In a bid for a rare achievement, Belgian cyclist Wout van Aert gears up to pursue his third consecutive victory at the E3 Saxo Classic on Friday, placing him among the elite few to accomplish the feat. His fierce competitor, Dutch cyclist Mathieu van der Poel, stands as a major contender in the challenging race.

The E3 Saxo Classic, established in 1958 and named after a prominent highway in the Flanders region, kicks off a series of grueling competitions spanning over 10 days, characterized by hilly terrain, cobblestone paths, and unpredictable weather conditions, affectionately dubbed ‘Holy Week’ by fervent cycling enthusiasts in Belgium.

Having clinched victory over Van der Poel and Slovenian talent Tadej Pogacar in the previous edition, Van Aert diligently prepares for his title defense, having undergone rigorous training at a high-altitude camp to sharpen his form.

Drawing parallels between the E3 race and the upcoming Tour of Flanders, Van Aert expresses enthusiasm for the challenge ahead and anticipates testing his strength post-altitude training. Despite his selfless support for Jonas Vingegaard at the 2023 Tour de France, Van Aert now shifts his focus to securing personal and team victories in the early classics season, banking on the benefits of his altitude training regimen to deliver a strong performance.

Recalling his strategic victories in the 2022 and 2023 editions of the E3 Saxo Classic, Van Aert remains confident in his ability to capitalize on his training camp preparation and replicate past successes. With 17 demanding climbs littered along the 207km course, the race promises intense competition, culminating around 20km from the finish line.

While formidable contenders like Dane Mads Pedersen, Australian Michael Matthews, and Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe showcase early-season prowess, all eyes are on Van der Poel, the reigning world champion and recent victor of prestigious races like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, underlining his status as a rider to watch.

Van der Poel’s confident declaration of his peak years lying ahead coincides with his contract extension, following a commendable assist in teammate Jasper Philipsen’s triumph at the Milan-San Remo race. This statement of intent reverberates across the cycling community, with Van Aert acknowledging his rival’s formidable form, setting the stage for a compelling showdown at the E3 Saxo Classic.