Zdenek Stybar‘s (Omega Pharma – QuickStep) audacious late attack saw him take both the final stage and the overall classification at the Eneco Tour. Stybar had started the last stage just eight seconds down on overnight race leader Tom Dumoulin (Argos-Shimano), but the Czech’s late assault was enough to relegate the Dutchman to second place, as Andriy Grivko (Astana) retained third.
With the first half of the race designed with the sprinters in mind, Mark Renshaw (Belkin) sprung a surprise on the opening stage to deny a bunch finish and claim only his second win of 2013. After the day’s three-man break was caught with over 15km still remaining, the sprinters’ teams massed at the front of the peloton but none were able to control the run-in with a fully organised train. On the technical approach to the finish Renshaw, aided by teammate Theo Bos easing off, slipped successfully off the front as the pack negotiated a tight left-hander, extended his lead through the right-left chicane immediately before the flamme rouge, and held off the chasers to win. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) outpaced Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Leopard) to take second.
The second stage also featured a far from straightforward finish, with a gruelling 5% climb inside the final kilometre once the day’s four-man break had been finally absorbed with 3km to go. BMC’s Daniel Oss towed the rainbow jersey of Philippe Gilbert all the way to the 200-metre board, but the world champion lacked the kick to hold off Arnaud Demare (FDJ), who jumped out of his wheel and powered clear to win by at least four bike lengths over the fading Gilbert, who just held off Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp).
The peloton was briefly split into echelons on the coastal roads of stage three, swallowing up the original four-man break before the Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise pair of Laurens de Vreese – in a break for the third day in a row – and Jelle Wallays went clear, with Wallays holding off the pack until 16km to go. On the approach to the finish, the bunch was strung right out on the narrow roads, making it difficult for the sprinters’ teams to control affairs. With just over 1km remaining, three riders – Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol), Zdenek Stybar (OPQS) and Maximiliano Richeze (Lampre-Merida) – broke clear, with Lars Boom (Belkin) bridging across. Richeze opened up the sprint but Stybar came strongly off his wheel to take the win. Boom was third, moving to within one second of the overall lead.
Stage four was marred by a crash near the front of the peloton with 6km to go. From 300 metres out, Lars Boom led out a somewhat chaotic sprint into Vlijmen, his home town. However, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) easily overhauled him, with Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Leopard) also edging ahead before the line. Nonetheless a second consecutive third place was enough to put Boom into the overall lead over Greipel by one second.
Friday’s stage five was a 13.2km individual time trial around Sittard-Geleen. It was short but packed with challenges; tight corners, narrow roads and two short, punchy hills. It wasn’t a course for the big-engined or the aero masters. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) set the early benchmark, but would only wind up fifth. Fastest on the day was five-time French time trial champion Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS), with Argos-Shimano’s Tom Dumoulin four seconds back in second and 2011 Eneco TT winner Jesse Sergent (RadioShack-Leopard) third. Race leader Boom was a creditable tenth, maintaining his lead by four seconds over new second-place man Chavanel.
The battle for the overall ignited on the Liège–Bastogne–Liège-esque stage six, which saw David Lopez (Sky) emerge from the day’s break to take victory. Former cyclo-cross star Zdenek Stybar (OPQS) just edged his wheel ahead of Maciej Paterski (Cannondale) for second, two seconds behind Lopez. Third overall at the start of the day, Tom Dumoulin (Argos-Shimano), finished fourth and assumed the race lead by eight seconds, despite having been involved in a big crash which saw Taylor Phinney (BMC) and his teammate Philippe Gilbert abandon. Previous overall leader Lars Boom (Belkin) and Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS) lost over two minutes, and both dropped out of the top five overall.
If stage six was like an Ardennes classic, stage seven was akin to a cobbled one. With not much separating the top five on GC, it was Zdenek Stybar (OPQS) who seized the initiative with 5km remaining. He bridged over to Ian Stannard (Sky) – the only remaining rider from the day’s eight-man break – with the duo having an 18 second advantage with 2km to the line. Stybar waited until inside the final kilometer before attacking, eventually taking the stage and the overall win on the famous Muur climb in Geraardsbergen. Lars Boom‘s third place on the stage saw him take enough points to win the Lotto points jersey, while Laurens De Vreese (Topsport Vlaanderen Baloise) waltzed off with the Primus Combativity award.
Analysis & opinion
The Eneco Tour has produced a GC with a pleasing blend of youth and experience, with riders re-finding and confirming form ahead of the last couple of months of the racing season. While the winner is no youngster, the former world cyclo-cross champion Zdenek Stybar is still relatively new to road racing, and is building on the promise he showed last season. After watching his performance this week, one was left rueing the camera that took him out of contention in this year’s Paris-Roubaix. He’s demonstrated the complete classics package – roll on spring 2014!
The race organisers should also be commended on devising a parcours which, though largely flat, produced exciting racing throughout. The opening four flat stages shook things up with a combination of narrow and technical roads and stage two’s uphill finish, which provided genuine opportunities for puncheurs and late breaks as well as the pure sprinters. And the inclusion of yesterday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege sections in addition to today’s concluding triple ascent of the Muur set up an exciting battle for the overall victory.
1.Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) 25:14:05
2. Tom Dumoulin (Argos-Shimano0 +00:26
3. Andriy Grivko (Astana) +00:50
4. Jan Bakelants (RadioShack Leopard) +00:55
5. Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) same time
6. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) +01:20
7. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) +01:32
8. Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) +01:34
9. Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) +02:07
10. Maxime Monfort (RadioShack Leopard) +02:14