Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) may have won his second stage of the Eneco Tour, but it was Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) who took over the overall race leadership from the younger Belgian riding for Orica-GreenEdge, Jens Keukeleire.
True, Boonen edged the lead from the younger Belgian by a single second thanks to a second place in an intermediate sprint but it was perfectly in keeping with the race. Recall that Boonen missed out on taking the race leader’s jersey by 0.7 seconds on stage two’s team time trial, so it all evens out, in the karmic scheme of things.
The 213km stage between the small Belgian town of Heers (pronounced Hares. Or Hairs, if you prefer) and the Dutch town of Bergen op Zoom was spiced up when a six rider break launched itself inside the opening kilometer – nominally a parade loop – around Heers. So much for taking it easy at the start.
Gert Dockx (Lotto), Martin Kohler (BMC), Boris Shpilevsky (Vacansoleil), Adrian Saez (Euskaltel), Arnoud van Groen (Ag2r) and Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil) were the guilty parties.
About 200km later, all six riders looked like they regretted their kamikaze impulse and they were caught under the pressing from a variety of teams. It seemed as though the peloton took it in turns to put a few riders at the front and torture the break by letting it dangle at around two minutes for the last 70km.
Even although they had a lead of 8-45 after 45km, nobody ever thought this stage would end in anything other than a sprint, with Rabobank (Lars Boom), Argos-Shimano (Kittel) and Omega (Boonen) all keen to see the race end in a gallop.
And lo! It came to pass. Veuchelen decided to press on after his companions had seen sense and eased up and he carried on, 12 seconds off the front, getting loud support from decent crowds enjoying the sun before he too was swallowed up.
And it was Kittel who burst out of the 126 riders still together at the finish to take the stage. “I was boxed in and nowhere, maybe 15th with about 800 metres to go,” said the young German talent, “but I jumped a wheel and followed it up the left hand side and ended up fourth or fifth wheel when the sprint started, which was perfect. Straight, fast and downhill – just the way I like them!”
The second year pro was in good form in front of the press, when asked about his chances on the stage between Hoogerheide and Alter he said, “Well, I looked at the profile and… there is no profile! It’s totally flat, so it should be OK. But we are riding along the coast so the wind might be important.” Either way, you got the impression that with two stage wins in the bag at Eneco 2012, he wasn’t bothered either way.
And, as for Boonen, he said later that he would rather have won the stage than taken the jersey (though that would have given him the jersey anyway), though he and the Omega Pharma team have come to the Eneco Tour with the firm intention of winning it. “It was the team who suggested I should go for the sprint time bonus today and I got it, but that doesn’t really change the plan.
From the team point of view, we want as many of us as possible to be near the top of the GC on Saturday (for the 14.4km time trial) and Sunday’s final stage. The more of us there are near the top of the classification, the better chance we have, tactically, of winning the race. I expect to be beaten by the real specialists in the time trial, but I can ride well enough in a short, flat effort to limit my losses and maybe finish in the top 10, which be enough to still keep me in the running overall – especially with Sunday’s stage being so hard.”
So there you have it. Omega Pharma has sent a bunch of big blokes – rouleurs if you will – to win this race and now they are moving themselves into a position to do so. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Eneco Tour 2012 stage four: Heers to Bergen op Zoom, 213km
1. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Argos-Shimano in 5-11-41
2. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
3. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) RadioShack-Nissan
4. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
5. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin-Sharp all same time
Overall classification after stage four
1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 15-26-06
2. Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge at 1 sec
3. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 2 secs
4. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 2 secs
5. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha at 3 secs
Marcel Kittel wins sprint
Tom Boonen takes the lead