Eneco Tour review

The Eneco Tour of Benelux ended in a win for Rabobank’s Lars Boom. An exciting last stage saw the Dutchman finish second, making up enough time on previous leader Svein Tuft of Orica-GreenEDGE to take the overall. The other two riders on the podium came from the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team, with Sylvain Chavanel second and Niki Terpstra third. On his return to racing, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Alberto Contador finished an impressive fourth.

RadioShack-Nissan’s young Italian sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo underlined his potential by pipping Heinrich Haussler of Garmin-Sharp to the points classification, while the Primus jersey – where points are gained at intermediate sprint points – was won by Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator’s Laurens De Vreese.

The final podium (l-r) Sylvain Chavanel, Lars Boom and Niki Terpstra (image courtesy of enecotour.com)

Stage 1: Waalwijk to Middelburg, 203.9km

Unlike in previous years, stage one was a proper road stage rather than a prologue, enabling sprinter Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) to bounce back from a disappointing Tour de France with a win. His success was undoubtedly helped by a big crash inside the last 3km, which reduced the leading group to around 30 riders.

It was from this group which the German, led out by teammate Tom Veelers, surged away from the others to take the Tour’s early lead, after the day’s two-man breakaway featuring Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Staf Scheirlinckx (Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda’s) was comfortably reeled in. FDJ-BigMat’s Arnaud Demare was second, with BMC’s Taylor Phinney – his team’s nominal GC contender – third.

Stage 2: Sittard to Sittard, 18.9km team time trial

Jens Keukeleire took the lead after the TTT (image courtesy of enecotour.com)

After his third place on stage one, Taylor Phinney seemed to be in good shape. But any hope he had of overall success was dashed almost as quickly as the race had started, with a nasty crash for BMC costing them valuable time in stage two’s team time trial. They lost 1:10 on the winners of the stage, Orica-GreenEDGE.

TT specialists Luke Durbridge, Svein Tuft and Jens Mouris were the key in the Aussie squad’s success, and their hard work was enough to propel young Belgian Jens Keukeleire into the overall lead. Omega Pharma-Quick Step finished second, just a second off the time of the eventual winners. Katusha and Rabobank were just one and three seconds further back respectively.

Stage 3: Riemst to Genk, 188km

Stage three was another chance for the sprinters to add to their palmares, and after the day’s breakaway consisting of Alex Dowsett (Sky), Matteo Bono (Lampre-ISD), Laurens De Vreese (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) and James Vanlandschoot (Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda’s) was reeled in, one of them was going to.

As it turned out, Rabobank’s resident quick man Theo Bos was the victor, sweeping out of John Degenkolb‘s (Argos-Shimano) slipstream and straight past him for the win. Keukeleire managed to finish inside the lead group, and therefore held on to his lead at the top of the GC.

Stage 4: Heers to Bergen op Zoom, 213.3km

The second of three consecutive sprint days (it is, after all, the Eneco Tour!) saw Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) swap his Belgian stripes for the jersey of race leader, despite the fact it was Marcel Kittel who took his second stage win of the race, ahead of Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) and Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Nissan).

Unsurprisingly it was the GreenEDGE team who did the lion’s share of work in closing down the six-man break of Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil-DCM), Egurrola Saez De Arregui (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Arnoud Van Groen (Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda’s), Martin Kohler (BMC), Gert Dockx (Lotto-Belisol) and Boris Shpilevsky (AG2R La Mondiale), and despite Jens Keukeleire finishing with the lead group, a two-second time bonus Boonen picked up at an intermediate sprint was enough to see him into the lead.

Stage 5: Hoogerheide to Aalter, 184.6km

Photo finish! Nizzolo just held off Roelandts (image courtesy of enecotour.com)

Having impressed throughout the race and got third place on the previous stage, 23-year-old Milanese sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo finally got an elusive win on the final sprinters’ stage. It was an incredibly intelligent and exciting finale, with the Italian attacking with 300m to go, whilst all other sprinters delayed.

The sprint finish came after the day’s breakaway – Dmitriy Muravyev (Astana), Laurens De Vreese (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) and Sjef De Wilde (Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda’s) – was caught with 25km remaining.

Nizzolo managed to hold off an onrushing Roelandts by an agonising margin, with Manuel Belletti (AG2R) third. Tom Boonen‘s fifth was enough to keep him in the race lead, but he was surely just delaying the inevitable with the individual time trial coming next.

Stage 6: Ardooie – Ardooie, 17.4km individual time trial

Sure enough, Tom Boonen lost the lead on the penultimate stage, but the winner of the individual time trial was somewhat more surprising. The Canadian national time trial champion Svein Tuft stormed the course around Ardooie, taking the stage by five seconds from Taylor Phinney.

The win was enough for Tuft to give GreenEDGE their second leader of the race, although the superb ride of Lars Boom (Rabobank) for third place on the stage and second place on GC – just four seconds behind – meant that he was the favourite to take the overall, on a final stage which was to his liking.

Also dangerous were Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), 16 seconds back, his teammate Niki Terpstra, 39 seconds down, and the one and only Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), 49 seconds in arrears.

Stage 7: Maldegem to Geraardsbergen, 214.5km

There was an extremely rare occurrence on the parcours of the seventh and final stage – hills! Real, actual hills on an Eneco Tour stage! And what a stage it was. With a profile reminiscent of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, the stage took in some of the great Belgian classic’s famous climbs – and some of them more than once!

A strong nine-man breakaway went off the front – Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Tosh Van Der Sande and Maarten Neyens (Lotto-Belisol), Wout Mol (Vacansoleil-DCM), Pavel Brutt (Katusha), Danilo Hondo (Lampre-ISD) and Linus Gerdemann (RadioShack-Nissan).

Unsurprisingly with such a dangerous group leading, the breakaway was never able to open up a gap of over three minutes throughout the entire stage, and was caught with just over 25km to go. A strong counter-attack from Jan Bakelandts (RadioShack-Nissan) went away with a gap of over 40 seconds, but was eventually reeled in.

On the final ascent of the famous Muur, Alessandro Ballan made the decisive move, with Boom locked on to his wheel. Leader Tuft was nowhere to be seen. Ballan took the stage, with Boom second, giving the Dutchman the overall win. To make matters worse for Svein Tuft, he received a time penalty for taking a water bottle inside the final 20km, meaning he missed out on the podium.

General Classification

1. Lars Boom (Rabobank) 24:51:13

2. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:26

3. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:49

4. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +0:55

5. Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE) same time

6. Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar Team) +0:58

7. Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEDGE) +1:00

8. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +1:05

9. Sebastian Langeveld (Orica-GreenEDGE) +1:07

10. Jan Bakelandts (RadioShack-Nissan) +1:13

Links: PreviewOfficial website

Clasica San Sebastian preview

The 32nd Clasica San Sebastian (Basque: Donostia-Donostia klasikoa) has been pushed back by this year’s Olympic Games to Tuesday 14th August. It is more usually held the Saturday after the Tour de France has finished. It’s a UCI WorldTour race but isn’t yet regarded as one of the Monuments – far too young.

What kind of race is it?

It’s traditionally seen as a climbers’ race, with several famous stars  – Miguel Indurain, Lance Armstrong, Laurent Jalabert – claiming victory over its short history. Only one man has won it three times, the Basque rider Marino Lejarreta in 1981, 1982 and 1987.

The race is renowned for its spectacular views of the Basque coastline, magnificent verdant countryside and winding, undulating terrain which strongly favours aggressive riding. The current race route is 234km in length and includes the tough first climb of the Alto de Jaizkibel at just under the 150km mark. Its second ascent is often a decisive point in the race, where the winning break gets away.

The race winner is honoured with his own txapela, a traditional black Basque beret that, unless you speak Euskara, is as close as any outsider is going to get to being a local.

The most recent winners of the event have been:

2007: Leonardo Bertagnolli (Liquigas)

2008: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne)

2009: Carlos Barredo (Quick Step)

2010: Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne)

2011: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)

What happened last year?

The King of Belgium Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)  won the race with the relative ease with which he won so many races last season.

2011 Clasica San Sebastian podium l to r Carlos Barredo, Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet (image courtesy of RDW)

2011 Clasica San Sebastian podium (l to r) Carlos Barredo, Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet (image courtesy of RDW)

The orange of Euskaltel-Euskadi, leading the peloton, allowed an early break of six riders  – Irish national champion, Matt Brammeier (HTC-HighRoad), Karsten Kroon (BMC), Klaas Lodewyck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Brazilian national champion Murilo Fischer (Garmin-Cervelo), Eloy Ruiz (Andalucia-Caja Granada) and Julian Sanchez (Caja Rural) – to build an early lead of over 11 minutes.

By the first climb of the Arkale, however, only three remained: Kroon, Fischer and Lodewyck. As the leaders hit the Jaizkibel for the second time, Lodewyck was distanced while Kroon and Fischer pressed on. Nico Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) launched an unsuccessful attack, followed by Tour de France King of the Mountains and local hero Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who was quickly followed by Carlos Barredo (Rabobank).

Sanchez caught Kroon and Fischer just before the summit but the gap back to the peloton was now only 14 seconds as Gilbert made a move, taking Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) and others with him. Sanchez initiated another attack, but the larger group again reformed and on the run in to the second ascent of the Arkale the leaders numbered around 30.

Vacansoleil rider Stijn Devolder then built a 30-second lead. Riders tried to bridge across but Gilbert was policing the front of the chasers. With only 20km left, Devolder was still ahead but fast losing ground to the select chasing pack.

On the final climb of the Arkale, Dries Devenyns (Quick Step) and Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) overhauled Devolder. With 10km left, they were caught, leaving a select group of nine favourites. Barredo attacked but was quickly caught by Gilbert. Sanchez gave chase and was joined firstly by Zubeldia and then the others. But the horse had bolted, the stable door was locked and Gilbert was just a black, yellow and red blur in the distance.

Gilbert soloed across the finish line to the mighty roar of the huge crowds lining the wide boulevard in the late afternoon sunshine before Barredo took second, followed by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). The others were left wondering what they needed to do to beat this man on a course with a climb near the conclusion!

Rabobank took the team prize, Julian Sanchez (Caja Rural) was top dog in the mountains, Matt Brammeier (HTC-HighRoad) bagged the points jersey and Haimar Zubeldia was best placed Basque. There was the usual slew of ‘other’ prizes much to the bemusement of the winner who was also adjudged most elegant rider and sporter of best hairstyle. [You made up that last bit about the hairstyle, didn’t you? – Ed]

1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 5:48:52

2. Carlos Barredo (Rabobank) +0:12

3. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) +0:14

4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) same time

5. Dries Devenyns (Quick Step) s/t

6. Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) s/t

7. Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) s/t

8. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t

9. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) s/t

10. Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:50

This year’s race

Route of Clasica San Sebastian 2012

Route of Clasica San Sebastian 2012

The peloton faces 234km of hard roads with six categorised climbs; the last 80 km is a killer with the Jaizkibel and Arkale twice, the latter for the last time just 15km from the finish.

Having left the leafy broad boulevard of San Sebastian just after 11 o’clock, the parcours heads quickly out of town and follows an anti-clockwise route through the beautiful Basque countryside. The entire route is generally thick with enthusiastic and knowledgable Basque cycling fans, many of whom follow the race on their bikes. The two circuits of the Jazkibel (7.8km, average 5.8%, maximum 8%) and Arkale (2.7km, average 6.3%, max 7.1%), are often decisive in determining the race winner, and are popular with Basque families enjoying a picnic in the warm sunshine while watching the action.

Thereafter there’s a slight rise on the run in through the town where a strong rider might try to escape from the leading group. This is where Gilbert attacked and won last year and where Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) tried to shake off the eventual winner in 2010, Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank). Thereafter, the road is wide and flat, via the scenic beachside road, to the finish on the boulevard.

Clasica San Sebastian parcours 2012

Clasica San Sebastian parcours 2012

20 teams are taking part: all 18 WorldTour teams and two Professional Continental squads: Caja Rural and Andalucia.

Who to watch

Could this finally be Samu's year? (image courtesy of RDW)

Could this finally be Samu’s year? (image courtesy of RDW)

The home crowd would obviously like a local winner and I know Vuelta al Pais Vasco winner Samu Sanchez would dearly love to win this race but, as he only recently returned to the road after exiting the Tour de France injured, he might be missing form ahead of those who completed the Tour and have since been racing in the Olympic Games and/or on the post-Tour criterium circuit and Vuelta a Burgos.

In honour of his recently acquired Olympic gold medal, and in the absence of the defending champion, Vinokourov has been given dossard number 1, and he’ll be doing his best to win the race along with other well-known puncheurs such as former winner Luis Leon Sanchez.

Ahead of the Vuelta, this might be the ideal opportunity for a race leader to lay down a marker or, more probably, allow a faithful wingman an opportunity to have his day in the sun and collect valuable UCI points. So keep a look out for Olympic silver medallist Rigoberto Uran (Sky), Lotto Belisol’s Jelle Vanendert, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), young gun Moreno Moser (Liquigas-Cannondale), local boy Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Nissan) or maybe Milan-San Remo winner Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE).

To be honest, there’s a mouth-watering array of talent on display but on behalf of VeloVoices I’ll be enjoying the race from a cafe on San Sebastian’s boulevard, watching the action unfold on the big screen and listening, while not totally comprehending, the mellifluous tones of Iñigo Asensio and cheering on Samu.

The Clasica San Sebastian takes place on Tuesday 14th August. For live coverage check cyclingfans.com.

Link: Official website