The UCI WorldTour returns to the Low Countries for the first time since April for the ninth edition of the Eneco Tour on Monday (August 12).
Seven stages of racing will offer full-gas finishes, a time trial, and ‘mini Classics’ on stage six, which ends with three ascents of the Côte de La Redoute, and a closing stage that finishes on the Muur van Geraardsbergen.
Some of the biggest names in the peloton will return to action for the first time since the Tour de France, including Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) winner of four stages of La Grande Boucle, including the final etape in Paris.
We’ll bring you daily coverage of the Eneco Tour, the 21st race of this year’s WorldTour calendar, including photo galleries and post-race analysis.
Here, we’ll consider the contenders and the course.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing)
A winless campaign is hardly one that Fast Phil would have planned for his year in the rainbow stripes, but with a September date with Florence fast approaching, the Belgian will seek to mark his tenure as world champion with glory. The Eneco Tour offers the ideal opportunity.
Strong enough to hang with the sprinters on the flat stages, if not to beat them, and a sufficiently competent time trialist (a former Belgian champion, lest we forget) not to lose too much time on stage five’s 13.2km test, Gilbert could roll out on the Classics courses of stages six and seven well placed for victory.
Simon Spilak (Katusha)
The 27-year-old Slovenian has enjoyed another impressively consistent season, with a series of top ten finishes in WorldTour races, and two wins in 1.1 events, including the GP Miguel Indurain.
Spilak finished second overall in the Tour de Romandie after winning stage four (courtesy of breakaway companion Chris Froome), and narrowly missed out on a podium finish at the Tour of the Basque Country, where he finished a second behind Team Sky’s Sergio Henao on GC. Spilak has the necessary combination of flat land savvy, climbing prowess, and recovery to win a seven-day stage race. This year’s Eneco Tour could be his first.
Moreno Moser (Cannondale)
The winner of the Strade Bianche has all the necessary qualities to win the Eneco Tour, and support from a strong line-up that includes sprinter Elia Viviani and all-rounder Alan Marangoni.
Seventh in the recent Classica San Sebastian shows that Moser is carrying good form, but at 22, still learning his trade. Great things are expected of the young Italian, not least because of his name. Overall victory in the Eneco Tour would eclipse his triumph on the white roads of Tuscany.
Lars Boom (Belkin)
The defending champion will start this year’s Eneco Tour among the favourites to win the 2013 edition. Boom has waged an impressive campaign in short stage races, winning the Ster-ZLM Toer and finishing second overall in the Tour du Haut Var.
Boom has reeled off feisty if ultimately unsuccessful performances in a host of top-tier races this season, attacking at Paris-Roubaix and on the double ascent of l’Alpe d’Huez at the Tour de France. With the support of a rejuvenated Belkin team, and from Wilco Kelderman in particular, fresh from victory in the Tour of Denmark, Boom could pull off a second consecutive triumph in the Eneco Tour.
Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep)
‘Chava’ will lead Belgium’s biggest team on home soil in the absence of homegrown hero, Tom Boonen, who has been ruled out with a saddle sore. The Frenchman is an able deputy to the multiple Monument winner, and more than capable of steering the good ship OPQS.
Overall victory in the Three Days of De Panne in March shows Chavanel’s ability in short stage races, and a fifth victory in the French time trial championships underlined his ability against the clock – one he will call upon on stage five. Numerous top 10 finishes in the biggest races of the spring, including fifth overall and a stage win at Paris-Nice, and fourth in a brutal Milan-San Remo, proved again that Chava has a talent from the top drawer.
Stage one: Koksijde to Ardooie (175.3km) – Monday August 12
A flat opening stage, in which the riders will be troubled only by the Côte de Rodeberg of Gent-Wevelgem fame, should deliver the bunch en masse to Ardooie, where events will conclude with two laps of a 15.4km circuit.
This year’s Eneco Tour features sprinting talent in abundance and the fast men seeking to make an early statement will be presented with a golden opportunity to do so here.
Stage two: Ardooie to Forest (176.9km) – Tuesday August 13
If the opening stage was a gentle introduction to the ninth Eneco Tour, stage two is anything but. The 177km route is punctuated with six bergs, the first of which, the Côte de Trieu, is encountered after little more than 45km. The second climb is arguably the best known: the 1.8km cobbled ramp of the Kruisberg, a regular feature of the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
An exciting finish looks on the cards, courtesy of a steep descent begun at the crest of Bruine Put after 163km, which could trigger a pell mell descent to the steep, uphill finish in Forest.
Stage three: Oosterhout to Brouwersdam (187.3km) – Wednesday August 14
Today’s striking parcours will take the riders across the deltas of Holland’s North Sea coast to the finish in Brouwersdam.
The concentration required from the bunch in navigating narrow, coastal roads is likely to be the greatest exertion demanded by today’s pan flat stage. A second bunch sprint in three stages looks likely.
Stage four: Essen to Vlijmen (169.6km) – Thursday August 15
The race returns to Belgium and the border town of Essen for the start of the fourth stage, a 170km run to the Dutch town of Vijmen in the heart of the Netherlands. There is nothing resembling a hill to dent the parcours today, and the sprinters should be guaranteed another feast.
Two laps of a closing circuit around Vlijmen might inspire the brave, or those with a crit racing background, to go on the attack and spoil the day for Kittel, Greipel, Petacchi et al.
Stage five: Sittard-Geleen (13.2km ITT) – Friday August 16
A short, out-and-back time trial punctuated by two climbs – the Windraak and the Beukenberg – could inspire those with overall victory in their sights to make their first assault on the race.
The route out of Sittard contains its fair share of sharp turns, but the run for home is almost entirely straight and flat, which should encourage those able to churn out the watts to give it their all.
Stage six: Riemst to Aywaille (150km) – Saturday August 17
A stage with seven bergs, and one that includes three ascents of the Côte de La Redoute, will represent a haunting visitation from spring for the flat-landers, while the strong men of the Ardennes – notably world road race champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) – will relish the prospect.
Two laps of a 30km finishing circuit that includes the Côte de Chambralles and the Côte de Niaster, before a finish on the third and final ascent of La Redoute, should guarantee fireworks.
Stage seven: Tienen to Geraardsbergen (208km) – Sunday August 18
Saving the best to last, the organisers of the Eneco Tour have cued a final engagement for the riders of the ninth edition that includes seven climbs, among them some of the most feared in Belgian cycling.
The Muur van Geraardsbergen, controversially axed from the Ronde van Vlaanderen last year, will be welcomed by the cycling public, and climbed three times by the riders, with the final ascent marking the finish. The Bosberg, another of the Ronde’s signature climbs, also makes an appearance, along with the Ten Bosse. The Classics specialists will seek to have the last word today.