On the startline at E3 Harelbeke

The crowds assembled for the start of E3 Harelbeke on Friday morning, as per tradition, but like at Dwars door Vlaanderen two days ago, the atmosphere was a rather more muted one than usual.

As Belgium comes to terms with the terrorist atrocities in Brussels on Tuesday that left 31 people dead, its cycling races continue to provide a semblance of normality. A small but valuable framework in a trying time.

While there was a return to some – but by no means all – of the fanfare that one expects at race starts in Flanders, there were many reminders of Tuesday’s tragedy. The peloton paused for a minute’s silence on the start line behind a banner that read, in Flemish and French: “A tragedy provides the opportunity to show your courage.”


FDJ’s riders, meanwhile, were wearing small Belgian flags on their sleeves as a mark of respect to the victims. “It’s a symbol of solidarity,” Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud Démare said after signing on. “I think it’s good to do these races at this time, to show that we’re not afraid and to bring some pleasure to the people here.”

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) provided some much needed levity when he arrived on the sign on podium, where speaker Michel Wuyts simply handed his microphone over to the world champion and allowed him to take on the duty of presenting his teammates to the crowds.

After returning the microphone to Wuyts, Sagan was asked to predict the podium, but he neatly side-stepped the question. “I am not Copperfield, eh,” Sagan said. “Or else maybe after I would go to Las Vegas to make some shows.”

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