The summer WorldTour stage races continue in the second week of August with riders heading to the Netherlands and Belgium for the Eneco Tour.
With riders returning to action after the fatigue of the Tour de France or as they build towards the Vuelta Espana and world championships, there will be variable levels of fitness and motivation but the quality of the field should produce some interesting racing.
Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) won the Eneco Tour in 2010, using his impressive time trial skills to beat Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank) in the final stage time trial in Genk and secure victory.
Martin is not in the HTC-Highroad team for this year’s race after suffering at the Tour de France but he will not be missed because of the presence of Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto). Several stages of the race on his home roads in the hilly Wallonie region of Belgium and he may also target overall success as he chases points as he tries to end the 2011 season as the best ranked rider in the world.
Other overall contenders to watch for include Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM), who is trying to save his season, 2009 winner Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) Serguei Ivanov (Katusha Team), David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo), Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM), Joost Posthuma (Leopard-Trek), Niki Terpstra (Quick Step), Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank) and Lars Boom (Rabobank). Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) will also looking to impress on home roads.
Classics riders of the calibre of Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky), Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Sungard) Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Cervelo) will also be back in action on the roads they know so well from the spring classics. Former Cyclo-cross star Zdenek Stybar is also riding as he begins his second half of the season on the road.
The sprinters will also be tempted by the flatter stages in the Netherlands and Flanders that suit them. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo), Jose Joaquin Rojas (Team Movistar), Ben Swift (Team Sky) André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Allan Davis (Astana), Robbie McEwen (Team RadioShack), Baden Cooke (Saxo Bank-SunGard), Kenny van Hummel (Skil-Shimano), Taylor Phinney (BMC), Theo Bos (Rabobank), Mark Renshaw (HTC-Highroad) and Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) all are on the provisional start list.
From the Netherlands and back via Belgium
This year’s Eneco Tour starts in the Netherlands before heading to Flanders, east to Wallonie and then back to the Netherlands.
The 5.7km prologue time trial is in Amersfoort, east of Amsterdam and will give the race its first shake out and give the time trial specialists like Lars Boom and Geraint Thomas a shot at early success.
The peloton then transfers south to Oosterhout for a twisting stage to Sint Willebror and then jumps further south into Flanders for stage two from Aalter to Ardooie. The stage finishes with an 18km circuit before the expected fast finish. Boonen, Farrar and Greipel have all won previous stages here.
The race heads into Wallonie for stage three from Heers to Andenne. The Mur d'Amay and Mur de Huy will spark a first selection, with three other nasty climbs in the final 25km. The overall contenders will have to be careful but also save their legs for the following day’s 14.7km time trial around Roermond. Saturday’s penultimate stage suits the sprinters but a final climb 25km out will be a test.
The race will end with a stage of the hills of South Limburg and act as a kind of presentation for the 2012 world road race championships that will be held in the area. The riders will climb the Adsteeg, the Cauberg twice, the Loorberg, Camerig, Eyserbosweg, Hulsberg, Fromberg, Gulperberg, the Doodeman and the Keutenberg. Even the finishing circuit around Sittard will be tough, meaning the final overall winner could be decided in final minutes of the stage.