By David Hunter
Delayed to help riders prepare for the World Championships, the Eneco Tour has been rewarded with it’s best ever field. Due to Qatar not having many climbs, the organisers have been forced into making the race a little easier, plus they’ve included a TTT, to help with Qatar preparation.
We have three stages for the sprinters, a 9.6km ITT, a 20.9km TTT, then two stages for the GC riders. It has a bit of everything, but the three sprint stages has attracted the best fast men in the world.
Sprint stage number 1.
A 9.6km ITT in Breda. Short enough that poorer TT riders will not lose too much time.
Sprint number 2. This time we are back in Ardooie, a very familiar finish in the Eneco Tour. It is an ultra technical finale, with lots of corners in the last 2km. Experience is vital.
A new finish for the race, in St Pieters Leeuw. This is sprint stage number 3, but with the final climbing cresting with just 12km remaining, the quick men might be disappointed.
Time for the TTT squads to have one last hit out, before they head to Qatar. At 20.9km, it is long enough to cause some big gaps.
The start of the GC battle. The stage to Lanaken is meant to be a mini-Amstel Gold race.
The final stage sees us heading back to Geraardsbergen, for another climb of the legendary Muur. A brilliant stage, with a terrific finish.
Due to the amount of TT kilometres, this race is made for only a few riders. You need to ride for a big TTT outfit, be able to TT yourself, and then cope with the Muur. As ever, bonus seconds will be important, especially as the organisers have continued with the idea of the golden kilometre. That is a stretch of road, one kilometre long, where we have three bonus sprints. It’s been around for a couple of years now, and I do like it.
Peter Sagan – the world champion ticks many boxes, but he will be slightly concerned about the TTT. He has the sprint to win stages and should be able to hang tough on the GC days. He returned to racing in Canada, winning in Quebec and finishing 2nd in Montreal. He did this despite looking tired and not 100%. Those races will have been great for him and he should arrive here near top form.
Tom Dumoulin – instead of heading off to Canada, the Dutchman went to the Tour of Britain. He managed to finish 3rd on GC, looking impressive throughout the week. He will have the added incentive of being a local rider, it’s always nice to do well in front of your fans. He would hope to win the ITT, putting himself into a great position on GC. It will then be about hanging onto the overall lead.
Greg Van Avermaet – the season continues to get better and better. 2016 has been a magnificent year for GVA, putting him into the elite category of rider. His gold in Rio was amazing, especially considering the hills. He also returned to racing in Canada, finishing 2nd in Quebec and winning in Montreal. His performance in Montreal was awesome, where he expended a lot of energy keeping the break away. Despite this, he still had enough energy to outsprint Peter Sagan, never an easy thing to do. He will go well in the ITT, but the TTT is where he’ll make time on his rivals. The final two stages are great for him and he’ll start the race as the favourite.
Niki Terpstra – Etixx have a great squad, but the Dutchman should be their captain, due to his TT ability. To be brutally honest, Terpstra has had a poor season. Yes, he won Le Samyn, but his best finish in the classics was 10th in Flanders. He rode the Vuelta, but was fairly anonymous. Despite this, completing the three weeks will leave him with strong legs and he has a chance of ending the season well. He is far too good a rider to write off.
Geraint Thomas – will do well in the ITT and TTT. Given his recent history in the classics, Thomas will be looking forward to the last two stages. Supported by a strong team, the Welshman has every chance of finishing in the top 10.
Dries Devenyns – what a season for the Belgian, and he’s been rewarded with a return to Etixx. He won the Belgium Tour and the Tour of Wallonie, before going very close to a stage win in the Vuelta. He will be worried about the TTT, as IAM will lose time to the other big teams. That could end his GC hopes, allowing him to go for a stage win.
Ion Izagirre – you might be surprised to see me mention the Spanish grand tour rider. Maybe I should explain! Izagirre has a magnificent record in week long stage races. He is a brilliant TT rider and Movistar should go well in the TTT. The short steep climbs shouldn’t be a problem for the Spaniard, although he does prefer mountains. He is here to warm up for the ITT in Qatar, but he has the ability to challenge for the Eneco title.
Tim Wellens – the presence of a TTT and only two tough stages, makes it very difficult for the Belgian to win this title again. He will hope for a stage win.
2nd last year, I think Greg Van Avermaet will continue his stellar season. He is too strong just now, a level above most other riders in the peloton.
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