It’s that time of year, isn’t it? Still feeling a little wistful for the Tour de France yet not quite ready to face the Vuelta. But there’s no need to fall into cycling despondency because there are some fantastic week-long stage races at this time of year, and none more so than this week’s tenth edition of the Eneco Tour.
- The Eneco Tour runs over seven stages, with a short individual time trial on the third day.
- It’s the only WorldTour stage race to be based in the Netherlands and Belgium.
- Don’t make the mistake of thinking every day is going to end in a bunch gallop. The organisers have arranged a fantastic route, almost a mini ‘spring classics in a week’ tour.
- Having said that the first two stages are likely to be for the fast men.
- Stage four sees the peloton in familiar West Flanders territory. A quick look at the route shows some names familiar from Gent-Wevelgem, and just like the spring classic expect a fast finish.
- Stage five is a mini Tour of Flanders. The riders face 19 bergs including the Valkenberg, Bosberg, and the much missed Muur van Geraardsbergen.
- The queen stage comes on day six and there is hardly a metre of flat. It’s a leg-breaking 173.9km through Ardennes classics territory: 15 climbs with three passes of La Redoute
- A weary peloton face the longest stage on the final day, and the parcours is just as hard with 22 short, explosive climbs, many of which are borrowed from the Amstel Gold Race.
- All 18 WorldTour teams will take part, plus Belgian wild card teams Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise and Wanty-Groupe Gobert.
- The overall leader gets to wear a rather snazzy white jersey with an orange, red and yellow design. You’re not going to miss him in the peloton.
- The winners of the last three editions are all present on the start line: Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Lars Boom (Belkin) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky).
- This will also be the first race for ex-Garmin rider Rohan Dennis in his new BMC colours.
Who to watch
This is a stage race tailor-made for both sprinters and hard classics specialists, and that is precisely the make-up of most of the teams. It should not be forgotten that there are precious WorldTour points on offer both for teams and also for those riders who might be looking for a new berth in 2015. Some teams will target stage wins, others the overall.
For pure sprinters we have Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ). The Gorilla had a quiet Tour by his standards and Bouhanni will be eager to show what he can do now that his departure from FDJ has been announced. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) will also be keen to take a stage if he can, as will Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merdia). Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) and Matteo Trentin (OPQS) are both fresh from recent wins. And of course we can never discount Giant-Shimano, who bring Luka Mezgec.
The individual time trial is short at 9.6km. Given what is to come over the following stages, I don’t think the pure specialists are going to build enough of a time gap to hold on in the GC. Ones to look for here are Alex Dowsett (Movistar), fresh from his time trial gold medal at the Commonwealth games, and perhaps Niki Terpstra (OPQS). The start list also includes Fabian Cancellara (Trek), although I think he will target a later stage.
There are any number of classics specialists who would fancy a stage win this week. The start list reads like a Who’s Who of cobbled and Ardennes specialists, and includes the winners of the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and Amstel Gold.
Sky have brought a strong team including the in-form Geraint Thomas, Edvald Boasson Hagen (a two-time overall winner) and Ian Stannard. It may be too early for Stannard to win a stage, but it’s great to see him back in peloton after his crash this spring.
OPQS is packed with riders who love this type of parcours. They will hope to see Zdenek Stybar defend his title with the help of Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Iljo Keisse. Lars Boom (winner of the Tour de France’s cobbled stage) and Bauke Mollema appear for Belkin. BMC bring Amstel Gold winner Philippe Gilbert, and perpetual runner-up Greg van Avermaet. Hopefully he can make it to the top step of the podium this week.
This race is traditionally won by a matter of seconds, and it’s hard to pick an overall winner. However, I’m going to plump for Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) to go one place higher than he did last year. If he can carry his Tour de France form and put in a good time trial on stage three, he should be there or thereabouts.
It’s going to be a great week of racing and, come on, who doesn’t want to see Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara race each other on the Muur de Geraardsbergen?
August 11th: Stage 1 – Terneuzen to Terneuzen, 183.1km
August 12th: Stage 2 – Walwijk to Heusden, 175.8km
August 13th: Stage 3 – Breda to Breda, 9.6km individual time trial
August 14th: Stage 4 – Koksijde to Ardooie, 179.1km
August 15th: Stage 5 – Geraardsbergen to Geraardsbergen, 162.5km
August 16th: Stage 6 – Heerlen to Aywaille, 173.9km
August 17th: Stage 7 – Riemst to Sittard-Geleen, 183.4km
Daily live coverage and highlights will be shown by Eurosport in the UK. For other coverage check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website