Wellens takes on Terpstra, Boom and Gilbert in Eneco Tour defence

Boonen, Guardini, Viviani and Nizzolo lead the sprint competition

The gears of the WorldTour calendar continue to turn with the week-long Eneco Tour beginning on Monday, August 10. The Dutch-Belgian stage-race more often than not delivers plenty of action, helped in part by its Classics-style terrain. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) returns to wear the number one dossard, after claiming a hard-fought victory in the general classification last year.

This year’s race is very much one of two parts, split in the middle by a 14-kilometre time trial. The first half of the race offers up plenty of opportunities for the sprinters in the bunch with not a single classified climb in the first three stages. Day one sees the peloton up in the north of the Netherlands in Bolsward, where the costal winds could be a huge factor. Stage and GC hopefuls will have to keep their wits about them if they don’t want to get left behind.

The riders come closer to the border for stage 2, dipping into Belgium briefly as they take a southerly loop out and back to Breda. It is another chance for the fast men with their final opportunity coming the following day as they race from Beveren to Ardooie.

Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) will be looking to make the most of these opening days as he tries to give his season a boost ahead of the World Championships next month. Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) will be a strong contender in the bunch sprints, as will Elia Viviani (Team Sky), Andrea Guardini (Astana), Rick Zabel (BMC), Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida).

The focus turns towards the GC riders with the stage 4 time trial around Hoogerheide. The 14km test twists and turns around the Dutch city and a sea breeze could make like a touch more difficult for the riders. It is here that the likes of Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep), Chris Juul-Jensen (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) could make a difference. Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) is also set to ride but, considering his injuries, a stage win here will be a challenge.

Defending champion Wellens will be back into his preferred terrain in the final three days of the race. Beginning in Riemst, Belgium and finishing in Sittard-Geleen, the Netherlands, the fifth stage takes the riders over 27 hills, many of which feature in the Amstel Gold parcours.

The next day, the riders will head out of the Netherlands and return to Belgium and into the Ardennes. In this penultimate stage, the peloton have Côte Saint-Roche to contend with, a kilometre-long climb that averages 11 per cent, on two occasions.

The final stage from St.Pieters-Leeuw to Geraardsbergen is no parade for the race leader with 18 climbs and six stretches of pavé to tackle, including a finish on the Muur van Geraardsbergen. Greg van Avermaet won last season when the race visited it on stage 5.

Other contenders for the overall victory are Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Lars Boom (Astana), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEdge).

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