The 2018 BinckBank Tour will feature no fewer than four former overall winners when the peloton takes to the start line in Heerenveen, in the Netherlands, on Monday.
While last year's winner of the race, Sunweb's Tom Dumoulin, is not starting the event this year, the winner in 2016, Quick-Step's Niki Terpstra, lines up with teammate and 2013 champion Zdenek Stybar, and alongside 2012 victor Lars Boom (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Lotto Soudal's Tim Wellens, who won in both 2014 and 2015.
The seven-day stage race, which takes place in both the Netherlands and Belgium, was formerly known as the Eneco Tour, until the change of its main sponsor to BinckBank in 2017.
Although it's clearly a stage race, it attracts many of professional cycling's top one-day riders, and is often described as a mixture of the Amstel Gold Race, the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Indeed, the famous cobbled climb of the Muur van Geraardsbergen, used in Flanders, often features on the course, and this year is no exception: the climb provides the grand finale to the BinckBank Tour this year on Sunday, and will see the winner of the race crowned on its slopes.
In the past, the race would often be all but won on the day of the individual time trial, with the remaining stages fought out between the Classics riders and sprinters, but these days the race against the clock tends to be over a shorter distance, run on the second day of the seven-day race, leaving the GC to be decided later in the week on the short, sharp climbs – or bergs – that so typify the southern Netherlands and Flanders in Belgium.
The race kicks off this year in the north of the Netherlands with a flat 177.3km stage from Heerenveen to Bolsward, which should see the sprinters duke it out for the first leader's jersey, while many of those with GC ambitions will be trying to keep their powder dry for the short, fast 12.7km individual time trial around Venray on stage 2.
The race finally heads into Belgium on stage 3, from Aalter to Antwerp, and remains on Belgian soil for the next two stages, which will give the big-name sprinters something to get their teeth into before things get difficult on the weekend.
Saturday's stage 6, from Riemst in Belgium back into the Netherlands for the finish in Sittard-Geleen, is an Amstel Gold-style route that will see the more climb-capable Classics stars come to the fore, and should give an indication of who's serious about the overall classification, if they haven't already revealed themselves in the time trial.
Before the finale on the Muur van Geraardsbergen, the deciding 215.6km stage on Sunday will see the riders having to deal with the cobbled climb of the Bosberg, so well known as the final climb in the Tour of Flanders for so long, and now the final climb of the re-designed Omloop Het Nieuwsblad route, which climbs the Muur van Geraardsbergen prior to the Bosberg, and so the BinckBank peloton will tackle the two climbs in the opposite order to the February race.
Thanks to the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad connection, the winner of that event this year, Astana's Michael Valgren, has to be a rider to watch for on the final stage at the very least, if not as a possible overall contender. The Dane also won this year's Amstel Gold, and so, by rights, this race should be his. He did finish sixth overall last year, so should at least be in the mix again.
With defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) absent this year, 2016 champion Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) is the most recent winner of the BinckBank Tour, and it really is a race that suits the Dutchman down to the ground.
The 2014 Paris-Roubaix champion, and winner of this year's Tour of Flanders, is a decent rider against the clock, too, and knows exactly what's required of him. The team also has 2013 BinckBank winner Zdenek Stybar in their ranks to fall back on should Terpstra falter.
LottoNL-Jumbo's Lars Boom, meanwhile, is back at what is only his second race, having also ridden the recent Tour de Pologne, since having received a one-month ban for punching Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise's Preben Van Hecke – albeit 'only' in the hip – at May's Tour of Norway.
The Dutchman won the 2012 edition of the BinckBank Tour, and won a stage last year after attacking inside the final two kilometres from a small group that included Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and BMC's Greg Van Avermaet, who finished second and third on the stage.
On that occasion, although Boom escaped any kind of ban, he was fined 1,000 Swiss francs for the obscene gesture he gave upon winning the stage – part joy at taking his first victory in two years, and part frustration at not having been selected to ride that year's Vuelta a Espana.
Boom went on to win a stage and the overall classification at the Tour of Britain a month later, but that remains his last victory as he was forced to undergo surgery to correct a heart arrhythmia ahead of the start of this season. His LottoNL-Jumbo teammate, Dylan Groenewegen, meanwhile, will start the race with high hopes of a stage win or two following the brace he took at this year's Tour de France in July.
The LottoNL-Jumbo team have enjoyed a purple patch of late – with strong performances from Groenewegen, Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk at the Tour, and victory at the Tour of Utah on Sunday thanks to Sepp Kuss – and, whether Boom can compete for the GC or not, the team will be brimming with confidence in what is the Dutch outfit's home race.
Look for Trek-Segafredo's Jasper Stuyven to improve upon his stage win and third place overall last year, while BMC's Greg Van Avermaet is one of a number of riders coming to the race directly from riding the UEC European championships road race in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sunday, where he finished what will be for him a disappointing 25th. The Belgian will hope his good form from the Tour de France – where he wore the yellow jersey for more than a week – hasn't deserted him completely, however.
While likely to be competitive and looking for victory on almost every stage bar the individual time trial on stage 2, Van Avermaet has to be considered a favourite for the overall title, too, having finished fourth here the past two years and second to Tim Wellens in 2015.
Two-time BinckBank winner Wellens (Lotto Soudal) is always dangerous. Last year's runner-up will be looking to make it a hat-trick of victories with a good time trial on Tuesday followed up by an excellent Saturday and Sunday, of which the Belgian is extremely capable.
Caleb Ewan could be one of Dylan Groenewegen's big rivals for the sprint stages. The 24-year-old Australian was a 'DNF' at the RideLondon-Surrey Classic one-day race in late July, and will be hoping to relax into the second half of his season with a couple of stage wins, having finally announced that he will be joining Wellens' Belgian squad Lotto Soudal for 2019.
Another sprinter looking to rediscover his form is German sprinter Marcel Kittel, who left the Tour de France empty handed in July, having won five stages in France the previous year.
The Katusha-Alpecin fastman must surely fancy his chances on the flatter roads of the Netherlands this week, while his teammate Alex Dowsett will be eyeing the time trial on stage 2, having finished a slightly disappointing fifth at the UEC European championship time trial last Wednesday.
If the Clasica San Sebastian at the start of August was considered a reunion for the sport's best climbers after the Tour de France, consider the BinckBank Tour to now be the place to be for the very best sprinters and Classics riders.
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