Eneco Tour 2013 Pre-race Outlook

Eneco

All-rounder Roundup

The weeklong drought of WorldTour racing since Weening took the Tour de Pologne in grand style with a strong final stage performance is finally over. The Eneco Tour is here, and WT cycling is finally returning to the territory of the spring classics, with the occasional crosswinds, cobbles, and short but steep climbs to keep things interesting.

In years past, this has been a race whose outcome has been almost wholly determined by time trialing prowess, with one or two stages against the clock providing the brunt of the time gaps, and a number of flat stages in between. Organizers have gradually provided more and more bumps in the road to liven up the GC, with last year seeing an ascent of the Muur van Geraardsbergen (formerly of the Tour of Flanders) in the queen stage, a climb that shook up the leaderboard and gave Lars Boom the victory and Niki Terpstra a podium position.

This year’s Eneco Tour is the hilliest yet. Stages 1-4 will be for the sprinters (though hills on Stage 2 might reduce the pack a bit), but then the GC battle will heat up on some difficult roads. The Stage 5 time trial is short — 13.2 km — but technical and lumpy, too. Stage 6 combines the roads of Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Stage 7 returns to Geraardsbergen. Last year’s GC was dominated by time trialists who were capable of staying with the pack on the tougher classics-style climbs. This year’s hills should be even more selective in terms of the overall leaderboard. The winner will be a true all-rounder, who can possibly nab bonus seconds at the finish lines, produce a top-tier time against the clock, and climb at a high level.

Last year’s winner, Lars Boom, is a capable climber, a top-notch time trialist, and a good enough handler to take on the technical course. He’s likely to repeat a high level performance; however, his results this year have not been as impressive as he might have liked; he didn’t make the podium in the Dutch time trial championships, his classics campaign was disappointing, and he did not produce any remarkable results in the Tour de France. Moreover, the hilly route may be a bit too much to ask from Boom to expect an outright victory. A podium may be doable, especially with the support of a strong team Belkin. The Dutch squad may have another rider better suited to this year’s edition, coming off a strong win in the Tour of Denmark: Wilco Kelderman. Kelderman is already sporting top 10s in this year’s Tour Down Under and Tour de Romandie, and he is targeting this race. He is a good climber who should be able to hang on when the road goes up: the 22-year old could be primed for a high finish.

Serious competition could come from another Benelux squad, Omega Pharma-Quick Step. Sylvain Chavanel was second last year and also in 2009. His 11th in the San Sebastián might not have been as great as he’d hoped for, but he managed to hang with a group of strong-climbing chasers to show good form after a disappointing Tour de France. He won the French time trial championship in June and, despite lacking a signature World Tour win this year, he’s managed a number of top 10s in stage races and classics in 2013. With help from a team well-suited to succeed low country crosswinds, Chavanel should be able to hang on the hilly stages, even if he loses a few seconds to climbing specialists atop summit finishes, and he’s sure to place highly in the time trial. Teammate Niki Terpstra, 3rd last year, may find the parcours a bit trying, but he’s another strong bet for a good finish.

Bradley Wiggins leads Team Sky at the Eneco Tour. At his best, he’s certainly able to hang on on these types of climbs, and he’s one of the strongest time trialists in the world (and one who thrives with a hill or two in a race against the clock). He showed last week in the Tour de Pologne that he’s still capable of dominating the discipline, winning by nearly a minute over Fabian Cancellara. The big question is, of course, whether or not the 2012 Tour de France winner is targeting the General Classification here. His big target for the year is the World Championship time trial, and he will surely look to outshine the competition on the Eneco Tour’s fifth stage. Only time will tell whether he plans on fighting for GC. If so, it’s hard to look past his combination of skills.

Orica GreenEdge is primed to get plenty of sponsorship time on camera with a strong team of all-rounders on the start list. Svein Tuft has done well in past Eneco Tours and figures to at least place highly in the Stage 5 TT. However, last year’s hills proved his undoing, and this year’s parcours will not do him any favors. Teammates Pieter Weening (fresh of a Tour de Pologne win) and Sebastian Langeveld (top 10s this year in Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, and E3 Harelbeke, and 9th in last year’s Eneco Tour) are maybe stronger candidates for GC this year.

lieuwe

Lieuwe Westra won the Dutch TT championship and he’s got the package of all-rounder skills necessary to finish highly. Unfortunately, Westra was forced to pull out of the Tour de France due to some health problems. He seems to be recovered, but the question marks remain, enough to keep him out of my podium predictions. If he’s healthy, I can see him winning the whole thing, and Dutch squad Vacansoleil would sure love to have something to be proud of this year, currently sitting at dead last in the UCI team rankings.

RadioShack-Leopard sends Belgians Jan Bakelants and Stijn Devolder to the Eneco Tour. Devolder’s past few years have been frustrating in terms of results, but he did just win the Belgian national championship race. Bakelants was third in that championship race, and just took a stage in the Tour de France in impressive style. He was 10th in last year’s edition of the Eneco Tour, and a capable all-rounder. A repeat top 10 might be doable, as Bakelants is the type of rider who should not be too troubled by some added inclines. Maxime Monfort of RadioShack is a bit of a dark horse to keep in mind: it’s unclear whether he’s targeting the Eneco Tour, but he’s a Belgian with strong all-rounder capabilities who had a good under the radar Tour de France (14th overall).

Philippe Gilbert has had an immensely disappointing season in the rainbow jersey, but top 10s in Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and a 2nd place at Brabantse Pijl suggest that he’s not totally off-form in 2013. He’s also not a bad time trialist when he puts his mind to it, nabbing second at the Belgian champs this year. The final two stages fit the skill set of the Boar of the Ardennes, and he’s was champing at the bit all Tour while riding in support of disappointing teammates. A stage win would be completely within reasonable expectations of the Gilbert of 2011 (when he was 2nd overall and took a stage), but it is unclear whether he’s got much of that old self left. Still, he deserves a mention not just as a stage win contender, but as a possible GC threat, with the support of a strong team BMC.

Argos-Shimano’s stable of sprinter talent shouldn’t make you forget young Tom Dumoulin, who scored podium positions in the Dutch road and TT champs. He is targeting the Eneco Tour and should be up to the variety of challenges the weeklong race poses. I tend to use a “Watch Out For” tag to tip young up-and-comers or dark horses who could be boom or bust type picks, but I really think Dumoulin will be in the top 10 overall, so he merits mention as more than just a sleeper pick.

Moreno Moser leads the Cannondale attack after a top 10 in San Sebastián and a great showing on the double d’Huez ascent in the Tour. He’s only 22 so the word “inconsistent” probably isn’t appropriate, but his results have been a bit hard to predict. He lacks much in the way of time trialing results in his young career, but this one is a short one, with a pair of lumps. Moser could do well in the GC if he can deliver on the hard uphill finishes.

Simon Spilak leads Katusha, and he certainly has the climbing and TTing chops to compete. Weeklong stage races have been his forte. However, after a strong start to the season, Spilak’s form is in question this August.

Stagehunters

The sprinting and pure time trailing talent in attendance at the Eneco Tour should make for some exciting individual stage finishes. Headlining the fast men are Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel. Theo Bos and Mark Renshaw of Belkin, Tyler Farrar, Yauheni Hutarovich, Danny van Poppel, Ben Swift, Gert Steegmans, Daniele Bennati, Arnaud Demare, Elia Viviani, Francisco Ventoso, JJ Rojas, and Daryl Impey could also feature in the bunch sprints.

Contenders for the win in the time trial will also be numerous, with a number of pure TT stars in attendance beyond those riders who can TT and climb well enough for GC. Svein Tuft and Taylor Phinney headline the list of guys who might find the week as a whole too hilly, but who could perform highly in the time trial. Both have done well time trailing here before (and in GC, as well, though this year will likely prove too lumpy). Alex Dowsett, who won the first ITT at the Giro and took the national title in Britain, is also in attendance. Wiggins, mentioned above, might be interested in GC, but he is certainly interested in coming away with a win in Stage 5, and if I had to pick one name for the stage win, it would be his.

VeloHuman Predictions

General Classification Winner

Sylvain Chavanel

GC Podium

Wilco Kelderman, Lars Boom

Other Strong GC Contenders

Bradley Wiggins, Tom Dumoulin, Philippe Gilbert, Lieuwe Westra, Moreno Moser

Stages

Stage 1: Koksijde > Ardooie | 175.3km | Flat

Stage 2: Ardooie > Brussel | 176.9km | Medium Mountains

Stage 3: Oosterhout › Schouwen-Duiveland | 187.3km | Flat

Stage 4: Essen › Vlijmen | 169.6km | Flat

Stage 5: Sittard-Geleen › Sittard-Geleen | 13.2 | ITT

Stage 6: Riemst › Aywaille | 150km | Medium Mountains

Stage 7: Tienen › Geraardsbergen | 208km | Medium Mountains

-Dane Cash

Photos by Wouter de Bruijn and Georges Ménager.

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