Netherlands, Aug 7, 2011 – Belgian ace Philippe Gilbert will start the Eneco Tour this week looking for the top placing that could dislodge Tour de France champion Cadel Evans from the world’s number one ranking.
Evans’s historic yellow jersey triumph – as the first Australian winner of the world’s premier cycling event – pushed him back to the top of the International Cycling Union’s WorldTour rankings on a tally of 574 pts.
But as the BMC leader begins to wind down his season one-day classics king Gilbert – second on 482 – is far from finished.
He will take aim at the seven-stage Eneco Tour beginning Monday before turning his focus to the classics that bring the European season to an end in October.
Gilbert has been arguably the star performer this season, becoming only the second rider in history to win all three Ardennes Classics – Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonnne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
He then followed up an impressive Tour de France campaign, where he won stage one and wore the yellow jersey for a day, with victory at the San Sebastian Classic last week.
Thanks to an undulating route which should play to his fast-finising strengths as a ‘puncher’, overall victory this week is well within Gilbert’s grasp and he will have support from Omega-Pharma teammates Jelle Vanendert, Andre Greipel and Jurgen Roelandts.
Stage three, for example, features several short climbs on the route from Heers to Andenne, including the Mur de Huy where Gilbert secured victory at Fleche Wallonne in the Spring.
If still in contention Gilbert should then get a chance to make up any deficit, or stretch his overall lead, on the 201 km final stage from Sittard to Geleen.
It features the Cauberg climb, a staple of the Amstel Gold Race which Gilbert has won the past two years. As an added bonus, part of the stage is held on the course which will host the world road race championships in 2012.
Gilbert is likely to face stiff competition from fellow Belgians Greg Van Avermaet, Nick Nuyens and Stijn Devolder, Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha, Dutch pair Joost Posthuma and Maarten Tjallingi and Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, who won the race in 2009.
The versatile Boasson Hagen is likely to fancy his chances of at least one stage win on the flatter finishes, but is likely to have a few, more specialised rivals for company in sprinters Tyler Farrar, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Greipel, Robbie McEwen, Theo Bos, Mark Renshaw and Denis Galimzyanov.
Monday – Prologue in Amersfoort (NED), 5.7 km
Tuesday – 1st stage: Oosterhout (NED) – Sint Willebrord (NED), 192.1 km