Preview: Flemish week

One of the year’s most eagerly anticipated periods of racing, Flemish Week, gets underway on Friday with E3 Harelbeke, culminating with the Tour of Flanders just over a week later.

“E3”, the 206.5km race, won last year by Greg van Avermaet (BMC), features two of the sport’s most well-known climbs; the Paterberg, rising up to a gradient of up to 20%, followed almost immediately by the Oude Kwaremont at the 167km mark.

For Africa’s Team, new recruit for 2018 Julien Vermote, a resident of Kortrijk, will be looking at using some of his intimate hometown knowledge to his advantage. The Belgian’s been in good form this year and will be looking to build on that in front of his home fans.

Lining up alongside him will be Edvald Boasson Hagen who finished 16th at Milan-Sanremo on Sunday as he continues to go from strength to strength in a year which had the start affected by illness, as well as Jay Thomson who’s had a really strong first quarter of 2018.

Also selected for us is the recent King of the Mountains jersey winner in the Algarve, Ben King, as well as Nic Dougall who was part of our team on the Opening Weekend and sprinter Ryan Gibbons, who most recently raced in the very tough conditions at Paris-Nice.

Following “E3”, Sunday sees Gent-Wevelgem followed on Wednesday 28 March by Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Those precede in many respects the main event of Flemish Week, on Easter Sunday, as the 266km Monument, the Tour of Flanders, looms. Philippe Gilbert is the defending champion of that event.

Julien Vermote – Rider

I’m really looking forward to the race. It’s like a home race for me, Harelbeke is where I’ve lived for around 20 years. The start and finish is at the football stadium where I played when I was young, so it’s a really special race for me. The race itself is also really hard, it’s like a smaller Ronde van Vlaanderen, 200km and we don’t have the same approach as the Ronde but we take (more or less) the same number of climbs. It’s definitely a hard race, the perfect race the week before Flanders. I’m really looking forward to the race itself, that’s the period we’ve been working towards over the winter, there are a lot of nice races coming up and Harelbeke is perhaps my favourite of those so I’m looking forward to it.