Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet, Geraint Thomas... the 2016 Eneco Tour boasts an impressive start list, but who will win?
The eight-stage race is hosted by the Netherlands and Belgium and features flat stages, hilly stages, a team time trial and an individual time trial.
A host of top names will be taking part this year, as the race has shifted from its usual August date into September due to the Olympic Games. It is ideally placed to offer top-level racing for those wishing to sharpen their form before the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in Doha, Qatar, in October, as well as gain some valuable WorldTour points.
Here we take a look at some of the leading contenders…
Peter Sagan, Tinkoff
Peter Sagan has to be considered a contender for almost every race he enters, even week-long stage races like the Eneco Tour. The world champion – who remains within striking distance of Nairo Quintana’s lead in the World Tour – has never competed in the race before, but the combination of sprint stages, short time-time trial and finale based around the cobbled Muur van Geraardsbergen plays very well to his strengths.
Greg Van Avermaet, BMC
The best season in Greg Van Avermaet’s career got even better last week, when he followed up gold in the Olympics road race with a win at the GP de Montreal. The Belgian is one a very select few in the peloton whose all-round capabilities can be compared to Peter Sagan’s, with whom he’ll renew his rivalry
Geraint Thomas, Sky
There aren’t many riders better suited to the Eneco Tour’s near unique blend of classic parcours and stage racing than Geraint Thomas, and the Welshman ought to be able to mount a serious GC challenge. Sky also line up with Ian Stannard, who, fresh off his stage win in Cheshire at the Tour of Britain and sprinter Elia Viviani, who is one of several riders fine-tuning preparations for next month’s World Championships.
Tim Wellens, Lotto-Soudal
As overall winner in both 2015 and 2014, Tim Wellens will surely be more stringently marked than in those previous two editions, where he was able to slip away on a long-range attack on the penultimate stage. This year’s equivalent stage has been toned down with less hills included, which may also hinder his chances to attack.
Niki Terpstra, Etixx-QuickStep
From sprinters Marcel Kittel and Fernando Gaviria, classics specialists Zdenek Stybar and Tom Boonen and strong time-trialists Tony and Bob Jungels, Etixx-QuickStep have options for all the varying terrain the Eneco Tour has to offer. Perhaps their best for GC is former Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra, who finished third overall in 2012, and, despite a quiet Vuelta, could be on decent form having won the Dwars door het Hageland-Aarschot last month.
Tom Dumoulin, Giant Alpecin
Back in 2013, a 22-year old Tom Dumoulin hinted at what he was capable of in stage racing by finishing second overall at the Eneco Tour. Three years later, he’s now most people’s pick for best time-trialist in the world, a good enough climber to contest Grand Tours, and fully capable of going one better and winning the Eneco Tour this time around.
Fabio Felline, Trek-Segafredo
Unlike most other overall contenders, Fabio Felline enters the Eneco Tour with three weeks of hard racing in his legs from the Vuelta. Having ended that race strongly, the Italian – who used his all-round talents to win the points classification – might possess the extra stamina needed to better his fifth place overall finish last year.
Edvald Boasson Hagen, Dimension Data
A rejuvenated Edvald Boasson Hagen has been enjoying his best season since his peak years between 2009-2012, during which time he won a record-equalling two overall classification of the Eneco Tour. He’s not going quite as well as earlier in the season, but still looks capable of competing for the overall.
André Greipel, Lotto-Soudal
The impressive list of sprinters at the race are using the flatter stages to help train for the upcoming Worlds in Doha. André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Caleb Ewan (Orica-BikeExchange), John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) are among those eying up the bunch sprints.