Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet continued his hot streak by winning the E3 Harelbeke one-day cobbled classic on Friday in a “poker game.”
Just over a week away from the first cobbled ‘Monument’ of the season — the Tour of Flanders — the 31-year-old Belgian picked up his second win this year on the cobbles having claimed Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory last month. It means the winner from last year’s Games in Rio has set himself up well ahead of the prestigious duo of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix on successive weekends next month.
Although one of the best one-day classics riders of his generation, the former nearly-man has never won either Flanders or Roubaix, although two years ago he was third in both and in 2014 he took second at Flanders.
At E3 he was part of a three man breakaway that got clear 35km from the line to contest a sprint finish at the end of the undulating 206km race, edging out compatriots Philippe Gilbert and Oliver Naesen.
“We were three friends up front but you have to shut it out of your mind,” said Van Avermaet.
“It was a poker game. I’m delighted with this success, all the more because my breathing problems from the start of the week are forgotten.”
BMC’s Van Avermaet became the first Belgian winner of the race since the great Tom Boonen claimed his record fifth success in 2012. Boonen, now 36, finished eighth on Friday.
Victory saw Van Avermaet succeed Michal Kwiatkowski as E3 champion just under three weeks after the Pole beat him into second at Strade Bianche, another major World Tour one-day race.
World champion Peter Sagan, the winner of Flanders last year, had looked strong until a crash 45km from the finish ruined his hopes.
Sagan, who was second to Kwiatkowski a week ago at the season’s first ‘Monument’ race — Milan-Sanremo — and Van Avermaet will be amongst the Flanders hopefuls doing battle again on Sunday at Gent-Wevelgem.
Sagan won that in 2013 and last year while Van Avermaet’s best result was third in 2012.