Eneco Tour 2013: five observations

The UCI WorldTour’s first visit to the Low Countries since April produced a week of exciting racing and an unexpected denouement.

Overall victory for Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), twice a world cyclo-cross champion, represented the Czech’s most significant victory on the road.

A denouement in Geraardsbergen brought the Eneco Tour to a suitably fitting climax

And while Bradley Wiggins’ low-key season continued, another of Team Sky’s British talents stepped in with his own scintillating performance.

Here are five observations from the 2013 Eneco Tour.

King of the road

Zdenek Stybar has long been a feared competitor in the none-harder, muck-and-bullets world of cyclo-cross. The Czech’s transition to top class road rider, glimpsed at last season’s Tour of Poland and this year’s Paris-Roubaix, reached fruition at the Eneco Tour, with gutsy victories on stages three and seven.

Zdenek Stybar secured the biggest victory of his road career with victory in Geraardsbergen

Victory in the stage five time trial for Stybar’s more accomplished team-mate, Sylvain Chavanel, might have seen Omega Pharma-Quickstep switch their focus, but by backing Stybar, the Belgian squad made the right decision. Next season, OPQS will enter the Classics with yet another proven winner on the hardest terrain in Belgium.

Diesel power

Ian Stannard proved again that there is considerably more to his game than pulling on the front of the peloton to deliver climbers safely to mountain bases, or sprinters to the final kilometre.

Ian Stannard further enhanced an already impressive reputation with his bid for victory on the final stage of the 2013 Eneco Tour

The former British champion fought tooth and nail with Mark Cavendish in a bid to keep his title at Glasgow in June, and in March delivered a courageous performance to contest the finish at the most brutal edition of Milan-San Remo for years. At the Eneco Tour,  where he came within a whisker of victory in historic Geraardsbergen, Stannard proved that victory in the hilly Classics may not be beyond him, either.

Sprinters’ party crashed

Four flat, opening stages and a start list littered with the names of the world’s fastest men, including Greipel, Kittel, Degenkolb, Farrar and Viviani, should have added up to a sprinters’ benefit. Instead, only half of the so-called sprint stages ended in a bunch kick, underlining the vulnerability of sprint trains to well-timed attacks.

Mark Renshaw’s well-timed attack on stage one provided an early warning to the sprinters that they would not have things all their own way

Mark Renshaw (Belkin) set the tone as early as stage one, while Stybar laid the first solid foundation for overall victory on stage three. The parcours and start list suggested that the headlines for the Eneco Tour would be dominated by the sprinters. Instead, only Greipel and Arnaud Demare delivered victory at full gas.

Gilbert continues to struggle

Philippe Gilbert’s pedigree and commitment are unquestioned. A specialist in the Ardennes Classics, and the current holder of the rainbow jersey, few fans would question Gilbert’s credentials as a worthy world champion. Fast Phil has raced with passion and desire throughout 2013, never giving less than his all.

Philippe Gilbert delivered his usual level of commitment at the Eneco Tour, but as at every other race this season, the world champion emerged without a victory

Further evidence for his never-say-die approach could be found at the Eneco Tour, where he lost out narrowly to Arnaud Demare (FDJ) on stage two, and fought back bravely from a crash on stage six. For all his commitment, Gilbert’s season in the rainbow stripes look set to end winless – that is, unless he can reignite his season as he did last year, with victories at the Vuelta a Espana and the world championships.

Wiggins the enigma

Who knows the mind of Bradley Wiggins? The Londoner has spent a season giving out mixed messages, insisting as late as the pre-Giro press conference that the issue of Team Sky’s leadership for the Tour would resolve itself at the end of the first week in France, only recently accepting Chris Froome’s right to lead the team at Grand Tours.

Fifth place in the stage five time trial was as close as Bradley Wiggins came to a victory at the 2013 Eneco Tour

If the Wiggins’ emphatic victory in the final stage time trial at the Tour of Poland, his first of the season, gave an indication of where his season is focussed – next month’s world time trial championships in Florence – the Eneco Tour offered only another show of disinterest in the sport’s lesser prizes. How different from 2012, where he raced to win on every occasion.

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