Racing in France and Holland dominate the action in Europe this week. The Eneco Tour, which began Monday with the prologue victory of Taylor Phinney (BMC), is the week’s main event while the Tour de l’Ain will see the return to action of Tour de France phenomenon Pierre Rolland.
The Tour of Portugal also continues through this weekend, with Andrea Guardini winning Tuesday’s fifth stage with Sergio Ribeiro holding the lead going into Wednesday’s sixth stage.
7th Eneco Tour (PT)
August 8-14, Belgium – Holland
André Greipel blasted to victory in Tuesday’s sprint while Phinney carried the leader’s jersey in Wednesday’s to kick start the week’s main event.
Belgian star Philippe Gilbert, hot off victory at the Clásica San Sebastián in Spain, is on the hunt for WorldTour points this week. Gilbert said one of his top goals is to finish the season ranked No. 1 in the world and needs to erase a 92-point deficit to current world No. 1 Cadel Evans (BMC). Evans shot to the top of rankings with his win at the Tour de France, but isn’t expected to race much as the season winds down. Gilbert, however, has vowed to race until Giro di Lombardia, with a special focus on picking up points when he can.
The hilly Eneco tour is tailor-made for a classics-style rider like Gilbert. Thursday’s third stage hits the Mur-de-Huy, where Gilbert won the Flèche Wallonne this spring as part of his Ardennes treble. The final stage hits the Cauberg climb, featured in the Amstel Gold Race, also won by Gilbert this year, and traces the circuit to be featured in the 2012 world road race course.
Others to watch for the GC fight include Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar).
The race has roots back to the 1940s and morphed into the Tour of Netherlands in the 1970s and finally took the Eneco Tour form in 2000. In 2005, the race was incorporated into the ProTour format and was expanded into Belgium. American Bobby Julich won the inaugural edition in 2005 while Tony Martin (HTC-High Road) won last year.
23rd Tour de l’Ain (2.1)
August 9-13, France
Tour de France sensation Pierre Rolland (Europcar) will be the top draw in the French race along the Jura Mountains. Rolland returns to the spotlight on home roads after winning the white jersey and the Alpe d’Huez stage at the Tour.
Ag2r-La Mondiale lines up with a strong squad that includes former winners John Gadret (2007), Cyril Dessel (2008) and Jean-Christophe Peraud. Other starters include Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), winner in 2009. SpiderTech begins a busy week racing in France, with Svein Tuft looking for a strong GC ride.
The race dates back to the late 1980s, when it started as an amateur race. Pros started to race in 1993 and its current form took shape in 1999, when it was expanded to include the Col du Grand Colombier in the Jura Mountains.
Bobby Julich won in 1997 while Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) is the defending champion.