The sixth Eneco Tour gets under way on August 17 and, as ever, it looks set to be a race for the peloton’s strongmen. Book-ended by two short time trials, the eight-day race will most likely be won by a solid time triallist who knows how to look after himself on flat and fast stages and manage the climbs of the Ardennes in the race’s finale.
The race begins in the Netherlands with a 5.2km prologue around Steenwijk, before two flat finishes at Rhenen and Ardooie (Belgium). Stage three sees the peloton hit classics country, with the climbs of the Tenbosse, Kruisberg and two ascensions of the Oude Kwaremont among the obstacles on the road to Ronse.
Stage 5 to Sittard sees the bunch take on a series of short sharp climbs that will draw the sting out the sprinters’ legs, while the final road stage to Heers takes in some of the climbs of Fleche Wallone, including the fearsome Mur de Huy. The following day’s 16km time trial around Genk should see a number of riders still in contention and provide an exciting climax to the week’s racing.
The Eneco Tour first appeared in its current guise in the first ProTour season of 2005, replacing the old Tour of the Netherlands. Bobby Julich took that inaugural event and was followed by Stefan Schumacher in 2006 and a Jose Ivan Gutierrez double in 2007 and 2008.
Last time around, Evald Boassen Hagen emerged victorious and he leads a strong Team Sky contingent this year. Kurt-Asle Arvesen, Michael Barry and Geraint Thomas can all be counted on to offer robust support to their young Norwegian leader on Dutch and Belgian roads this week. However, the British team will be without the services of Bradley Wiggins, who withdrew from the race due to a family bereavement.
Sky will face stiff competition from a number of sources, and given the nature of the course, a strong team would appear paramount to any rider’s aspirations of a podium placing.
The HTC-Columbia team is a solid one, packed with sprinting and time trialling talent, as André Greipel, Mark Renshaw, Tony Martin and Bert Grabsch all feature. Team Saxo Bank are always steady performers on this sort of terrain and Jens Voigt will lead their assault in the low countries. Young Richie Porte is also worth keeping an eye on this week.
Rabobank always look to put on a show on home roads at the Eneco Tour, and leading the Dutch challenge on this occasion will be Lars Boom. He will be seeking to lay down a marker in the opening prologue and if he is in striking distance come the final time trial in Genk, he could have a major say in the destination of overall honours. Boom can count on the experience of Koos Moerenhout to guide him through, while Joost Posthuma and Bram Tankink are other Rabo riders who may well shine in the coming days. Australian Graeme Brown will be a threat in the sprints.
Stijn Devolder will lead Quick Step, and he is in fine form after adding the Belgian time trial championship to his road race title at the weekend. Team Milram will look to Linus Gerdemann for results, while Jurgen Roelandts will head up the Omega Pharma-Lotto challenge. Double tour winner Jose Ivan Gutierrez will also be a contender as he spearheads a Caisse d’Epargne line-up boosted by the arrival of a new sponsor for 2011.
Team Katusha have the canny Sergei Ivanov heading up their roster, while Robbie McEwen will offer an outlet in the sprints. Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas-Doimo), Daryl Impey (RadioShack) and Kenny Van Hummel (Skil-Shimano) should also be competitive in bunch gallops.