With a little over a fortnight to go in the International Cycling Union's (UCI) European Continental Tour, Dutchman Kenny van Hummel remains the leader of the series. The Skil-Shimano rider, whose season was disrupted by injury after a crash at the Tour de France, is hopeful that he can maintain his advantage in the final races of the season.
"I'm still in the lead, but Jimmy Casper (Besson Chaussures – Sojasun) is 24 points behind me, so he's coming close now," Van Hummel told Cyclingnews on Wednesday. "But my shape is coming back and hopefully I can get some points in the next few races."
With five victories this season, the 26-year-old leads the UCI's Europe Tour with 593 points, with Frenchman, Casper, now his closest rival on 569 points. Van Hummel has only taken part in five races since he injured his left knee in a crash on stage 17 of the Tour de France in July. Of those five races his best result was 19th at Belgium's Memorial Rik Van Steenbergen.
"I was trying to sprint, I wasn't in a good position [at Van Steenbergen], but I was so motivated to get points," he said. "It probably wasn’t too smart to do that because I didn't have the form. I knew I needed the points though, so I just closed my eyes and sprinted."
Despite the recent run of mediocre results, Van Hummel said his form had improved significantly in the past two weeks. With the battle between himself and Casper set to come down to the wire the Dutchman is also well aware of his French rival's condition and expects him to target the final French based races on the UCI Europe calendar.
"There are still about four races in France and I'm sure he [Casper] will do those," said Van Hummel. "I will have to be really lucky that he doesn't get points [at those]. He's in good shape at the moment, he won another race last week [Châteauroux Classic de l'Indre - Trophée Fenioux], so we will see. If take points everything will be okay, but if I score none and he is winning races then I have a big problem."
Van Hummel had been originally scheduled to take part in Paris-Tours on October 10, but said he will skip the French semi-Classic, a decision he feels is the right one. "The team decided to take me out of Paris-Tours; I agree with that. When I'm not 100 percent, it's unfair to take another guy's position in the team. With the condition I'm in at the moment, I don't think I have the shape to perform at Paris-Tours. It's a race you need to be in really good condition to do well in the finale."
Instead, Van Hummel will defend his lead at the final three races of his season. He will race in Germany on Saturday at the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro, then head to France for Paris-Bourges on October 7, a race at which he could go head-to-head with Casper. Van Hummel will then close his season in Belgium at the Nationale Sluitingprijs Putte – Kapellen on October 12.
Although conscious of his slender lead in the Europe Tour, Van Hummel remains positive has he heads into the final weeks of his racing year. "I have confidence again. In Germany, at Sparkassen, it normally finishes in bunch sprints. The strongest teams will be racing [this week] at Circuit Franco-Belge, so hopefully I will have a good chance in Germany."
Looking towards 2010
Van Hummel said he will take a short vacation in November before he resumes training for next season. He will head to Majorca with teammates in December for base training, before returning to competition on the track at the Six Days of Rotterdam in January.
His 2010 road season is expected to get underway at the Tour of Qatar, although Van Hummel says a start at Paris-Nice is a possibility as he looks towards what he hopes will be his second appearance at the Tour de France.
"Maybe I will start in Paris-Nice, which I didn't do this year," he said. "With an eye on the Tour de France, it could be best to start the season with a big race like that; with big mountains. It will be good to build my strength and hopefully make things a little bit easier in the mountains at the Tour de France."
Although not assured a place at next year's Tour, Van Hummel is confident that Skil-Shimano's performance this past July will be enough to justify their invitation to the French race. He acknowledged the ascendancy of another Dutch Pro Continental squad, Vacansoleil, but still feels that his team should feel positive about their chances of a second successive appearance.
"We don't have to fear other Dutch teams, like Vacansoleil. I think if they do get invited to the Tour de France then perhaps Katusha or Euskaltel may be afraid [of missing out]," he said. "And maybe, with the Tour starting in Rotterdam next year, we could see three Dutch teams [Rabobank, Skil-Shimano and Vacansoleil] start the Tour."
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