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AMERSFOORT, Netherlands (AFP) —Omega Pharma-Lotto standout 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 No. 1 ranking.
Evans’s historic victory — he is the first Australian winner of the world’s premier cycling event — pushed him back to the top of the UCI’s WorldTour rankings with 574 points.
But as the BMC Racing Team leader begins to wind down his season, classics king Gilbert —second with 482 — is far from finished.
Gilbert 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.
The Eneco Tour’s undulating route should suit the fast-finishing Gilbert, who will be supported by teammates Jelle Vanendert, André Greipel and Jurgen Roelandts.
Stage 3, for example, features several short climbs on the route from Heers to Andenne, including the Mur de Huy, where Gilbert secured victory at Flèche 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 20 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 that will host the world road race championships in 2012.
Gilbert is likely to face stiff competition from Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Sungard), Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM), Joost Posthuma (Leopard-Trek), Maarten Tjallingi (Rabobank) and Sky teammates Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
The versatile Boasson Hagen, who won the race in 2009, is likely to fancy his chances for at least one stage win on the flatter finishes. But he too is likely to have some competition from sprinters Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo), Jose Joaquin Rojas, Greipel, Robbie McEwen (RadioShack), Theo Bos, Mark Renshaw (HTC-Highroad) and Denis Galimzyanov.
Stages of the 2011 Eneco Tour:
Monday: Prologue in Amersfoort (NED), 5.7km
Tuesday: Stage 1, Oosterhout (NED) to Sint Willebrord (NED), 192.1km
Wednesday: Stage 2, Aalter (BEL) to Ardooie (BEL), 173.7km
Thursday: Stage 3, Heers (BEL) to Andenne (BEL), 191.2km
Friday: Stage 4, Roermond (NED) to Roermond (NED), 14.7km time trial
Saturday: Stage 5, Genk (BEL) to Genk (BEL), 189.2km
Sunday: Stage 6, Sittard-Geleen (NED) to Sittard-Geleen (NED), 201,2km