The strong winds of the flat Dutch landscapes, the short sharp hills of Limburg and the cobbles of Flanders are more associated with racing in the spring than the summer, but for one week in August the peloton returns to the lowlands for the Eneco Tour (August 10-16).
The seven-day event is something of an anomaly in the WorldTour, as a stage race that favours classics riders more than it does climbers; recent winners include Zdenek Stybar, Lars Boom and Edvald Boasson Hagen, none of whom would compete for the overall win in races like Paris-Nice or Criterium du Dauphine.
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Even the first pan flat stage starting and finishing in the Dutch city of Bolsward does not look like the kind of straightforward sprinters’ stage that often open stage races, as the kind of vicious crosswinds that shook up stage two at the Tour de France last month could strike again.
Stages two and three – in between which the peloton crosses the border to Belgium – look more predictable, will the same flat parcours but without the coastline roads and threat of wind disrupting the sprinters’ desired for bunch finish.
The first guaranteed sort-out of the GC occurs on stage four, where each rider must take on 13.9km individual time-trial hosted by the Dutch village Hoogerheide (significantly longer than last year’s 9.6km effort).
Stage five should be when the puncheurs first come to the fore, to compete in a stage that features a total of 23 summits (among them Amstel Gold favourites such as the Eyserbosweg), and a selective finishing circuit of 22.4kms that is to be tackled twice. Almost as many climbs await the stage after, with 18 climbs punctuating a stage not dissimilar to Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
For the final stage, a different challenge awaits as the riders head into Flanders to take that area’s notorious cobbled bergs. The Leberg, Valkenberg and Bosberg all feature, but it will be the Muur van Geraardsbergen – sorely missed from the Tour of Flanders since its exclusion in 2012 – that will be the highlight, with the riders summiting it first as part of a finishing circuit, before finishing the stage half-way up it.
For such a varied parcours, Geraint Thomas could have made the perfect GC leader for Sky, but misses the race while he recovers from the Tour. Instead, Tour de Yorkshire winner Lars Petter Nordhaug looks their strongest candidate for the overall win.
Eneco Tour 2015: Ones to Watch
Greg Van Avermaet, BMC
As one of those rare riders who can go well in both cobbled classics and the Ardennes, Van Avermaet should be able to handle all of the difficulties the Eneco Tour’s parcours throws up. He’s also due some luck, after a TV motorbike scuppered his chances of winning San Sebastian last week.
Lars Boom, Astana
Having briefly worn the leader’s jersey last year as well as finishing second overall, Boom has already demonstrated all the attributes necessary to winning the race, and a longer time-trial will aid his chances of going one better this time round. Despite pulling out of the Tour early, his performances in the Post Danmark Rundt – which he currently leads – suggests he has the form.
Niki Terpstra, Etixx-QuickStep
Usually Zdenek Stybar (who won the overall in 2013 and again led the race last year before crashing out) would be Etixx’s strongest rider for the Eneco Tour, but in his absence Terpstra could be their best bet. He has history in the race, having finished third overall in 2012, and is on good form having won the Tour de Wallonie – but could lose time in the Ardennes hills.
Tim Wellens, Lotto-Soudal
Since surprisingly winning the overall last year, Wellens has established himself as one of the most talented young riders in the peloton, finishing fourth at the Tour of Lombardy last year and the top ten at Paris-Nice this spring. He therefore won’t be given so much leeway to attack as he did last year, but will have a strong Lotto-Soudal squad to support him.
Wilco Kelderman, LottoNL-Jumbo
LottoNL-Jumbo are still in desperate need of a lift in what has been a disappointing season that has seen them win a measly three races, and Kelderman could provide one in their home race. His strong time-trial, climbing and punchy finishing sprint make him a possible contender, and he finished seventh overall here as a 22-year old.
Eneco Tour 2015: Stages
Stage 1: Monday, August 10, Bolsward to Bolsward, 183.5km
Stage 2: Tuesday, August 11, Breda to Breda, 180km
Stage 3: Wednesday, August 12, Bevern to Ardooie, 172km
Stage 4: Thursday, August 13, Hoogerheide to Hoogerheide, 13.9km ITT
Stage 5: Friday, August 14, Riemst to Sittard-Geleen, 180km
Stage 6: Saturday, August 15, Heerlen to Houffalize, 198km
Stage 7: Sunday, August 16, Sint-Pieters-Leeuw to Geraardsbergen, 194km
Eneco Tour 2015: Teams
Ag2r La Mondiale
Roompot Oranje Peloton
Trek Factory Racing
Eneco Tour 2015: TV Guide
British Eurosport will be broadcasting live coverage of the race.
Our TV guide lists when you can catch the racing.
Eneco Tour: Recent winners
2014 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Belisol
2013 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
2012 Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank
2011 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky
2010 Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Columbia
2009 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) HTC-Columbia
2008 Ivan Gutiérrez (Esp) Caisse d’Epargne
2007 Ivan Gutiérrez (Esp) Caisse d’Epargne
2006 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner
2005 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC
Eneco Tour: Last year’s top 10 (2014)
1. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto-Belisol in 21-03-27
2. Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin at 7 secs
3. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Shimano at 13 secs
4. Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana at 33 sces
5. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing at 34 secs
6. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky at 38 secs
7. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing at 48 secs
8. Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge at 56 secs
9. Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Garmin-Sharp at 1-04
10. Marco Marcato (Ita) Cannondale at 1-11
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