Eneco Tour 2016 – preview

Eneco Tour 2016 gets underway with an opening road stage that should suit a bunch sprint. However, with a parcours that skirts the coast line, the race runs the risk of being exposed to winds which could have an impact on the stage. A short, 9.6km individual time trial follows, which shouldn’t see huge time gaps.

The following days represent a mix of sprint stages combined with tougher days that take in elements of the spring classics, including cobblestones, short climbs and the potential to encounter crosswinds.

A team time trial on stage 5 will test the GC contenders, before the final two stages that start to take in some more climbing before the finish. Stage 7 in particular will be key for the fight for the overall, with the race finishing in Geraardsbergen, where the 2016 winner will be confirmed.

The Race

Stage 1: Bolsward – Bolsward, 184.7km
The opening stage of the Eneco Tour gets underway with a mainly flat opening parcours that skirts the northern coast of the Netherlands. After the possibility of winds to deal with, there’s also a technical finishing circuit to take on too.

Stage 2: Breda – Breda, 9.6km TT
The second day sees the race’s first time trial, covering just under 10km. The course is fairly straight forward, with few corners and a mainly flat route that suits the powerful time triallists, so we can expect some fast times by the end of the day.

Stage 3: Blankenberge – Ardooie, 182.3km
The outcome of stage 3 will probably be quite similar to that of the first day, with a course that also follows the coast before a finishing circuit suiting the fast men.

Stage 4: Aalter – St-Pieters-Leeuw, 201.4km
Although there’s climbs on stage 4, several cobblestone sections could prove more decisive than the hills. There’s a real feel about the spring classics on such a stage, but the riders will be hoping for the summer weather to make life a bit easier on the testing sections.

Stage 5: Sittard-Geelen – Sittard-Geelen, 20.9km TTT
After stage 2’s individual effort, stage 5 will see the aero bikes back out of the trucks for a team time trial covering just shy of 21km. The route takes in two climbs as well as some technical sections, so strong teamwork will be key for a result here.

Stage 6: Riemst – Lanaken, 185.2km
Heading into the region of the Ardennes classics, stage 6 will tackle some climbing but nothing that should see and huge splits. Most probably one for the puncheurs, the penultimate stage here should set the riders up for the final test tomorrow.

Stage 7: Bornem – Geraardsbergen, 197.8km
The second longest stage of the race comes on the final day, with a tough circuit that tackles several climbs on its way to the finish in Geraardsbergen, including three ascents of the infamous Muur. With the sprinters having had their stage opportunities earlier in the week, this will be another opportunity for the puncheurs to again come to the fore and possibly battle out the final general classification.

The favourites

Usually, the task of selecting the favourites for the Eneco Tour mostly consists of picking out the strongest time triallists and deleting those of them that are unable to handle the harder stages. In recent years things have been a bit more complicated as the amount of climbing has been significantly harder which made it easier for the classics riders to make a difference and made team tactics a lot more important. That was evident in the queen stage in 2014 where an isolated Tom Dumoulin was unable to control all attacks and this allowed Tim Wellens to ride away with the overall victory. Last year Wellens again managed to turn things around with a big attack in the queen stage.

Rohan Dennis has proved that he is one of the four best time triallists in the world and when it comes to a short power course, he is maybe even the very best. Last year he beat all the greats on a similar course at the Tour de France and he recently confirmed his class by taking a close second place behind Tony Martin in a slightly hillier time trial over a similar distance at the Tour of Britain.

Dennis’ form is excellent as he proved in Britain where he finished second overall and if he had gauged his effort in stage 2 a bit better, he is likely to have taken the overall win. He was one of the very best on the climbs and his time trial was solid too.

The biggest threat for BMC in the team time trial, are Movistar that go into the race with a team made up mostly of time triallists. That gives Ion Izagirre an excellent shot at another top result in a week-long stage race. After his stage win at the Tour, the Basque showed that he is back on form in Canada where he was one of the very best on the climbs in Montreal. Furthermore, he is one of the best time triallists in the world. Usually, he prefers hillier and more technical courses but this year he has done good flat time trials too, especially over short distances.

Greg Van Avermaet finished second in last year’s race but he will be missing some harder road stages. On the other hand, he will find the team time trial to his liking as a BMC victory here will give him a solid buffer. Last year he suddenly turned into a solid time triallist, especially on short courses, and even though he will lose time to the likes of Dennis, Tony Martin and Tom Dumoulin in stage 2, he should be able to limit his losses. A good TTT will bring his close to the top of the leaderboard and if he can win the stage on the Muur and go for bonus seconds in the Golden Kilometres, it may be enough to leapfrog teammate Rohan Dennis and win the race that he is destined to win at some point in his career. At least, everybody knows that his form is excellent as he proved his class by winning the GP Montreal.

Tony Martin is a former winner of the race but he has skipped the race in the last few years. Now he returns for an edition that suits him really well. With no hard queen stage, it will mostly be decided in the time trials and after two years of disappointments, he suddenly returned to his best by winning the TT at the Tour of Britain ahead of Dennis and Dumoulin. This automatically turns him into one of the favourites for the TT here and Etixx-QuickStep are always among the best in the TTTs too. However, the Belgian team is probably not as strong as BMC and Movistar so Martin has to win the TT to take the overall win. The road stages should be no problem as he is climbing really well this year and has plenty of classics experience.

Orica-BikeExchange have Michael Matthews who should found the race to his liking. Orica-BikeExchange are always good in the TTTs and even though they don’t have their best team here, history shows that they are always competitive. At the same time, Matthews has developed into a bit of a specialist in short time trials as he proved by winning the Paris-Nice prologue. This may be a bit too much about power to suit him perfectly but if he and his team can limit their losses in the two TTTs, two good results in the sprints on the final two days and a few bonus seconds in the intermediate sprint could elevate the Australian to the top of the leaderboard.

Peter Sagan is finally making his debut in a race that suits him really well but he has probably chosen the wrong year. The inclusion of a team time trial doesn’t do him any favour. Tinkoff are good but they won’t be able to match the best. Furthermore, the Slovakian will lose more time in the ITT. He is an excellent prologue rider and is strong in short TTs but in such a power test, he will always lose time to the best. He has to pick up all the bonus seconds he can find in the road stages. The final two stages and many of the intermediate sprints suit him well but he will lament the very strong field of sprinters which will make it hard for him to make it into the top 3 in the flat stages.

Tom Dumoulin is destined to win this race at some point but 2016 is probably not the year. The inclusion of a TTT is a huge setback for him as Giant-Alpecin will lose quite a bit of time. He could very well win the time trial and he should also be one of the best in the hilly stages where he can even go for bonus seconds. His form is pretty good as his third place in Britain shows but it will be hard for him to erase his deficit from the TTT.

Sky are led by Geraint Thomas who is suited to this race. However, his form doesn’t seem to be excellent as he rode pretty poorly in Canada. On the other hand, a few race days should serve him well and he may be a lot stronger here. He is one of the best classics riders and a solid time triallist and Sky have a decent team for the TTT. However, as they won’t win stage 5 and Thomas is a bit shy of his best form, it won’t be easy to win.

Niki Terpstra has always found this race a bit too hard but like so many others he should find this year’s course to his liking. There is no big stage in the Ardennes and he likes the stages on the cobbles. Etixx-QuickStep are among the best in the TTT and Terpstra is a decent time triallist. However, he is not good enough to match the best and his form is a bit uncertain as he didn’t really shine in the Vuelta.

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