With Wout Van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) and Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), two three-time cyclocross world champions were riding today’s E3 Harelbeke Binckbank Classic.

Tom Boonen is the record holder in the E3 with five victories. Since no rider in the current peloton won the E3 already more than once, Boonen’s record was safe for another year.

Deceuninck-Quick-Step manager Patrick Lefevere predicted that his Czech rider Zdenek Stybar would win the 62nd edition of the E3 (source: MNM radio). Two-hundred-three kilometers, 15 climbs and several cobblestone sections would let us know if he would turn out to be right.

The First Break

The cobblestones of the Beaucarnestraat and the climb of the Katteberg delivered the first breakaway of the race.

Their names: Jaime Castrillo (Movistar Team), Thomas Sprengers (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Aksel Nommela (Wallonie Bruxelles), Ludwig De Winter (Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team), Mihkel Raim (Israel Cycling Academy), Stijn Steels (Roompot-Charles) and the U23 World Champion Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb).

A little later Lionel Taminiaux (Wallonie Bruxelles) decided he wanted to be the eighth rider in the breakaway, so he counterattacked. Although he had to close a 30-second gap, last year’s winner of the Grand Prix Criquielion succeeded.

After the climb of the Hotondberg, we suddenly saw EF Education First rider Sep Vanmarcke sitting in a ditch. He was obviously in a lot of pain and didn’t seem like he was going to grab his bike again.

After the climb of the Kortekeer, the Taaienberg was coming up next. The Taaienberg, a cobblestone climb with a max gradient of 18 percent, often breaks open the race in the E3.

Slovakian national champion Peter Sagan (BORA-Hansgrohe) was the one to take the lead at the beginning of the climb, but soon Van Aert’s teammate Danny Van Poppel (Jumbo-Visma) took over the lead and guided a chasing group over the top of the Taaienberg.

The Peloton Breaks Apart

Soon after the Taaienberg, the pace dropped and a peloton formed again. While the mass of riders was waiting for the climb of the Boigneberg, Stybar and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto – Soudal) accelerated, which caused the peloton to split into three groups.

Towards the cobblestone climb of the Stationsberg, on 60 km from the finish line, the Luxemburg national champion Bob Jungels (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), who earlier this year won Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, escaped the first chasing group and tried to close the gap with the eight leaders on his own.

On the Stationsberg climb, the leading group dropped from eight to three survivors: Hirschi, Sprengers. Soon after, Jungels joined them to make it four. On the way to the Paterberg, German riders Nils Politt (Team Katusha Alpecin) and Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar Team), who escaped the group with the big favorites, succeeded to close the gap with the four leaders.

The now six-headed leading group started the cobblestone climb of the Paterberg (400 m, average grade of 12.5 percent, max grade of 20 percent) with an advantage of more than a minute on the group with the big favorites.

On the Paterberg, Jungels pulled up the pace in the leading group, and Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) did the same in the chasing group. The result of Jungels’ pulling was that everybody got dropped, except for U23 World Champion Hirschi. The lead was now down to two.

The result of Van Avermaet’s pulling was that the chasing group got reduced to eight riders: Van Avermaet, Stybar, Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale), Van Aert, Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton Scott), Jens Keukeleire (Lotto Soudal), Sagan and Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First).

On the way to the cobblestone climb of the Oude Kwaremont (2200 m, average grade of 4.2 percent, max grade of 11 percent), German riders Politt and Sütterlin made the connection again with Jungels and Hirschi.

On the Oude Kwaremont, the now four leaders stayed together. Once over the top, they had a remaining advantage of 35 seconds on the chasing group. A second chasing group with Deceuninck-Quick-Step riders Phillippe Gilbert and Yves Lampaert and with last year’s winner Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie) was coming closer and closer to the first chasing group in the meantime.

On the second to last climb of the day, the Karnemelkbeekstraat, Jungels left his three companions behind.

Was another great solo of the Luxemburg national champion announcing itself? Then surviving 30 lonely km, with an advantage of only 45 seconds on the first chasing group, was his fate.

The Catch and a Group of Five

Starting the cobblestone sector of the Varent, Jungels still had a 45-second advantage on the first chasing group, which caught up with Hirschi, Politt and Sütterlin in the meantime.

The collaboration in the first chasing group wasn’t optimal, and at the final climb, the Tiegemberg, Van Avermaet realized he needed to make a move if he wanted a chance at winning, so he attacked up the hill. Only three others were able to follow the winner of the 2017 E3 Harelbeke: Stybar, Van Aert and Bettiol.

Naesen, Trentin, Keukeleire, Politt, Sütterlin and Hirschi couldn’t keep up, while Sagan seemed to collapse completely. Sagan seemed to have a mechanical issue a little later, so on that moment we couldn’t know for sure anymore what the real reason was why he got dropped.

On top of the Tiegemberg, Van Avermaet, Stybar, Van Aert and Bettiol followed on only 25 seconds from Jungels. With still 19 km left, the game was not yet played.

Van Avermaet, Van Aert and Bettiol faced one problem though: Stybar, being a teammate of Jungels, wasn’t going to help them in the chase.

The two Belgians and the remarkably strong Italian decided to go full speed anyway in their attempt to catch Jungels. Although slowly, the advantage of the Luxembourger shrank.

Seven kilometers from the finish line, Van Avermaet, Van Aert and Bettiol, with Stybar in their wheel, joined Jungels. There would be no solo to the line.

Now caught, Jungels tried to recover for a bit and then took the lead of the group again. That was the sign for Stybar, who knew that Jungels wouldn’t close the gap if he made a move, to attack. Van Aert, however, reacted and closed the gap.

A little later Van Avermaet and Bettiol closed the gap as well. The pace dropped, which was the sign for the returning Jungels to immediately attack. This time Van Avermaet closed the gap. Bettiol had taken the wheel of Stybar in the meantime, which made that the following attack of Stybar didn’t come as a surprise for the Italian.

After Stybar’s second attack, Jungels returned again, this time to lead out the sprint, which now seemed inevitable.

Going into the final stretch, Jungels was leading, followed by Van Avermaet, then Stybar, then Van Aert and then Bettiol. The Italian launched his sprint first, but before he made it to first position, Van Avermaet launched his sprint too.

Stybar and Van Aert managed to pass Van Avermaet, but it was the Czech who took the win. The win was Stybar’s third of the 2019 season.

Van Aert finished 2nd, Van Avermaet 3rd, Bettiol 4th and Jungels 5th.

The five-headed chasing group sprinted a little later for the remaining 5 top 10 positions. On 1 minute 4 seconds Politt finished 6th, Trentin 7th, Naesen 8th, Sütterlin 9th and Hirschi 10th.

Click here for full results

Logan Owen, who replaced Taylor Phinney in the EF Education First selection for the E3, was first American on 142nd place. The other American participant, Chad Haga, finished 153rd.


Zdenek Stybar: “I knew that Van Avermaet would be very strong in the sprint after such a hard race, so we tried to make it harder for him. Jungels and I both attacked once more to make it as hard as possible and we succeeded.” (source: Sporza (translated))

Wout van Aert: “The E3 is one of the most difficult races of the spring. I certainly felt it in my legs. This race is just a bit more difficult than the previous classics. I am happy that I was able to ride a final again. I certainly thought about winning. But after such a difficult race it is always an atypical sprint. I felt really good and in the final kilometres I mainly focused on Stybar’s attacks that you knew were coming. It was the best tactic to be in his wheel straight away. Though it was far from easy. It also took quite a long time before we could bridge over to Jungels. That cost us a lot of energy.”

Greg Van Avermaet: “I did everything I could to position myself for the finale and although, of course, I wanted to win, it is also good to be only the podium again. I know that the Tour of Flanders is the race that suits me the most so, I can take confidence knowing that I am good at the moment and hopefully, the best is yet to come.”