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.
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
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
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.
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