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3rd Eneco Tour of Benelux - ProT
Netherlands & Belgium, August 22-29, 2007
By Susan Westemeyer
The Eneco Tour, formerly known as the Benelux Tour, winds its way only through Belgium and the Netherlands this year. It will also be without the top two from last year who quite literally met in the middle just before the finish line of the last stage to determine the winner.
Neither George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) nor Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) are riding the race this year. In 2006, Hincapie led Schumacher by three seconds going into the final stage but that changed in a dramatic way. Schumacher was riding on the far side of the road with 100 metres to go when he was hit by a spectator. This forced the German to swerve over and, by terrible coincidence, directly into Hincapie. It caused the American to crash, finishing 41st, and Schumacher ended up finishing third, thus giving Schumacher the overall victory. The jury reviewed the videos for a long time and Discovery appealed the final decision but Schumacher was declared the winner.
Two top ten finishers in the recent Tour de France will hope to go against each other more peacefully this year. Kim Kirchen of T-Mobile and Yaroslav Popovych of Discovery lead the list of favourites for the seven-stage race. Team Rabobank will also look to do well in his homeland race, and will also have two top favourites in Michael Boogerd and Thomas Dekker.
The sprinters will also have good chances to take several stages. Robbie McEwen will be trying to prove that his Team Lotto-Predictor was wrong in leaving him off the Vuelta a España squad, Graeme Brown of Rabobank wil try to lose his "crash pilot" reputation and T-Mobile's young shooting star Mark Cavendish will try to add to his seven season wins.
The race opens with a flat 5.1-kilometre prologue through downtown Hasselt, Belgium. Stage one stays in Belgium, running 189 kilometres from Waremme to Eupen, to over a hilly terrain. It features three ranked climbs through the Ardennes, and is probably the most difficult stage.
The second stage is from Antwerpen to Knokke-Heist, with three more ranked climbs in the first half of the race, early enough to give the sprinters a chance to show their stuff at the end. More mass sprints can be expected in stage three, 170.8 kilometres between Knokke-Heist and Putte; stage four, 180.2 kilometres from Maldegem to Terneuzen, Netherlands; and stage 5, 179.9 kilometres within the Netherlands, from Terneuzen to Nieuwegein.
Stage six gives the climber another chance to shine, in its 177.4 kilometres from Beek to Landgraaf. It is another rolling course, with three ranked climbs, including the Valkenburg. The race finishes with a 29.6-kilometre time trial from Sittard to Geleen, with a few hills along the way.