Peter Sagan gained important bonus second and proved that he is a very strong candidate for the overall victory in the Eneco Tour. However, the Slovakian is likely to lose a lot of ground in what is likely to be the most important stage of the race. With a formidable line-up of time triallists, BMC will be looking to strike back in the 20.9km team time trial in Sittard-Geelen where a huge dress rehearsal for the World Championships will create crucial gaps in the fight for overall victory in the WorldTour race.
In 2012, the organizers gave the course a new twist when they added an 18.9km team time trial to the individual race against the clock. Orica-GreenEDGE won the stage and put Jens Keukeleire in the leader’s jersey but the idea was again abandoned for the 2013 edition. However, with the 2016 edition set to serve as the big preparation event for the Worlds, it was an obvious idea to again add a team time trial to the course, meaning that the race serves as a warm-up for every discipline at the big event in Qatar. This year the 20.9km collective ride in Sittard-Geleen will be the key indicator of form for the World TTT Championships and with a relatively long distance, it will be a crucial day in determining the overall winner of the Dutch-Belgian race.
Like in 2012, the stage will take place in Sittard-Geleen but with a length of 20.9km, it is longer than it was four years ago. The stage consists of one lap of a circuit on the southeastern outskirts of the city which is located in the Limburg region. This means that it is not a flat affair and while the course is not very technical, the cohesiveness will be tested by the lumpy terrain and the two small climbs.
From the start, the riders will travel east and head into Germany where they will turn south to again cross the border and get back into Dutch territory. From there, they will continue in a southwesterly direction to the city of Schinnen where they will turn around and head north to the finish in Sittard.
Sittard-Geelen is the only city to have hosted a stage finish in every edition of the race. In 2005, Simon Cadamuro won a bunch sprint while Manuel Quinziato narrowly held off the sprinters one year later as Cadamuro had to settle for second. In 2007, Sebastien Rosseler took a time trial win and Jose Ivan Gutierrez won the opening prologue in 2008. In 2009, Lars Bak held off a select group after a hard day in the Limburg province while Jack Bobridge was the strongest from a breakaway in 2010. In 2011, Edvald Boasson Hagen won a bunch sprint while Orica-GreenEDGE won the only team time trial in the history of the race in 2012. In 2013, the city hosted the time trial which was won by Sylvain Chavanel. In 2014, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck emerged as the strongest from a breakaway as he rode away for a solo victory and last year it was Johan Le Bon and Dylan Van Baarle who managed to hold off the peloton, with the Frenchman winning the two-rider sprint.
There seems to be no end to the Dutch summer as Friday will be a beautiful sunny day. There will only be a few clouds and a maximum temperature of degrees.
There will be a light wind from a westerly direction which means that the riders will first have a tailwind and then a combination of crosswind and cross-headwind for the remaining part of the stage. The conditions will be constant and the same for all teams.
Going into the race, we didn’t give Peter Sagan a big chance in the battle for the overall win. The world champion was always going to be the big favourite in the weekend stages but we doubted that he would be able to pick up many bonus seconds in the first three road stages. Especially Monday’s and Wednesday’s stages were tailor-made for the pure sprinters and we honestly didn’t believe that Sagan would be competitive against the really fast guys.
After the first four days, however, Sagan now has a real shot at victory. He limited his time losses in the time trial better than expected but more importantly he has picked up 24 bonus seconds in the first three road stages. Hence, he is now ahead of Rohan Dennis at a point when we expected him to be behind and if he can live up to his status as the favourite on Saturday and Sunday, he may gain another 20 seconds – and maybe even more in the intermediate sprints and if splits occur on the Muur.
That puts BMC under pressure. The American team was hoping to have two cards to play at this point in the race but with Greg Van Avermaet’s poor time trial, it is now all about Dennis. Even though the Australian is in great form, he doesn’t have much of a chance against Sagan in the hilly stages so all he can do is to focus fully on the team time trial. BMC need to gain at least 30 seconds on Tinkoff to feel relatively comfortable. Then he has to use his very strong team which is made up of classics riders to try to take away bonus seconds from Sagan in the weekend and here Van Avermaet will be a very valuable asset.
The sprint also showed that André Greipel is ready for the Worlds as the German finally managed to contest a sprint and proved that he has lots of speed in the legs. He stayed near the front on the climbs and was by far the fastest in the sprint. Nonetheless, he again paid the price for his poor positioning which has cost him countless victories in the past. At the same time, it was a big shame that Marcel Kittel was taken out of contention by the late crash. The Etixx-QuickStep sprinter looked comfortable and was ready to sprint but Michael Matthews’ tumble destroyed everything. Unlike Greipel, he won’t have much of a chance on Saturday so he now finds himself under pressure in the battle for Worlds leadership as he will leave the race empty-handed.
For now the attention turns to the team time trial which is the single most important stage in the race. The time gaps are likely to be bigger than they were in the time trial and as there is no Liege stage in this year’s race, the gaps in the road stages will mostly be created by bonus seconds. Hence, the collective race against the clock is probably the stage that will do the most damage in the battle for the overall win.
The course is far from straightforward as it has two smaller climbs in typical Amstel Gold Race terrain and this makes it a TTT which is difficult to handle. Many will remember how Tejay van Garderen destroyed the BMC team on the Cauberg in a similar TTT in the region at the 2012 Worlds so it will be very important for the stronger guys not to go too fast on the climbs. It will be a test of cohesiveness and very important to gauge the effort right.
However, the challenges should do very little to disrupt the rhythm of the BMC team. The Americans have proved to be the best team time trial team since they took a surprise win at the 2014 Worlds and since then they have won most of the major TTTs. They were best in the team time trials at 2015 Dauphiné, Tour and Vuelta and this year they won the team time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico.
BMC’s big goal is to defend their title in Qatar and they are using tomorrow’s stage as the big dress rehearsal. Hence, they have gathered a team made up of specialists and it is likely that the six riders that will go to Doha, will be chosen from the 8 riders that are gathered for this race. Silvan Dillier could come into contention but the rest of the team will be made up of the specialists here.
Rohan Dennis, Manuel Quinziato and Daniel Oss were part of the teams that won the titles in 2014 and 2015 and they will be very valuable here. Stefan Küng and Tom Bohli are real specialists too and even though the former has just returned from injury, his solid ITT shows that he is not going too bad. Taylor Phinney did a very good time trial and was in the team that won the Worlds title last year. He seems to be getting closer to his past level and is a big engine. Finally, Joey Rosskopf and Greg Van Avermaet are both decent time triallists and this turns it into a very homogeneous team without any weak link. All of them are pretty strong in lumpy terrain too so they should find the course to their liking. With an in-form Dennis as the big favourite, it will be a surprise if BMC don’t win this stage.
The only team that poses a real threat is Movistar. The Spaniards have been among the best for years but still seem to make progress. They won the bronze medal in Richmond last year and even though they don’t have Adriano Malori and Jonathan Castroviejo here, they have a team made up of specialists. Alex Dowsett is a huge engine and even though he would have preferred a flatter course, he will be a big asset. Nelson Oliveira and Ion Izagirre are among the best time triallists too and they should excel even more on this kind of tough course. Jasha Sütterlin did the TT of his life to take third in stage 2 and seems to be riding better than ever. If one adds the fact that both Gorka Izagirre and Imanol Erviti are good time triallists too, the foundations for a top result are clearly there.
The problem for Movistar is the fact that they have a few weak links. Unlike the riders in the BMC team, Winner Anacona and Francisco Ventoso don’t have the firepower of their teammates. That could make all the difference between winning and taking second place. However, Movistar still have a real shot at victory.
LottoNL-Jumbo have never been among the best in the team time trials but that is set to change in the future. The team had three riders in the top 6 in the time trial and most of their riders have progressed massively. Jos Van Emden, Wilco Kelderman and Primoz Roglic are all in great form and will be the big engines in the team. The latter two should be really comfortable on this kind of hilly course. Robert Wagner, Timo Roosen and Maarten Wynants are also big powerful guys who can make a solid contribution. The problem is that the rest of the team is made up of Dylan Groenewegen and Tom Leezer who are far from being TT specialists. Furthermore, they won’t be very comfortable on this hilly course. LottoNL-Jumbo should do a great TTT but they may lack the homogeneity to win.
Yesterday we would have given Etixx-QuickStep a real shot at victory. However, the team lost Tom Boonen in today’s stage and in a team time trial it’s a huge disadvantage to be one man down, especially when the missing rider is strong guy like Boonen. Tony Martin is obviously very strong but he is not the time triallist he once was. Furthermore, Bob Jungels who would have been another big engine, is not in his best form. Niki Terpstra and Marcel Kittel are both great time triallists but they would have preferred a flatter course Nonetheless, the team is one of the most powerful in the race and unlike many other they don’t have a real weak link. With just seven riders, it will be hard to win but they should still have a good ride.
On paper, Sky have a really good team but unfortunately most of their riders seem to be far from their best form. Geraint Thomas rode poorly in Canada and did a bad TT and Michal Kwiatkowski has been riding very poorly in his first race after he abandoned the Vuelta due to injury. Furthermore, they lost Vasil Kiryienka in today’s stage so they will only have seven riders at the start. On the other hand, the team is made up of some really strong guys and riders like Danny Van Poppel and Ben Swift are in great form. Sky won’t win the stage but they should still be capable of a good ride.
Orica-BikeExchange are always among the best and even though they don’t have their biggest specialists here, they are always competitive. Michael Matthews, Christopher Juul and Michael Hepburn are TT specialists and Alexander Edmondson has experience from the track. Unfortunately, they are only seven riders left which will be a huge setback and riders like Caleb Ewan and Carlos Verona won’t be able to make much of a contribution. A flatter course would also have been better for them. Nonetheless, the Australians are always among the best in TTTs.
Last year IAM suddenly developed into real TTT specialists and even though they have lost Sylvain Chavanel and Jerome Coppel, they still have a very powerful team. Matthias Brändle, Martin Elmiger and Reto Hollenstein are real specialists and Dries Devenyns and Roger Kluge also have plenty of firepower. Heinrich Haussler is always strong in a team time trial and Oliver Naesen is in the form of his life. Only Jonas Van Genechten stands out as a weak link so the Swiss team is one of the most homogeneous. With a solid core of specialists, they should be able to do well.
Giant-Alpecin have never been TTT specialists but we are very curious to see what they can do here. Tom Dumoulin will be the big leader in a team that also includes solid time triallists Søren Kragh, Chad Haga and Georg Preidler. On a hilly course like this, John Degenkolb will also be strong so even though they have a few weak links, their amount of firepower should bring them far in this stage.
For Peter Sagan, this stage is crucial but there is no doubt that Tinkoff will lose time to BMC. Nonetheless, they should be able to do well as they have a solid core of time triallists. Sagan, Maciej Bodnar, Pavel Brutt and Michael Valgren are all strong. Unfortunately, the Dane crashed yesterday and he may not be at his best. Nikolay Trusov also seems to be in the form of his life and Matteo Tosatto has often been valuable in the team time trials. The problem is that Oscar Gatto and Erik Baska stand out as weak links so they miss a bit of homogeneity.
Finally, we will point to Astana. Today Andriy Grivko and Dmitriy Gruzdev put on a real show and proved that their form is great. Together with Lars Boom, Alexey Lutsenko and Gatis Smukulis, they form a very strong core. Laurens De Vreese is not a TT specialist but he is a very solid rider in this terrain. The problem for the team is that sprinters Ruslan Tleubayev and Andrea Guardini will be weak links and the presence of Guardini means that they are really only riding with seven riders.
CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: BMC
Other winner candidates: Movistar, LottoNL-Jumbo
Outsiders: Etixx-QuickStep, Sky, Orica-BikeExchange
Jokers: IAM, Giant-Alpecin, Tinkoff, Astana
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