Continuing the theme of misfortune that's befallen women's cycling in recent times, the cobbled Flemish one-day race Women's E3 Saxo Classic has been cancelled by the organisers after just two years of hosting, citing rising organisational costs and low confidence from the sponsors, as well as scheduling conflicts with other races.
The men's edition of the classic, previously known as E3 Harelbeke, with treacherous cobbles, steep climbs and narrow roads, first began in 1958 and taking place in the week preceding the famed monument Tour of Flanders, it soon went on to become a sought-after race as riders began using it as a testing ground for their legs, the most recent winner being Belgium's Wout van Aert.
Women's E3 Saxo Bank, also known as Leiedal Koerse, meanwhile, kicked off in 2022 as a UCI 1.2 event, with pro cycling's governing body set to promote the race to a 1.1 from 2024. But organisers Velovrienden have decided to pull the plug on the race.
The race's press officer Jacques Coussens told Sporza: ""The economic model for women's competitions is sputtering... Organizational costs continue to rise, while the attractiveness for sponsors remains below growth expectations.
"The board of the Nieuwe Velovrienden, the organiser of the women's race, had examined whether a final edition in 2024 in Bavikhove, together with the juniors, was feasible, but the negative economic model is also at play for this edition.
"The organizer fears that the last edition would be too loss-making and did not want to end up with a mountain of debt. That is why the board of the Nieuwe Velovrienden decided to pull the plug on the Leiedal Koerse women's race due to a lack of long-term perspective on the calendar and a lack of healthy financial prospects."
The cancellation of Women's E3 Saxo means that of all the main spring Classics, only Milan-San Remo, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and now the E3 Saxo Classic lack a race for women.
However, unlike the other spring Classics, which includes the fortnight of prestigious cycle racing in Flanders to take place in late March and early April, the Leiedal Koerse was held at the end of April alongside a junior men's version of the race and not near the date of the men's WorldTour race.
According to Coussens, the scheduling issues, information of which were obtained by the board of organisers through "various contacts" also played a big part in the decision to take the race off the calendar, as sponsors didn't find it lucrative enough.
He said: "The intention was to have the women's race run on the classic Friday of the WorldTour race E3 Saxo Classic for men from 2025 with a start and finish at the Forestiers Stadium in Harelbeke.
"There are calendar problems for moving the women's race. On the Thursday preceding the E3 Saxo Classic for men, there is the WorldTour race for women in De Panne and on the following Sunday in Gent-Wevelgem. Both are sticking to their statutes and date."
This continues a worrying trend as race organisers cite financial woes and struggle to stay afloat. In March last year, the Women's Tour, the biggest women's race hosted in Britain, was on the chopping block.
The organiser SweetSpot, also responsible for organising the men's edition of the Tour of Britain, had said that the landmark race will go on a hiatus owing to high running costs and a lack of sponsors and commercial support — reasons quite similar to the cancellation of E3 as well.
In fact, just a couple of weeks before the cancellation, Sweetspot had issued an urgent appeal for sponsorship for the 2023 edition of the race, with reports suggesting the organisers were facing a £500,000 shortfall.
> "We have been fighting so many headwinds for the last three or four years, that it's come to the point where we really can't carry on": Women's Tour owner and Tour of Britain organiser SweetSpot goes into liquidation
And just earlier this week, it was reported SweetSpot was entering voluntary liquidation, with liabilities likely to extend significantly past £1 million. Chief executive Hugh Roberts, said: "It's the end of an era. It's 20 years of hard work that have come to this.
"We have been fighting so many headwinds for the last three or four years, that it's come to the point where we really can't carry on in the current climate and the current business environment that we find ourselves in.
"The conditions that were set for us to extract ourselves from the position with British Cycling were too onerous. British Cycling wanted to still receive the full licence fee that they felt they were due in 2022. Despite the Queen dying in the middle of the race and all our other partners showing a little bit of financial sympathy to us they were insisting that the fee they felt they were owed should be paid in full.
"That, along with Covid, with not having a race from September 2019 to September 2021, the debt taken on board to keep the whole thing afloat. Local council bankruptcies, belt-tightening all over the place – that does not augur well for events that rely on government support.
"British Cycling say they have a plan [for the men's Tour of Britain] but I don’t know what it is. There was no room to negotiate. We were not even given the grounds to appeal."
British Cycling said it is "making every possible effort to ensure that the Tour of Britain and a UCI Women's World Tour stage race take place in 2024 and beyond, and will be in a position to provide further details in the coming weeks".
Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.