Greg Van Avermaet wins Tour of Flanders prelude in Harelbeke

Belgium's Greg Van Avermaet has won the Flemish cycling classic "E3 Harelbeke", a kind of small version of the Tour of Flanders. In a very tense final sprint, Van Avermaet beat two other breakaway riders, Belgian champions Philippe Gilbert and his friend Oliver Naesen. The win allows Van Avermaet to leapfrog World Champion Peter Sagan to clinch first place in the World Tour rankings.
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Van Avermaet (central) keeps Gilbert (left) and Naesen at bay.

The breakaway group of 3 made up for an all-Belgian finale in Harelbeke (West Flanders). In a tactical sprint, where the 3 waited as long as possible to start, Van Avermaet just managed to resist a last-gasp effort by Philippe Gilbert.

Oliver Naesen, a good friend of Van Avermaet's, had made the first move but in the end had to watch from the background how the Olympic Champion beat the Belgian tricolour, giving both of them a small applause.

A bad day for Sagan

The E3 Harelbeke had its finale on the rolling hills and small, winding roads and cobble sections of the Flemish Ardennes. A strong wind made the 206-km race extra difficult, though conditions were sunny and dry. The race takes in many of the typical roads and hills that we will see in 9 days' time in the Tour of Flanders.

World Champion Sagan, who had started as the top favourite, was involved in a crash and lost a lot of time even before the real finale started. He was not injured and finished the race several minutes after the winner.

Flemish races

The next World Tour race is the classic Gent-Wevelgem next Sunday. Next follows the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde from Tuesday to Thursday, the ultimate preparation before the Tour of Flanders.