Tour of Benelux to be a Vuelta warm-up?
The Tour of Benelux starts on Monday in Waalwijk in the Netherlands. This race will be significant for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, the Vuelta a Espana starts 12 days later and following the Tour de France, the Tour of Benelux provides the perfect lead up for it. We’ll get an idea at where the major contenders for the final Grand Tour of the year are placed form-wise.
Second, and more interestingly, it’s the return of Alberto Contador to professional racing since his suspension for testing positive to clenbuterol.
Contador won’t have ambitions to win the Eneco Tour, but we can be certain that victory at the Vuelta in front of his home fans will be his primary target. His post-stage comments will be highly anticipated.
I’m excited about Contador’s return.
Guilty or not, he’s served his time and copped the punishment. But everyone knows he rides with passion and leaves everything on the road. In truth, this year’s TdF may have been significantly more animated had Contador been present. He is good for bike racing.
For the fans at the start line on Monday in Waalwijk, they’ll witness a strong field depart on the seven-day Eneco Tour, which has been won in the last three years by Edvald Boasson-Hagen (twice) and Tony Martin. Boasson-Hagen won’t participate, but Tony Martin will with headline team-mates Boonen and Chavanel.
Other notable starters (aside from Contador) include Sky’s Dowsett, Sutton and Knees; BMC’s Phinney and Ballan; home team Rabobank’s Boom and Aussie Renshaw; Lotto Belisol’s Greipel and Vanendert; Garmin-Sharp’s Millar and Aussie Haussler; Lampre’s sprint force of Petacchi and Hondo; and of course the boys from Orica-Greenedge. Their lineup will include Aussies Leigh Howard, Brett Lancaster and Luke Durbridge.
For a short 7-day Tour, this race contains a huge variety of race possibilities. Included are team and individual time-trials. The team time-trial course will provide a preview of the TTT course at this year’s Road World Championships.
While the course over the seven days is “generally” flat, there are numerous steep pinches along the way, most notably the profile of the final Stage 7 through the Flemish Ardennes which looks seriously like a saw blade. Stage 3 on Wednesday will also preview part of the Worlds Road Race.
The race is going to be won by a strong-man, perhaps a classics-type rider, not necessarily a pure climber, and definitely not an out and out sprinter, who might not be able to stay in touch with the peloton over the undulating course. Serious consideration will also need to be given to time-trial specialists.
As for Orica-Greenedge, off the back of a Tour de France which possibly didn’t live up to their own expectations, their focus may be directed more towards the General Classification ambitions of Dutchman Sebastian Langeveld.
He’s previously finished 3rd in this event in 2009, and Orica-Greenedge should put together a solid team time-trial which may benefit him. Expect young Aussies Howard and Durbridge to perhaps partake in the breakaways to negate the teams need to chase the break and aid in the GC/stage win ambitions.
The race has some unique race classification titles – Eneco for the General Classification, Lotto for the Points Classification and Primus for the Combativity Classification. I won’t try to predict the Lotto and Primus classifications, but in terms of the Eneco Classification, keep an eye on local Dutchman who will be keen to impress in front of their local fans.
Rabobank should look to Lars Boom to obtain a result in the General Classification along with Renshaw to perhaps win a sprint, depending on recovery progress from his TdF injury.
Tony Martin will be familiar with the style of racing and the time-trial bias will suit him, also Contador will have definitely been in hard training so strength and endurance should pose no problem, but my pick will be Tom Boonen. I think the course will suit him and his team should fair well in the team-time trial which could impose significant time differences on his rivals.
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