A lack of wind meant that today’s opening stage was just a matter of survival for the GC riders in the Eneco Tour but now it is already time for them to show their cards. With the 2016 edition offering an unusually easy course, the time trial is more important than it has been for years and even though this year’s individual test in Breda is shorter than it has usually been, we will be a lot wiser about who’s going to win when we get to the end of Tuesday’s first crucial battle.
Time trialling has always been a key part of the Eneco Tour and of course it will be no different in 2016. The TT has often been the single most decisive stage and with no stage in the Ardennes, it will be even more important than it has been in 2013, 2014 and 2015. On the other hand, it has been shortened a bit and with an important team time trial also coming up, it won’t decide the race entirely. Like last year, there will be plenty of flat, straight roads and so it should offer lots of terrain for the specialists to make a difference. The stage is an identical copy of the time trial that was used in 2014.
This year the time trial comes earlier than usual as it will be held already on the second day, and like in the last few years it will be held on Dutch soil. The city of Breda will host the stage where the riders will tackle 9.6km. The course is very straightforward as the riders will travel south along flat, straight roads before they do one lap of a flat, technically uncomplicated circuit on the southern outskirts of the city. Finally, they will head back to the start-finish area along the same road that was used for the opening part of the course. In the finale, the riders will take a turn with 1800m to go and then follow a long, straight road until they get to the final bend just 200m from the line.
Breda last hosted a stage in 2015 when André Greipel won a bunch sprint on the second day. It also hosted a stage in 2014 when Tom Dumoulin took a time trial victory on the exact same course. One year earlier it played host to the first stage of the Ster ZLM Toer where Theo Bos powered to one of the biggest wins of his career by beating the sprinting titans of Marcel Kittel, André Greipel and Mark Cavendish.
The calm weather that made today’s stage an easy affair will continue for Tuesday’s time trial. The day will offer bright sunshine and a temperature of 20 degrees.
There will only be a light wind from a northeasterly direction which means that the riders will mainly have a tailwind in the first part and a headwind in the second part. The wind will be relatively constant so all riders will have the same conditions.
A great field of sprinters offers a big showdown but unfortunately it also means chaos. In this race, Mark Cavendish, Elia Viviani, Bryan Coquard and Fernando Gaviria are the only absent top sprinters and this means that there are several very strong sprint trains at the start of this year’s race. This makes the fight for position in the final kilometres huge and that created carnage in today’s stage. Only FDJ and Katusha managed to organize any kind of lead-out and in the end it was almost every sprinter for himself. It required a certain amount of luck to be in contention and the result was much more about positioning than pure speed.
The big surprise was the disorganization of the two major Belgian teams. Etixx-QuickStep never found each other and Kittel was isolated very early. That made it almost impossible for the big German to be in contention and he never really started his sprint. It was even more surprising that the usually flawless Lotto Soudal train messed things completely up. The team was nowhere to be seen in the final five kilometres and André Greipel rolled across the line in 18th. Hence, we never got the anticipated battle between the two German titans and the stage did nothing to make the German national coach wiser about the leadership in Qatar.
As opposed to this, the picture should be a lot clearer in the French camp. Nacer Bouhanni has always been faster than Arnaud Demare and more importantly he has been much better when it comes to positioning. Today FDJ could hardly have done a better job for Demare but it was still Bouhanni who got the best result. In fact, the Frenchman again confirmed that he is sprinting very well at the moment as he did the fastest sprint of everybody and it should be an easy call for Bernard Borreau to announce that the Cofidis sprinter deserves the full backing of the French team in Qatar.
Finally, Dylan Groenewegen deserves a mention. In our previews, we have repeatedly claimed the Dutchman has the speed to beat the best and today he proved us right by winning what is likely to be the most competitive bunch sprint so far in 2016. Nonetheless, it was a bit of a surprise that his win came under these circumstances as his big problem in the Tour was his problems in the fight for position. Today things were maybe even more chaotic than they were in France and the LottoNL train didn’t look very organized. However, Groenewegen found the right way and with the big sprinters all boxed in, he had the speed to take the biggest win of his career.
The sprinters now head into survival mode for one day as the GC battle takes centre stage in the time trial. This year the easier course means that the two time trials will be crucial and even though the longer TTT is probably the most important stage, Tuesday presents one of the two biggest chances to gain time. All the main contenders got safely through today’s stage and the only important change when it comes to the GC battle is the fact that Sagan picked up four valuable bonus seconds. However, the Slovakian will be on the defensive in tomorrow’s stage. The Slovakian has done good short time trials in the past but to have a chance to go for the victory, he needs a technical course like when he won the Tour de Suisse prologue or the Tour of California TT. This course is all about power and so it will be a day of limiting the losses for the world champion.
It’s hard to design a flatter course for a time trial than this short test in Breda. There will barely be any elevation gain and the stage is also technically uncomplicated. It’s a stage tailor-made for the most powerful specialists who will be ready to battle it out on the straight, Dutch roads. Usually, sprinters can do well in short time trials but they would have preferred a shorter and technically more difficult course and will have a hard time against the specialists. Of course the time gaps will be small in a short stage like this but in a race that will be decided by seconds, the gaps created in this stage will be crucial in the fight for the overall win. Luckily the weather forecast predicts equal conditions for all riders so we should have an honest fight.
The Eneco Tour has got a lot of attention for the strong field of sprinters that it has gathered but in fact the TT field is almost as strong. Among the best time triallists, only Fabian Cancellara, Chris Froome and Jonathan Castroviejo (and of course Adriano Malori who is still slowly returning to competition) are absent. That makes it a hugely exciting affair and a great dress rehearsal for the Worlds. However, it’s important to notice that this stage is much shorter than the test in Qatar which will be a completely different race.
On paper, the stage is going to be a three-horse battle between Rohan Dennis, Tom Dumoulin and Tony Martin who are the three best time triallists in this race. Those three riders already battled it out over a similar distance at the Tour of Britain and here Martin took the win with a 3-second advantage over Dennis and a 5-second advantage over Dumoulin. However, that stage was more technical and even included a small climb. This stage is more straightforward and more about power.
This time we will put our money on Rohan Dennis. While he is still not at Dumoulin’s level in the long TTs, the Australian is maybe the best in the world on a short, flat course. It is no coincidence that he beat all the stars in the Tour prologue last year and in general he has proved to be very hard to beat in stages like this. He was beaten by Martin in the Tour of Britain but he was clearly more cautious in the turns and seemed to be riding faster when it came down to power.
Dennis is in excellent form after the Olympics. If he had gauged his effort better in stage 2, he is very likely to have won the Tour of Britain overall and since then his form is likely to have improved even more. This time there won’t be any issues with wet turns and it will all come down to power. That’s an advantage for Dennis and so he is our favourite.
His biggest rival will be Tom Dumoulin who won this stage two years ago. The Dutchman is a very versatile time triallist who shines in flat and hilly TTs and over long and short distances. However, this year he has been at his best on hillier and longer courses while he has had several disappointments in prologues. Of course he won the opening Giro TT but his winning margin was much smaller than expected.
Nonetheless, Dumoulin is still very strong in a TT like this which his third place in the Tour of Britain confirmed. That race also showed that his form is good and he has proved that he can win on this course. When it comes to form, he probably has more room for improvement than Dennis and so it is not unlikely that the tables will be turned in this stage.
Tony Martin has gone through two years of disappointments in the TTs and he seemed to have lost the edge in his preferred discipline. He rode very poorly in the major TTs at the Worlds and the Olympics and he was nowhere near the best in the Tour. In fact, he hadn’t won a single international TT this year until things suddenly changed at the Tour of Britain. He did not only win the TT there, he even beat Dennis and Dumoulin.
That result will have boosted Martin’s confidence and he should find the course in Breda more to his liking than the one in Bristol. Of course he prefers longer time trials but he has done well in short TTs too, especially when they are all about power like this one. Martin has given indications that he is returning to his best and so he could very well take another win here.
Sagan is Tinkoff’s GC rider but their man for this stage is Maciej Bodnar. The Pole has improved a lot since he joined Tinkoff and he has now established himself as one of the best in the world. This stage is similar to the final TT in Tirreno-Adriatico and here he has been close to the best in the last two years. Earlier this year he also won the TT in De Panne which is also short and flat. He usually prefers a more technical course but he is strong on this kind of route too. Furthermore, he seems to be in good form.
Jos Van Emden won the TT in 2015 which was the culmination of a big improvement that also saw him do an excellent TT on a short, flat course at the Tour de France. Van Emden is a real specialist in these TTs and he couldn’t have designed a better route. He has not been at his 2015 level this year but on the other hand he hasn’t really done many TTs. He crashed out on the opening stage of the Giro and so we miss a real indication of his potential. He left the Vuelta early to prepare for this stage and he will be very motivated on home soil.
Ion Izagirre has always been an excellent time triallist on hilly courses but this year he has also been competitive on flat courses. He showed that in the Tour de Suisse where he won the long time trial which only had one small climb. He was also close to the best in the flat prologue. He would still have preferred a hillier course but with the great form he showed in Canada, he should still be able to be among the very best here.
Taylor Phinney was once of the best riders for this kind of TT but since he broke his leg in 2014, he has not been at his best. He rode very poorly in Rio and he still seems to lack some endurance for the long TTs. At the Tour of Britain, however, he would have been very close to Dennis, Dumoulin and Martin if he hadn’t crashed on the slippery roads. He still managed to finish 11th which is a clear indication of how fast he was going. If he can do a similar ride here, it is time for Phinney to return to the top of the TT hierarchy.
Nelson Oliveira was a great TT talent at the U23 level before he disappeared into anonymity on the pro scene. However, things started to change at the 2014 Worlds and since then he has progressed constantly. He probably did the TT of his life at the Tour de France where he was third behind Dumoulin and Froome in the first individual test and he backed it up with a great TT at the Olympics. However, he has not been at his best since Rio. He did a poor TT in Poitou-Charentes and he seemed to be tired in the Canadian races. Nonetheless, he finished fourth at the European Championships so he can’t be going too badly. He prefers longer and hillier time trials though.
Alex Dowsett is the third Movistar card. He is very inconsistent in the TTs and hasn’t really been at his best in Poitou-Charentes and Britain. However, he did a fantastic TT in Poland and if he can repeat that performance, he will be close to the best. He likes this kind of course which is all about power so it will all be question of whether he is on a good day.
Wilco Kelderman started his career as a great time triallist but while he improved his climbing, he lost the edge in the TTs. In 2015, he rediscovered his best TT legs and even finished second in the TT in this race. That proves that he can do well on this kind of course. His form has sent mixed signals as he did a good TT in Poitou-Charentes while he rode poorly in Canada. However, this race is a big goal for him and he can’t be too bad.
Primoz Roglic is the third card for LottoNL-Jumbo. In Rio and at the European Championships, he again showed that his good time trials at the Giro were no flukes and that he is now of the best time triallists on almost every kind of course. He didn’t do the best TT in the European Championships but he was still up there. This course is not too different from the first stage in the Giro where he was less than a second from a surprise win so you can definitely rule him out in a test like this.
Michael 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 it is worth remembering that he has won on a power course at the Tour de Slovenie. In Canada, he showed that his form is good and as he is aiming for the GC here, he should have a good ride.
Matthias Brändle has proved that he is one of the best in the world in short, flat time trials but his form is a bit uncertain as he did a poor TT at the European Championships. On the other hand, the long hilly course in Plumelec didn’t really suit him and he should be a lot better on this power route. He has not always been consistent in his time trialling but when he is at his best, he is one of the strongest in a TT like this.
Tom Bohli has the potential to develop into one of the very best time triallists. In his neo-pro season, he has already broken the course record at the 3 Days of West-Flanders prologue and finished third in the De Panne TT. He seems to excel on short, flat power courses so this one suits him excellently. His form is a bit of a question mark though.
Katusha have Anton Vorobyev who has won this kind of TT in the past, most recently at the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe. However, he has not always been consistent in his time trialling and his TT at the European Championships was not excellent. On the other hand, the flatter course here suits him much better so if he is on a good day, he should be competitive.
Finally, we will point to Marcel Kittel. He may be known as a sprinter but he started his career as a time triallist and is still very strong on short, flat courses. He was fifth in the opening stage of the Giro and as he builds form for the Worlds, he seems to be in great form. The question is whether he will go full gas or save energy for Wednesday’s sprint stage.
The list of time triallists just goes on and on. We also expect good rides from Martin Elmiger, Michal Kwiatkowski, Geraint Thomas, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Lars Boom, Bob Jungels, Vasil Kiyienka, Manuel Quinziato, Michael Hepburn Niki Terpstra, Dylan Van Baarle, Greg Van Avermaet, Fabio Felline, Peter Sagan, Søren Kragh, Chad Haga, Ryan Mullen, Andriy Grivko, Dries Devenyns, Reto Hollenstein and Gorka Izagirre but we doubt that they will finish in the top 5.
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