The Eneco Tour can be entertaining
The Eneco Tour gets a bit of a bad rap sometimes. In previous years, especially with the British audiences, it has always come as a bit of a comedown following a three-month stretch featuring the Tour de France, Vuelta a España and Tour of Britain.
But this year, with the World Championships taking place later than normal in the year, the Eneco Tour had an absolutely excellent line-up, with sprint stars, Classics stars and time trial stars.
The long, straight, flat roads of the Netherlands sometimes don’t make for the best racing, but when you’ve got the majority of the sport’s elite sprinters on show it becomes quite a show.
A short time trial gave us the chance to see who is in shape for the Worlds, while a team time trial not only shook up the general classification, but shook up the racing formula a bit a provided some relatively surprising results.
The breakaway missed out by a matter of metres on stage three and then only stayed away by a matter of metres on stage six in some of the most exciting finishes we’ve seen all year.
Then we had the fun and games of the Muur van Geraardsbergen in the rain on the final stage, where Niki Terpstra wrapped up the overall win and got us looking forward to the Tour of Flanders already.
Hands up who can’t wait for next year’s Eneco Tour?
Peter Sagan could win the World Championships again
Peter Sagan started throwing curveballs during the race by saying he might not even go to Doha to defend his World Championships crown, but his racing last week suggests that he could give it a pretty good shot.
But what he does have is the race craft and a nose for the finish line that took him to two sensational sprint wins at the Eneco ahead of the likes of Kittel and Andre Greipel.
It’d be a shame if Sagan doesn’t contest the Worlds, and I’m sure he will do so. After he ruled out the Olympics road race, only to see another Classics rider win, I’m sure the Slovakian federation will be keen to have their star man on show in Doha.
Etixx-Quick Step are still the kings of racing in Belgium
Their Classics season was not the greatest in team history, with wins in only some of the more minor races, but Etixx-Quick Step showed at the Eneco Tour why they’re a formidable force in the low countries.
It was a great show of stage racing by the Belgian team, netting three top-10 finishers by the final stage, including overall winner Terpstra.
Marcel Kittel didn’t do much in the sprints, but he turned back the clock to his junior days to put in a great time trial on stage two, finishing ninth on the stage, ahead specialist teammate Tony Martin.
They found themselves in the familiar position of second in the team time trial, behind BMC, but the omens were good as they try to regain their world TTT title in Doha next month.
The result in that stage also ensured four Etixx riders in the top 10 overnight. And Terpstra rounded off the good week by finishing second to Edvald Boasson Hagen on the final stage in Geraardsbergen to show that he’s definitely a contender for next year’s Flanders title.
The world championships time trial could be anyone’s
A 9.6km time trial is clearly no way to decipher who will win over a significantly longer race at the World Championships next month, but there aren’t many of the big names who are looking nailed on for a podium finish.
Rohan Dennis, who led the race for the majority, dominated the time trial and looks the most in-form of the big time trial favourites, but it is the form the riders have on October 12 that will count.
Tom Dumoulin finished well off the pace in Breda and is coming off a long season, where his main target was the Olympic Games, where he finished second.
Tony Martin also finished outside the top 10, having won the Tour of Britain time trial the previous week. Britain’s hopeful for Doha, Alex Dowsett, finished 10th on the day, and will hope to have secured a one of GB’s two places.
Then there is defending champion Vasil Kiryienka, who hasn’t set the world alight in the rainbow stripes this year. The Team Sky man was 45 seconds late for his start time on stage two, so didn’t put in the greatest of efforts to get round quickly.
Will we see another surprise winner in Doha?
Rider safety is being taken into account by race organisers
Eneco Tour organisers got a lot of praise from the riders last week for their initiative to send race motorbikes on back roads away from the race at strategic points.
We’ve been plagued by horrendous moto-related incidents over the past 18 months, one of which ended in a fatality and several in serious injury, but it’s good to see organisers listening to the calls to make the races safer.
Many motos are there for the riders’ safety, but if there’s a way for them to avoid pinch points on the road or having to pass the peloton on narrow roads then we’ve certainly taken steps in the right direction.