E3 Saxo Classic 2024

Important cobbled Classic takes in tough climbs and roads of Flanders, otherwise known as the min-Tour of Flanders

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E3 Saxo Classic
E3 Saxo Classic
  • Dates 22 Mar
  • Race Length 207 kms
  • Start Harelbeke
  • Finish Harelbeke
  • Race Category Elite Men

Updated: 21 March 2024

E3 Saxo Classic 2024 overview

Some bike races are named after former winners, finishing towns or the region in which they take place. Not this one. E3 Saxo Classic is named after a Belgian motorway that runs between Antwerp and Kortrijk – glamorous, right?

Known as the mini-Tour of Flanders, this one-day race tests the world’s best Classics riders keen to test the waters ahead of the big day.

Taking to the start of the E3 Saxo Classic will be all 18 WorldTeams and seven UCI ProTeams, with Wout van Aert returning as the two-time defending champion for Visma-Lease a Bike. His bid to retain his crown will be aided by the absence of UAE Team Emirates’ Tadej Pogačar, who is instead focusing on the Volta a Catalunya, but Van Aert will indeed be challenged by his closest rival, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck).

Like the Tour of Flanders and other Flandrian Classics, the E3 Saxo Classic follows a tried-and-tested route that twists and turns its way through Flanders, scrambling up leg-breaking climbs in the hilly areas of Oudenaarde and the Flemish Ardennes. Climbs like the Paterberg, Oude Kwaremont and Teigemberg all feature in this race. The Teigemberg falls last and often splits the front group before a flat and fast finish in the centre of Harelbeke.

E3 Saxo Classic 2024 key information

When is the E3 Saxo Classic 2024? The race will take place Friday 22 March.

Where does the E3 Saxo Classic take place? The race will take place in East Flanders with most of the racing looping throughout the Flemish Ardennes.

Who won the E3 Saxo Classic in 2023? Wout van Aert won the 2023 edition ahead of Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar.

When did the E3 Saxo Classic start? The first edition of the E3 Classic was run in 1958.

Who won the first E3 Saxo Classic? Armand Desmet won the first edition ahead of Lucien Demunster and Briek Schotte.

Who has the most wins at the E3 Saxo Classic? Tom Boonen has the most wins at E3 with five victories, including four consecutive wins from 2004 through 2007.

E3 Saxo Classic 2024 route

‘Don’t change what isn’t broken’ is the motto that E3’s organisers have stuck to this year. As it has done for the best part of the last decade, the race will cover a roughly 200km route that starts and finishes in the Flandrian town of Harelbeke. However, there is one small change to this year’s parcours, with an ascent of the Eikenberg removed, bringing the number of hellingen down to 16. Many of these climbs are covered in teeth-chattering cobblestones, which will ensure a challenging day in the saddle.

The first 80km don’t offer up too much of a challenge and largely serve as an opportunity for riders to get their blood pumping before the non-stop onslaught of climbs begins at 118km to go with La Houppe. There’s barely any respite between climbs past this point. In fact, the largest distance between two climbs after the onslaught begins is just 10km (between the Stationsberg and Kapelberg).

At 81km to go the infamous Taaienberg (450m at 9.6%) appears. It’s short, but it's vicious and covered in cobblestones. Three challenging climbs - Berg Ten Stene, Boigneberg and Stationsberg - fall shortly after the Taaienberg, sapping everyone’s strength before the crucial final phase of the race begins at 48km to go with the Kapelberg. If a rider loses touch with the front group at this point, then they can wave their race goodbye.

The Kapelberg pales in comparison to the race’s final four climbs, but its placement on the route is important as it leads straight into the Paterberg (400m at 11.9%). Like the Taaienberg, the Paterberg is short but agonisingly steep. It’s also covered in cobblestones, making it the perfect launchpad for a daring attack. Wout van Aert made his race-winning move on this climb in 2022, dragging his teammate Christophe Laporte along for the ride.

From one iconic climb to another, the Oude Kwaremont (2.8km at 3.5%) falls shortly after the Paterberg and offers riders another golden opportunity to attack. It’s shallow compared to its Flandrian brothers and sisters, but it’s long and really suits those riders with a lot of power. After the Oude Kwaremont, there are just two more climbs (Karnemelkbeekstraat and Tiegemberg) and one cobblestone sector (Varenstraat).

Any one of these ‘crunch points’ could spark a decisive move, especially since they all fall within a reasonable range of the finish in Harelbeke. After the Tiegemberg is crested, just 20.8km stand in the way of the riders and the finish. The run into Harelbeke is pan-flat and straightforward. If a small group arrives at the finale together then this is an ideal finish for those riders who pack a strong sprint.

E3 Saxo Classic 2024 contenders

There are two main contenders for the E3 Saxo Classic crown, Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck). The pair enjoy without doubt the best rivalry that the sport has seen since the halcyon days of Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara in the Classics, and can both count on the support of a fantastic team on Friday.

Van Aert has won the last two editions of the E3 Saxo Classic and will count Matteo Jorgenson, Tiesj Benoot, Dylan van Baarle and Jan Tratnik amongst his team, whilst Van der Poel will be hoping to claim his first victory in this race. Visma-Lease a Bike’s team is certainly stronger, but Van der Poel will find a good foil in Søren Kragh Andersen, who finished ninth last season.

This will be the first time that we see Van der Poel and Van Aert go up against each other on the road this season, so fans are rightfully licking their lips at the prospect. Van der Poel was able to match Tadej Pogačar’s attacks at Milan-San Remo, before dragging back multiple attacks on behalf of his teammate and eventual winner, Jasper Philipsen. Van Aert, meanwhile, enjoyed a blistering opening weekend that saw him claim third place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the win at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

It is not all about the first and second-place finishers from last year, however, with a flotilla of other contenders looking to take the E3 Saxo Classic crown. Jorgenson, Tratnik and Van Baarle are more than capable of riding to victory should Van der Poel reserve his eyes for Van Aert, Lidl-Trek’s duo of Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen displayed great strength in Milan-San Remo, and so too did Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious).

As for the wildcard picks, look no further than Oier Lazkano (Movistar), Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates), Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost), Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step) and Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious). All have demonstrated good form from time to time this season and may benefit from Visma-Lease a Bike and Alpecin-Deceuninck being preoccupied with one another.

E3 Saxo Classic 2024 teams

WorldTour

  • Alpecin-Deceuninck
  • Arkéa-B&B Hotels
  • Astana Qazaqstan
  • Bahrain Victorious
  • Bora-Hansgrohe
  • Cofidis
  • Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale
  • dsm-firmenich PostNL
  • EF Education-EasyPost
  • Groupama-FDJ
  • Ineos Grenadiers
  • Intermarché-Wanty
  • Jayco AlUla
  • Lidl-Trek
  • Movistar
  • Soudal Quick-Step
  • UAE Team Emirates
  • Visma-Lease a Bike

ProTeam

  • Bingoal WB
  • Flanders-Baloise
  • Israel-Premier Tech
  • Lotto Dstny
  • Q36.5 Pro Cycling
  • Tudor Pro Cycling
  • Uno-X Mobility

E3 Saxo Classic history

First raced back in 1958, the E3 Saxo Classic is actually one of the younger Flandrian Classics, but it has wasted none of its time growing into one of the most prestigious one-day races on the calendar. Many cycling fans refer to this race as ‘The Little Tour of Flanders’, an apt nickname considering that both races have been won by a very similar set of riders and follow similar routes through Flanders.

Tom Boonen, arguably the most successful Spring Classics rider of his generation, tops this race’s honours list with five wins. Rik Van Looy lies just behind on four wins, while Boonen’s arch-rival, Fabian Cancellara, sits one further back on three wins. Several other well-known stars have also won this race, interestingly before they went on to win races like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. These riders include Roger De Vlaeminck, Jan Raas and the Lion of Flanders himself, Johan Museeuw.

It is, in every way, a mini Tour of Flanders and therefore suits those riders who relish the roads of De Ronde. The fact that nine riders have won this race and the Tour of Flanders in the same year just strengthens this similarity. The last rider to win both E3 and the Tour of Flanders in the same year was Kasper Asgreen in 2021, and before him, it was Niki Terpstra in 2018. Judging by this frequency, it doesn’t seem like we’ll have to wait long before we see another rider ‘do the double’.

Last year, the race set the stage for the Tour of Flanders brilliantly as Tadej Pogačar, Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert dropped the rest of the field and fought for the victory between themselves. In the three-up sprint, Van Aert got the better of Van der Poel and Pogačar. Interestingly enough, the order at E3 was the opposite of how the three favourites ended up at Flanders with Pogačar taking the win ahead of Van der Poel while Van Aert could only manage fourth.

While the race will be without Pogačar who is skipping the cobbled classics in favour of the Volta a Catalunya, Van der Poel and Van Aert are set for their first head-to-head match of the season at E3 with the next round of their era-defining rivalry quick approaching on the horizon. With the stakes building and several other favourites looking at what could be their best chance at nabbing a win this spring, E3 is set to be a thrilling day of racing that will set the table for ‘Holy Week’ later this month.

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