By David Hunter
Stuck in the middle of the Tour de France and the Vuelta, we have the Eneco Tour. The race, held in Holland, is 7 stages long: 1 short TT(10km), 3 sprint stages and 3 horrible classics style stages.
Stage 5 finishes on the Muur van Geraardsbergan. The climb made famous in the Tour of Flanders, is 1.075km long and has an average gradient of 9.3%, with a maximum of 19,8%. It’s the third consecutive year the climb has been included at the end of the stage, with Ballan winning in 2012 and Stybar last year. On both these occasions, it was the final stage but now happens earlier in the race.
The organisers have progressively made the race harder. Last year we had 2 hill finishes and now we have 2 hill finishes and another challenging day. The number of TT kilometres has been reduced to only 10. This opens the door to more riders.
To find challengers for the title, you have to look no further than the Spring Classics. I’ll take a moment to remind everyone of these races:
Omloop – Stannard beat Van Avermaet in a sprint finish, with Boasson Hagen in 3rd.
E3 – 4 made it to the end and Sagan won from Terpstra, Thomas and Vandenbergh.
Gent-Wevelgem – Sprint won by Degenkolb, from Demare, Sagan and Vanmarcke.
Tour of Flanders – 4 made it to the end and Cancellara won from Van Avermaet, Vanmarcke and Vandenbergh.
Paris-Roubaix – Terpstra won solo, then Degenkolb and Cancellara.
De Brabantse Pijl – Gilbert won the sprint from Matthews and Gallopin.
Amstel Gold – Gilbert won solo, with Vanendert 2nd and Gerrans 3rd.
Fleche Wallone – Valverde won from Martin and Kwiatkowski.
LBL – Gerrans won the sprint from Valverde and Kwiatkowski.
The Ardennes Classics are not as valuable as the Belgian races, in terms of form, but I’ve included to give a more rounded picture.
Stybar won the race in 2013 from Tom Dumoulin. Stybar didn’t even the start the race as team leader, Chavanel did, but tactics played out in a certain way and he took the victory. A strong team is very important in these races, as teams need to have multiple options. Quite a few teams arrive with 2 team leaders and look ready to roll with the punches!
The main contenders for the overall are: Stybar, Dumoulin, Cancellara, Thomas, Boom, Gilbert, Van Avermaet and Vanendert. Throw in Terpstra, Vanmarcke, Wellens, Devolder, Geschke, Jeannesson and Langeveld and we have a very competitive field.
Stybar had a poor early season, but his form has certainly been returning. The bonus seconds, on offer at the end of each stage, will be crucial. His fast finish is very important.
Dumoulin was great last year, but the shorter TT and increased difficulty will not aid his cause.
Cancellara is the King of the Classics, but is he focussed on this race?
Thomas usually carries a lot of bad luck, but is clearly in form, winning gold in the Commonwealth Games.
Boom is a former winner of the race and took a great win in the Tour. Is he a match for the bigger stars?
Gilbert missed San Sebastian, due to illness, but looked good in the RideLondon Classic. This race looks good for him.
Van Avermaet has had a good season, but is second fiddle to Gilbert. Could he surprise a few?
Terpstra is class! He comes in without any pressure, as Stybar is leader, so might have a little bit more freedom, than usual.
Vanmarcke should be up there. The 3 hard stages are ideal for him and this is a great chance for him to win a big stage race.
It has to be between Stybar, Terpstra, Cancellara, Gilbert, Thomas and Vanmarcke. If Cancellara has targeted this race, I think he’ll win it. If not, Gilbert and Stybar will fight it out.
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