This weekend sees the culmination of two races on opposite sides of the globe, the Eneco Tour, and the Tour of Utah. Both wrap-up on Sunday.
The Eneco Tour has given flatlanders an opportunity to test post-Tour or non-Tour legs alike. Perhaps the biggest news coming out of Eneco was the prologue victory of Taylor Phinney. The youngster on BMC has had a topsy turvy start to his professional career, and he recently admitted to the newsmedia that for much of the year, he hadn’t worked very hard – his injuries, he claimed, had been a result of overstressing underprepared legs. However, he’s gearing up for his first Grand Tour, this year’s Vuelta a Espana, and his form is obvious: in the short 5.7km prologue, he beat out a host of big-name short-course time trialists including Edvald Boasson Hagen, David Millar, Lars Boom, Phillipe Gilbert, and Geraint Thomas.
Phinney held the race lead through two sprint stages, both won by Omega Pharma Lotto’s Andre Greipel – credit Phinney with guts for reeling in 6th- and 7th-place finishes in both stages to keep the race lead. With a time trial victory as well as the ability to stay at the pointy end of the race in the closing kilometers, it’s seems apparent that Phinney’s talent runs deep and that his potential could turn in any of several directions. With a Grand Tour in his legs, next year should be an exciting year for Phinney, and I wouldn’t rule him out for a fine showing in some semi-classics.
Phinney’s leader’s jersey was taken by Phillipe Gilbert on a spikey Stage 3, and today’s 14.7-km time trial saw rainy, difficult conditions that didn’t offer Phinney an opportunity to ride himself onto the podium – especially with this weekend’s Stages 5 and 6 lurking. However, Phinney’s ride is already an impressive top-ten showing for the youngster, and notable riders keeping him company on the GC are Gilbert, Boasson Hagen, Millar, and QuickStep’s Dries Devenyns – coming off of several impressive top tens in Tour stages. Not bad company to keep.
Moving across the globe, the Tour of Utah has gotten underway, in one of the United States’ few international professional races. The first three installments have included a short uphill prologue and two mildly hilly road stages, and this weekend’s final three stages are a circuit race, an individual time trial, and a road stage with a 20km finishing climb. With a good number of Tour de France riders on the start list, the final climb should be a good glimpse at who’s coming out of the Tour strong, and who’s coming out of it tired. Look for American riders to put on some fireworks on their home soil, and look for riders with expiring contracts to take one last shot at securing employment for next year. With an uncertain layout of ProTour teams – with HTC folding, Lotto looking elsewhere after the QuickStep/Omega Pharma merger, and rumors of Vacansoleil losing its ProTour license due to subpar showings – it’s possible that the market is contracting.
Elsewhere in transfer news is the report that Thor Hushovd has not been named to Garmin-Cervelo’s team for the Vuelta a Espana. Given that Thor’s signed to BMC, it doesn’t come as a surprise – and neither does news that Cadel Evans isn’t too keep on taking Thor to the Tour in 2012, prefering a full squad built around his GC aims. Which leads me to wonder if Thor Hushovd could be a bit better about choosing his teams – earlier this year, he claimed that Credit Agricole (his team from 2000 to 2008) inhibited his Classics development, and after two years at the Cervelo Test Team, found himself dissatisfied at the post-merger Garmin-Cervelo. Is Thor headed into another sticky situation of power struggles and support dissatisfaction?
But most importantly, does Cadel Evans really consider Hushovd a sprinter? I’m of the opinion that anybody who still calls Hushovd by “the S-word” hasn’t paid attention for the past several years.