUSHA’s Alexander Kristoff still hoped for some results on the Belgian roads. It wasn’t meant to be, but the Norwegian rider still has more chances in upcoming races and looks to be better in Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem as well as the Tour of Flanders in just over one week.
”I have had a cold for awhile, even before Milano-Sanremo and there I was feeling very well so I can’t really say why I felt so bad today. I had no legs, so I was never in the race today – I was always behind. At one point Fabian Cancellara was in the group and we did cooperate with his team. I still wasn’t feeling good but I knew we had a chance for something with Cancellara part of us, but truthfully I had no chance. I’m disappointed of course. I was thinking I could do better today but that’s the way things turned out. I hope to have better legs for the next races or else we won’t have so many victories. I just felt bad today – not only on the climbs but in general. I hope I can feel better soon. Paris-Roubaix is still some time away but Flanders is coming soon so I need to hurry up and improve for that. Next up is Wevelgem and it is usually a sprint, so it should suit me better,” said team captain Alexander Kristoff.
Alexander Kristoff will lead Team KATUSHA Sunday in Gent-Wevelgem. At 242,8km the one-day cobbled classic begins in Deinze and ends in Wevelgem.
Mixed emotions for Roompot in Harelbeke
A man with the break of the day, but no result. The feeling at Roompot - Orange Peloton after the E3 Bank E3 Harelbeke was somewhat ambiguous. Most notable rider for the orange brigade after the classic of the UCI World Tour was Sjoerd van Ginneken. Like last year the young Dutchman was in the breakaway.
"That worked in Kuurne and this morning it was again the goal," said Van Ginneken. "I had to go very deep in the first hour to be there. With cross-tailwind, it was very fast (average 47 km/h), but in the end we got a gap just before Paddestraat managed to get a hole.
“After the Eikenberg it exploded with the big men coming to the fore and then it is difficult to follow. On the Stationsberg I had to let the first group go. But such an effort makes you stronger."
After the race, team manager Michel Cornelisse was only partially satisfied: "Sjoerd was good, but overall I had expected more. Michel Kreder did a good race, but came a bit too short when he got stuck behind a crash after the Taaienberg. In a race on this course and in this field it is almost impossible to make that right again unless you are Cancellara.”
Besides the oldest Kreder (59th) and nephew Wesley (66th), Van Ginneken (79th) reached the finish in Harelbeke. This trio will start next Sunday in Ghent - Wevelgem.
Disappointment for Giant-Alpecin in Harelbeke
Bert De Backer was part of the main breakaway of the day at E3 Harelbeke in a group of seven riders that spent the day the early part of the race at the front. Team Giant-Alpecin set out to protect Zico Waeytens and put him in a good position ahead of the key climbs along the course that included the Patersberg and the Oude-Kwaremont. Koen de Kort was the first to finish for the team in 68th position, 8’59” behind today’s winner followed by Bert de Backer in 73rd place.
Coach Marc Reef said: “The first goal was to be in the early break of the day. Then we wanted to be part of the second break around the half-way point of the race to eventually go with Zico in the finale.
“On the key moments of the race, where we had to be in a good position we didn’t manage to be at the front of the bunch. On the hill of Taaiemberg the race opened up but we weren’t able to follow the best riders and we never came back into the race.”
Bert De Backer added: “I managed to be in the early break with the idea that the peloton would give us a significant advantage. Unfortunately, the peloton kept the gap very small which didn’t help us. The race came alive really early on in the race and I tried to follow as long as possible but in the end, I didn’t have the legs to follow the best guys.”
Disappointment for Lampre-Merida on Harelbeke cobbles
After having reached Belgium at the end of a journey whose program had been deeply changed because of the situation in the Brussels airport, LAMPRE-MERIDA’ tried to approach the E3 Harelbeke with a battling attitude.
Cattaneo, Ferrari, Feng and Xu Gang were appointed by sports director Mario Scirea to try to join the break but they failed. After the Taaienberg, only the Slovenian duo Pibernik-Kump remained in the second group but they were both dropped after Pibernik had suffered a puncture.
Kump was the only LAMPRE-MERIDA rider to complete the race, crossing the finish line in 57th position at 6’54”.
"The main goals for the race were to try to be active in the first partof the race, trying to join the breaks, and to pay the greatest possible attention to the crucial points of the race to have chance to stay in the front group," sports director Mario Scirea said. "In the first kilometers of the race, many tried to escape and the break was formed only after 35km: despite the good intention, our riders were not there.
"Pibernik and Kump rode quite well and also passed the first difficult phase, namely the Taaienberg, but then faded in the finale. In Ghent-Wevelgem we aim to do much better than that. Modolo has the qualities and determination to try to stay with the best to the end."
Jay Thomson flies the flag for Dimension Data on the cobbles
For Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka it would be the first Belgian spring classic of the year. Jay Thomson quickly found his rhythm on the small, rough and technical Belgian roads as he rode across to the early break of the day. The South African strongman was with 7 other riders out front as they built up a lead of just over 5 minutes.
When the group of favourites caught the break, Thomson was the sole representative in the leading group. After his efforts in the early break, Thomson eventually lost contact with the leaders.
“It was good to be in the break. It wasn't so easy as I punctured on the first cobble section and only got back on the 2nd section. The break was at 30 seconds and I rode across on the big road. The break worked well together but the race behind, with all the big guys, caught us at the wrong moment. I am a little disappointed to not get more out of today but I'm super happy with the way the legs felt,” Thomson said.
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