E3 Harelbeke Sportive, March 25th 2018
TSC’s chosen first foreign road trip for 2018 was for the E3 Harelbeke Sportive aka Johan Museeuw Classic, in Belgium. The event costs just €14 and sees around 4000 people participate with a choice of 3 length courses – 80km, 119km and 148km. TSC chose the middle distance, allowing more drinking time over the weekend.
6am on Saturday morning saw spirits high as the team bus Diggers II departed Bowburn on the 325 mile journey to Dover, and despite a lengthy tail back at the Dartford Crossing, the team made it onto the ferry minutes before departure! A round of Bud was ordered to stem the nerves and once the 75min crossing to Calais was complete the team made the short drive to Harelbeke, and parked up at the VTI Harelbeke car park where the Sportive was due to begin the next morning.
TSC did what they do best, and immediately went out on the bevvy, making several buddys over glasses of Brown in the De Florence Bar a 5 minute walk away, and even more best buddys drinking the legendary Bockor at The Comix Bar who kindly donated many E3 Harelbeke souvenirs before the team departed to a standing ovation and chanting from the locals just before midnight. Pizzas were scoffed in Diggers and alarms set for 7am.
The sportive was fantastically well organised beginning with a ‘Scan and Ride’ service which saw us signed in and numbers mounted in just a matter of minutes. Obligatory photos were taken and the team crossed the start line around 9:40am. The ride is split into 3 distinct sections of 40km each, with feed stations in between each. The first 41km were relatively flat, rolling through typical Belgian country lanes with every turn well signposted, and marshalls stopping traffic at all main road crossings. The first climb was immediately before the first feed, which had a good selection of waffles, fruit, jelly beans, energy cakes and energy drinks.
The second sector of 40km was by far the toughest with no less than 6 Bergs including the 2 famous ascents of the Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont. The number of entrants meant you always had a good number of other cyclists around, but you were never fighting for position on the climbs. The Paterberg and Kwaremont were every bit the beasts we remembered and we were glad to see the second feed station at 81km.
The third sector saw two more bergs in the first 20km before a rolling windy 19km run-in back to the finish lane at the Forestierstadion in Harelbeke. The team rolled in at 16:15 and were straight to the bar for celebratory Kwaremont beers and Frites med Mayo. All entrants received a very good quality t-shirt for 5 euro. The finish area had the Gent-Wevelgem Race on live and free showers were on offer.
Once showered, Diggers set sail for TSC’s Belgian drinking base of Veurne, on the coast approximately 50km North of Calais, ahead of the next morning ferry home. Steaks and Chips with glasses of Primus were the order of the day at our regular haunt De Plakker restaurant, and the bevvy flowed until late.
To sum the Sportive up, like previous events in Belgium and Northern France, it was once again hard to knock and shows up any UK event we’ve done, often at a much higher price. €14 entry included timing chips, gels, feed stations, sign-posted routes, marshals, mechanical assistance and a chance to once again ride on roads and in a country made for cycling. 80% of the route was on quiet country roads, and whenever we went near a main road we were on a clear separate cycling lane. The few times we crossed a main road, a marshal stopped the traffic so we could get straight across. To then get beer, chips, live sport, showers at the end as well as a t-shirt for so little, as well as photographs, videos and timed sectors around the course leaves nothing to grumble about.
The whole weekend including Sportive Entry, Ferry Crossing, Diesel, T-shirt, Food, lots of drink and plenty of laughs came to less than £140 per person.
The organisers ‘Cycling Heroes Tours’ also organise other sportive based on famous cycling events and it is pretty much certain TSC will be experiencing those in the future! 10/10!
Photos from the weekend can be viewed here: Facebook Photo Album