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Another engrossing Van Aert, van der Poel, Pogačar fight at E3 Saxo Classic

Flanders Week appetizer gets a repeat champion

Wout Van Aert defended his title in Friday’s WorldTour one-day race in Harelbeke, Belgium, the E3 Saxo Classic, beating what have become his traditional rivals, Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar. The three got loose on the famed Paterberg and sprinted it out at the line. Derek Gee was the top Canadian in 45th.


E3 is a preview of the upcoming Flanders Classics Week comprised of Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders. Shorter than than the Tour of Flanders, E3 utilizes many of the same climbs. Last year Jumbo-Visma went one-two with Van Aert and Christophe Laporte.

Van Aert and Laporte celebrate last year’s one-two.

E3’s challenges were five cobbled climbs, 11 non-cobbled climbs and five cobbled sections. Although the Knokteberg (1.2 km of 7.3 percent) and Taaienberg (700 metres of 6.3 percent) were sharp bites, they were set in the middle of the 204-km course. The decisive climbs arrived bunched together with 48 km to race: Kapelberg (800 metres of 5 percent), cobbled Paterberg (400 metres of 9 percent) and cobbled Oude Kwaremont (2.1 km of 4.2 percent), with Karnemelkbeekstraat (1.4 km of 5.7 percent) soon after. The final climb peaked with 20 km remaining. Some of the early cobbles were wet.

Derek Gee and Nick Zukowsky made up the Canadian contingent. Hugo Houle was supposed to start, but did not due to illness.

The Race

A bold quintet of escapees sallied forth before the first climb Katteberg. Jumbo-Visma and UAE-Emirates powered the peloton engine behind. At kilometer 87, the climbs started to come thick and fast. The break’s gap was 3:13.

By the Taaienberg, the escapees were within hailing distance. An attack of Julian Alaphilippe and van der Poel demanded a response from Van Aert. The cyclocross aces were locked together and then brought back.

First shots fired on the Taaienberg.

A strong Movistar move from American Matteo Jorgenson prompted van der Poel to scurry in pursuit, bringing along Van Aert, Laporte, Pogačar and several others. Nathan van Hooydonck, Matej Mohorič and Søren Kragh Andersen flared off from this bunch before the Eikenberg.

With 57 km to race, van der Poel and Van Aert bridged to the Mohorič trio and Pogačar crossed the gap as well. There were two Alpecin-Deceuninck riders, two Jumbo-Visma chaps and two Slovenians in this sextet. The important climbs of Kapelberg, Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont loomed.

The six stayed intact on the Kapelberg, but van der Poel’s dig on the Paterberg created another MvdP, Van Aert and Pogačar selection. Once more it came back together. On Oude Kwaremont, it was the Slovenian’s turn to attack, and Van Aert struggled to keep up.

The Big Three inch away on the Paterberg.

The End Game

The “Three Tenors” were satisfied to grow their gap in between Kwaremont and the final climb, where there were no fireworks. With 7.5 km to go, the lead dropped under a minute, Mohorič and Jorgenson in the closest, four-man chase.

At 3.4 km to ride, the Slovenian tried to take his leave of the others, but to no avail. Pogačar tried once more before the red kite. No dice.

In the three-up sprint, Van Aert was the strongest.

Gent-Wevelgem is on Sunday.

2023 E3 Saxo Classic
1) Wout Van Aert (Belgium/Jumbo-Visma) 4:44:59
2) Mathieu van der Poel (The Netherland/Alpecin-Deceuninck) s.t.
3)Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia/UAE-Emirate) s.t.
45) Derek Gee (Canada/Israel-Premier Tech) +7:37
56) Nick Zukowsky (Canada/Q36.5) +8:26