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Vlaamse Wielerweek-end

I am dropping the ball a bit with real previews this week; trust me when I say that won't be the case at any time between mid-next week and the end of the Giro. I am already refusing work assignments and social occasions in preparation for the major Classics season. Priorities, yo.

But tomorrow's E3 Prijs Vlaanderen is the king of the warmup races, running as it does over four of the Tour of Flanders' cobbled climbs, from the middle of that race. As I said last year, E3 Prijs is the next best thing to rehearsing the approach to the Muur van Geraardsbergen, which is far too sacred to host rehearsals. So E3 Prijs it is.

Below are the list of hills, with indicating it's a cobbled climb and (RVV) indicating it's also featured in the Tour of Flanders.

  • La Houppe
  • Berg Stene (RVV)
  • Boigneberg
  • Eikenberg
  • Stationsberg
  • Taaienberg (RVV)
  • Oude Kruiskens
  • Kapelberg
  • Paterberg (RVV)
  • Kwaremont (RVV)
  • Knokteberg
  • Tiegemberg

The Official Website has English and an endless variety of bells and whistles. My favorite is the Google Maps link of the parcours, which has a fork and knife planted in Geraardsbergen. Yeah, that's what that town is known for... I also note that the course passes through neighboring Brakel, home of Peter van Petegem. Ask yourself, what kind of cyclist would you be if you grew up 5km from the Muur?

Anyway, all you need to know is that this is the first race on the calendar which acts as any sort of predictor for de Ronde. In the last eleven editions, E3 has been won on four occasions by the guy who went on to Ronde glory a week later, including the entire podium in 2005. In that same time period, nine of eleven Ronde winners first showed up on the E3 Prijs podium, in the same or earlier years. So Saturday won't tell you who will win the Ronde, but it may tell you who won't.

Startlist here; mostly the usual suspects (minus Cancellara and Ballan), though I have a few questions. First, where the hell is Enrico Gasparotto? Have Lampre just thrown up their hands on the classics? Secondly, obviously Quick Step are the team to beat, as Boonen, has a full complement of lieutenants: Chavanel, Van Impe, Devolder, Barredo... Not gonna be easy. Silence are holding off Gilbert until Sunday, for some reason. Wondering aloud why Garmin-Chipotle aren't there... how can you prep for the cobbles if you don't ride them? Why waste time at Criterium International?!? Anyway, Columbia are bringing the full squad, as is Rabo, as is Katusha, as is Cervelo... getting excited yet?

Sunday's Brabantse Pijl is more of a sprinter's race a classic, but less selective than E3 Prijs, and coming the next day you can expect most of the big guns to either skip it or take it easy.  It's a fine event, but not on the same level. Startlist here. Bet the house on Allan Davis.

Both events are on Cycling.TV, though check Cyclingfans.com or Steephill.TV for alternatives.