The World Ports Classic is making its debut on the international cycling calendar on August 31, when it begins its two-day trek from Rotterdam to Antwerp and back.
Several great riders who thrive in windy conditions and sprints have already included it in their programmes, including a three-time stage winner in the first two weeks of this Tour de France, André Greipel, and the hero of this year’s spring classics, Tom Boonen.
Two years ago, the Tour de France start in Rotterdam was the catalyst for the creation of a two-day classic linking Belgium and the Netherlands, two countries which have played a central role in the history of cycling.
The sport may be going global, but the traditional breeding grounds of cycling are still full of creativity and innovation. On August 31, the first World Ports Classic will set off from Rotterdam, roll along the windswept North Sea coast in Zeeland, mirroring the first stage of the 2010 Tour, and ride through a cobbled sector in pure spring classics style in Flanders before the first stage finish in Antwerp.
The next day, September 1, the peloton will make its way back to Rotterdam, but not without tackling two cobbled sectors first.
The World Ports Classic is clearly tailor-cut for sprinters with a big engine. One of the first riders to put their names down for the race is Germany’s André Greipel, fresh from his terrific treble in the Tour (Rouen, Saint-Quentin and Le Cap-d’Agde).
Lotto-Belisol makes no secret of its aim to propel him to more sprint wins and is fielding his two favourite lead-out men, Greg Henderson and Jurgen Roelandts.
The clash of the two Belgian elite squads will no doubt bring up memories of the spring classics. At Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Belgian champion Tom Boonen is counting on the support of his German teammate Gerald Ciolek.
Indeed, sprinters seem to come in pairs: Marcel Kittel and Tom Veelers for Argos-Shimano, Óscar Freire and Alexander Kristoff for Katusha, Theo Bos and Mark Renshaw for Rabobank, and Romain Feillu and Kenny van Hummel for Vacansoleil-DCM. The BMC team, on the other hand, is banking on a duo of fast riders who excel in different race scenarios, Taylor Phinney and Adam Blythe.
Main contenders (as of July 17)
Lotto-Belisol: Greipel (GER), Roelandts (BEL), Henderson (NZL); Omega Pharma-Quick Step: Boonen (BEL), Ciolek (GER); Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank: Kroon (NET), Mørkøv (DEN); Liquigas-Cannondale: Oss (ITA); Rabobank: Bos (NET), Renshaw (AUS); Vacansoleil-DCM: Feillu (FRA), Van Hummel (NET), Leukemans (BEL); Katusha: Freire (SPA), Kristoff (NOR), Gusev (RUS); BMC: Phinney (USA), Blythe (GBR); Garmin-Sharp: Hunter (SAF), Vansummeren (BEL), Maaskant (NET); Accent Jobs-Willems Verandas: Hoste (BEL), Van Dijk (NET); Landbouwkrediet-Euphony: Juodvalkis (LIT); Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator: Cornu (BEL); Spidertech: Boivin (CAN); Team Type 1-Sanofi: Serebryakov (RUS); Bretagne-Schuller: Pichon (FRA); Argos-Shimano: Kittel (GER), Veelers (NET); NetApp; Cofidis; Wallonie-Bruxelles.