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Will Marcel Kittel strike back in the flat third stage of the Eneco Tour?

Photo: Etixx - Quick-Step / Tim De Waele




20.09.2016 @ 20:20 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Rohan Dennis confirmed his status as the best rider in the world for short, flat time trials and opened up massive time gaps in the GC. Before he gets a chance to extend his lead in Friday’s team time trial, he will have to get safely through two relatively flat stages but while he heads into survival mode, the next two days will be crucial in the battle for Worlds leadership in several countries. With no wind on the horizon, the scene is set for one of the most competitive bunch sprint in Wednesday’s traditional stage to Ardooie.


The course

The sprinters that were left disappointed in stage 1 will get a chance to strike back and the GC riders will return to survival mode in stage 3 which is a typical Eneco Tour stage. For the 9th year in a row, the peloton will return to the Belgian city of Ardooie where they will again tackle the tricky finale that has been the scene of some exciting bunch sprints in the past.


After two days in the Netherlands, the race is in Belgium for the third stage which brings the riders to the traditional finish which has become a fixture in the WorldTour race. The stage covers 186.0km from Blankenberge to the city in the southwestern part of the country. Again it can be split into three parts.


As it is often the case in the Eneco Tour, the riders will first do a lap of a circuit around the starting city. The opening circuit is 18km long and brings the riders through the flat terrain on the southern outskirts of Blankenberge, with parts of the circuit including coastal roads. The first Primus sprint comes near the end of the circuit after 17.3km of racing.


The second part of the stage consists of a long southerly and easterly journey from Blankenberge to Ardooie and again the terrain is completely flat. There will be no sprints along the way. With 42.7km to go, the riders will reach the finishing circuit and then they will do almost a full lap before the get to the finish for the first time. Before they get there, they will do the final Primus sprint when 34.0km remain.


Moments later, the riders will cross the finish line to start the first of two laps of the 15.4km circuit. It is the same circuit that was used in 2013, 2014 and 2015. It is completely flat and has a pretty technical final part with lots of traffic islands. With 1.4km to go, the riders will do three sharp turns in quick succession before they hit the 1.1km finishing straight. The golden kilometre starts with 24.9km to go at the midpoint of the first lap.


Ardooie has hosted a stage finish every year since 2008. Tom Boonen was the first rider to win a bunch sprint and Tyler Farrar took the win one year later. In 2010, André Greipel was the fastest rider and he repeated the feat in 2011. In 2012, the city hosted the time trial which was won by Svein Tuft while Belkin used the late turns to open a gap behind their lead-out man Mark Renshaw in 2013, with the Australian holding off the sprinters all the way to the line. In 2014, Nacer Bouhanni won a bunch sprint but the stage is mostly remembered for the dramatic finale that saw defending champion Zdenek Stybar crash out of the race on the finishing straight. In 2015, Tom Boonen beat Arnaud Demare and Elia Viviani in a bunch sprint.




The weather

Many classic riders lost time in today’s time trial and were hoping that bad weather would allow them to take back time in stage 3. However, there will be no windy drama on the Belgian roads as Wednesday will be like a summer day. It will be bright sunshine and a maximum temperature of 22 degrees.


There will only be a very light wind from a southerly direction which means that the riders will mainly have a headwind and a crosswind in the first part of the stage. On the circuit, it will mainly be a crosswind. In the finale, it will be a crosswind until the riders get to the three late turns and from there it will be a tailwind sprint.


The favourites

In our overall preview of the race, we made Rohan Dennis our favourite to win the overall. We have always felt pretty sure that BMC will win the team time trial – only Movistar are likely to challenge them – and we always felt confident that Rohan Dennis would win the time trial. After all, the Australian has proved that he is the best in the world in short, flat time trials. The big question was whether he would be able to gain enough time to keep the lead as he may lose time to riders like Greg Van Avermaet and Ion Izagirre on the Muur.


Despite our confidence in Dennis, we had never imagined that he would show the dominance he did today. Only Jos Van Emden – another real specialist on these short power courses – was close to the Australian. Every other rival lost more than a second per kilometer and his time gains on such a short course were huge. Of course Tom Dumoulin and Tony Martin did worse than expected but to put 20 seconds into the two specialists is a massive performance by Dennis and he will now be very hard to beat in the battle for the overall win.


Only Van Emden is within striking distance and he is likely to find Saturday’s stage too tough and he will also lose time to Dennis on the Muur. With Van Emden, Kelderman and Roglic all in the top 10, LottoNL-Jumbo confirmed their improvement in the time trials and they should do a pretty good TTT on Friday. However, they will still lose time to BMC and so Van Emden can’t really be regarded as a potential winner.


At the same time, the classics riders Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan lost a lot of time. Sagan did an excellent TT and limited his losses better than expected but as Tinkoff will lose more time in the TTT, bonus seconds are probably not enough for Sagan to take the win. Van Avermaet did a poor time trial and now finds himself more than 30 seconds behind his teammate. As they will finish in the same time in the TTT, it will be virtually impossible for Van Avermaet to win the race.


As things stand now, Izagirre and Sagan seem to be Dennis’ biggest rivals. The Spaniard did a decent TT and remains within shouting distance. With Dowsett, Sütterlin and Oliveira all doing decent TTs, Movistar has an outside chance to beat BMC in the team time trial. If he can gain back a few seconds there, the Muur may offer Izagirre a chance to win the race.


Before the GC battle continues, the riders will have to get safely through stage 3 which is not an easy thing – just ask Zdenek Stybar who suffered a bad crash here two years ago. Many were hoping for bad weather but the conditions in the region are currently extremely calm. There is barely any wind at all and this means that there will be no danger. Like stage 1, it should be another very relaxed ride that will give the riders a chance to recover before things get hectic in the finale.


This also means that we expect the break to go straight from the gun like it did in stage 1. Wanty, Topsport Vlaanderen, Roompot and Lampre-Merida will have a rider in the break and Laurens De Vreese may also give it a go again. The battle for the sprints jersey is heating up so it will be no surprise if Brian Van Goethem and Bert Van Lerberghe are on the attack again.


When the break has gone clear, BMC will do the early work and then Etixx-QuickStep, Cofidis, Lotto Soudal and LottoNL-Jumbo will come to the fore. Orica-BikeExchange also did some work in stage 1 but as Ewan was not really close in Bolsward, the team may take a back seat this time. In any case, there are so many sprinters that the break should easily be brought back.


The most interesting point is the Golden Kilometre which comes with 24km to go. Unless one of the GC teams decides to go for some bonus seconds, the break should sweep up the bonus seconds. Only Tinkoff have a real interest in trying to bring the break back before the sprints but they will probably focus on the finale. Hence, the break is likely to make sure that the bonus seconds in the Golden Kilometre don’t come into play.


In the end, it should all come down to a bunch sprint. The finish in Ardooie has been used so many times that almost every single rider has done it before. Everybody knows that the three turns with around one kilometre to go are crucial and that gaps can open up here – just remember how Belkin let lead-out man Mark Renshaw go here to set the Australian up for the stage win. After the turns, there is time to come back as the finishing straight is long but as things will be strung out, it will cost a lot of energy so you need to be in a good position here. With a long finishing straight and a tailwind, it will be a real power sprint from that point.


In the first stage, we pointed to Marcel Kittel and we will do so again even though he failed on the opening day. Etixx-QuickStep did a disastrous lead-out and the big German was isolated almost immediately. He still did a great job on his own to stay up there and if he had started his sprint just a little bit earlier, he would not have been boxed in by Giacomo Nizzolo and then he is very likely to have taken the win.


There is little doubt that Etixx-QuickStep will be keen to make amends and on paper, Tom Boonen and Matteo Trentin should be able to do a good lead-out. At the same time, Tony Martin and Bob Jungels are now unlikely winners of the race so they will probably be more committed to the sprint. Etixx-QuickStep should have a lot more firepower for the lead-out this time. Furthermore, Kittel seems to be in excellent form which he already showed when he won the GP de Fourmies. Today he did a very good time trial and yesterday he claimed that his legs were great. A power sprint with a tailwind is what he really likes so everything depends on whether Etixx-QuickStep can put him into a good position. He is the fastest rider and is in great form and with a better lead-out this time, we expect him to win the stage.


Another rider who will be keen to make amends, is André Greipel. Lotto Soudal messed everything up completely on stage 1 which is a bit of a surprise as their lead-out train is usually the best in the business. They have huge experience and have done this finale numerous times so they now how to handle the tricky turns and they rarely miss out. After the failure in stage 1, they will be motivated to get their revenge.


The high level of sprinters and the good weather is a problem for Greipel as it will make the sprints very chaotic and he is not good at fighting for position. However, he is still supported by the best train and unlike in stage 1, things will be strung out through the technical turns. Hence, Greipel will benefit more from his good team which is still the best in this race. If Lotto Soudal can do one of their textbook lead-outs, Greipel should win the stage.


In stage 1, Nacer Bouhanni did the best sprint and came very fast in the end. The power sprint didn’t really suit him as he is more comfortable in technical finales like the one he will find tomorrow. Since he crossed the line first in Hamburg (where he was later relegated), he has been sprinting very well, and on paper he has one of the best trains. He is a master when it comes to positioning so the turns are a great advantage for him. If he can just be a bit closer to the front than he was yesterday, he has the speed to win.


The only team to do a real lead-out in the chaotic stage 1 was Katusha. However, Alexander Kristoff hesitated a bit too long and so never benefited from the good team performance. Nonetheless, he should find confidence in the fact that Katusha again seem to have one of the best trains even though they are without Jacopo Guarnieri. The formation Haller-Porsev-Mørkøv-Kristoff could very well dominate the finale again and with the late turns, a good lead-out is very important. Kristoff likes this kind of power sprint and has been sprinting very well recently so if Katusha can again dominate the finale, Kristoff will be in contention even though there are faster riders here.


In stage 1, Dylan Groenewegen confirmed what we have always said: that he has the speed to beat the fastest guys. He had plenty of luck though as the LottoNL-Jumbo train didn’t really work well and he seemed to be out of position when a gap suddenly opened. However, the lead-out worked really in in the Tour of Britain and they have improved a lot. It’s still hard to match the best trains but they are definitely competitive. If they can bring the leader to the front, Groenewegen has the speed to make it two wins from two.


In the Tour of Britain, Caleb Ewan was the fastest sprinter and he finally seems to have reached his best form. In stage 1, the Orica-BikeExchange train timed things poorly and so Ewan never got the chance to sprint. However, the formation Matthews-Mezgec-Ewan should still be one of the best here even though they don’t have much experience in working together. There is no doubt that Ewan is fast enough to win so it is all a matter of positioning.


John Degenkolb has returned to his best which he proved when he beat the likes of Kristoff and Nizzolo at the Arctic Race. However, he has never been a rider for the messy finales as he is not good at positioning. He is very reliant on his train which didn’t work too well on stage 1. We doubt that it will be much better in this stage and Degenkolb could very well finish outside the top 10. On the other hand, he is one of the select few who has the speed in this kind of power sprint to win.


The first stage was a bit too easy for Giacomo Nizzolo who both prefers more climbs and a more technical finale. However, he still did pretty well to take sixth and his win in Coppa Bernocchi also showed that his form is good. This finale suits him much better and unlike in stage 1, he should have Marco Coledan – who crash in yesterday’s stage – at his disposal. On paper, Trek have one of the best trains so if they can get Nizzolo to the front in this kind of chaotic finale, the Italian should be in contention-


In stage 1, we never got the chance to see what Danny Van Poppel could do as he crashed out of contention. However, the Dutchman has been sprinting excellently in the last few weeks so he should be competitive here as he didn’t sustain any injuries. On paper, Sky have a pretty good lead-out here and so they should be able to bring their Dutchman into position. This year he has already beaten Groenewegen, Kristoff and Degenkolb so he with a bit of luck, he can win this stage.


FDJ did a very good lead-out in stage 1 but as it was the case in the Arctic Race, Arnaud Demare simply doesn’t have the speed. It will be hard for him to win a stage that is loaded with so many top sprinters. However, one must admire the progress that FDJ have made and in this stage, a good lead-out is much more important than it was in stage 1. If the faster riders are boxed in, a good train can bring Demare far in this stage.


Finally, Peter Sagan deserves a mention. The Slovakian is not fast enough to win these real power sprints but he is a master when it comes to positioning. Hence, he finishes in the top 3 in almost every singly sprint and he is likely to do so again tomorrow. The more technical finale suits him even better but he will probably have his eyes more on a safe top 3 spot and valuable bonus seconds than trying to take what is always going to be an unlikely win.


Wouter Wippert, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Sacha Modolo, Andrea Guardini, Jonas Van Genehcten, Gediminas Bagdonas, Bert Van Lerberghe, Amaury Capiot, Roy Jans and Raymond Kreder are all likely to mix it up in the sprint but it will be a surprise if they manage to win the stage.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Marcel Kittel

Other winner candidates: André Greipel, Nacer Bouhanni

Outsiders: Alexander Kristoff, Dylan Groenewegen, Caleb Ewan

Jokers: John Degenkolb, Giazomo Nizzolo, Danny Van Poppel, Arnaud Demare, Peter Sagan



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