Formerly known as the Eneco Tour, the renamed BinckBank Tour is one last hurrah for those who love the terrain of the Classics.
In seven days of racing in the Netherlands and Belgium, it traverses many of the same challenges as some of the season's top one-day races. As a WorldTour event, it draws plenty of big-time Classics stars as they begin their late-season push towards the World Championships.
There was a time when the general classification at the Eneco Tour came down almost completely to time trialing ability, but those days are over. Now, the race favours a more balanced approach. An early chrono remains critical – even a short test of less than 10 kilometres can have a huge impact on a race without any real mountains – but only a rider comfortable on both cobbles and hellingen has a real chance at winning the BinckBank Tour.
After GC-leading Rohan Dennis (BMC) crashed out on the final stage, Quick-Step's Niki Terpstra won last year, securing a strong GC foothold in the early goings of the race before getting into a successful move on the final stage.
The 2017 edition of the race, despite the new name, will again require the same consistent performances across an early time trial and varied Classics terrain, visiting plenty of familiar climbs, especially in the final few stages.
The BinckBank Tour opens with a sprinter-friendly stage from Breda to Venray in the Netherlands, where the GC hopefuls will likely be focused on staying safe as they prepare for a nine-kilometre time trial the following day.
The out and back chrono in Voorburg will only take the riders about 10 minutes on mostly flat roads, but it will have a major impact on the race, considering the length and lack of big climbs in the ensuing stages.
Stages 3 and 4 may favour the fast finishers again. They have a bit of climbing yet enough flat roads to entice the quick men, before a stage 5 reminiscent of the Amstel Gold Race, with several hills to overcome on the road out and back into the Dutch city of Sittard-Geleen.
The Ardennes Week theme continues on stage 6 as the race rolls into the Belgian Ardennes proper. It's not as long or brutal as Liège-Bastogne-Liège, of course, but the profile will put the contenders' climbing legs to the test.
Finally, the race ends with a trek through hallowed Flemish Classics ground on stage 7, finishing on a circuit that concludes with the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen.
The overall contenders
Terpstra is the defending champion with as good a skill set as any for the BinckBank Tour. He is very strong against the clock and on the cobbles, and an underrated climber too. Quick-Step will have options though, with Philippe Gilbert also set to make the start. As the only active rider to have won both the Tour of Flanders and any of the Ardennes Classics – let alone all three – his punchy style is perfect for the BinckBank parcours.
Bora-Hansgrohe's Peter Sagan makes the start as an obvious candidate for the overall win, considering his diverse array of talents. The biggest question is his motivation in what is probably not his biggest target of the season. The world champion was interested enough in last year's race to nab two stages and finish third on GC, however, and he's shown excellent form at the Tour de Pologne,
BMC has unfinished business in this race after Dennis' untimely abandon on the final stage in 2016. The Australian won't be in the Low Countries for another attempt this time around, but Greg Van Avermaet will be a strong team leader, having finished in the top five for three years in a row. A known threat on the cobbles and small climbs, he's also capable in short TTs.
The Eneco Tour was a breakthrough for a young Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) all the way back in 2013 when he finished second overall, surprising many with his ascending skills. Cobbles may not be his forte but he is among the top talents on the start list when it comes to both the TTs and the climbs.
Lotto Soudal have done quite well for themselves at this event in recent years, with Tim Wellens a back-to-back champion in 2014 and 2015. The time trial isn't his best suit, but he has shined on the climbs in the past. Tiesj Benoot, who has been climbing extremely well over the last 12 months, is a deadly alternative option, as is Tony Gallopin, even if he is moving on to AG2R La Mondiale in 2018.
Speaking of AG2R, runner-up honours at the Eneco Tour in 2016 was a big part of Oliver Naesen's breakout late-summer campaign last season, and the Belgian has continued to put up big results ever since. He's a bit untested on the Ardennes-type climbs but he's quite handy on the cobblestones.
Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac), Lars Boom (LottoNL-Jumbo), Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Ian Stannard (Team Sky), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) and Enrico Gasparotto (Bahrain-Merida) are other strong candidates to be in the mix for the overall title in what has proven to be a tough-to-predict race in recent years.
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