The 2019 BinckBank Tour presented its teams and riders to the fans on a packed market square in Hulst. Despite the grey weather many people flocked to the picturesque town to catch a glimpse of the motivated riders on the podium.
A Grand Départ deserves a little extra. That's why the riders of the 2019 edition of the BinckBank Tour made a grand entry in historic sports cars and army vehicles.
"It was a lot of fun, but sadly there was no Ferrari," Italian Roberto Ferrari quipped. "But I enjoyed the Jeep as well."
Fast cars stole the show on Sunday but on Monday the fastest riders get a chance to shine in the first stage. The sprinters will fight for both the stage and the green leader's jersey. There are plenty of candidates for that first leader's jersey with the likes of Dylan Groenewegen, Sam Bennett, Arnaud Demare, Alvaro Hodeg, Jasper Philipsen and Phil Bauhaus.
But there are also several outsiders to consider, including Belgian Timothy Dupont: "I am also hoping to contend for the stage win," he said on the pre-race podium. "The past few weeks things have gone better and better. I hope to keep up my great form in this BinckBank Tour."
It's just as difficult to pick a favourite for the overall win, with several big names vying for green. Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet has been close for many years, but had to settle for top-six spot each time. "I hope this is the year. I kept some room in my house for this trophy," the leader of the CCC team said. Monday's stage will take him through his home region in East-Flanders. "It's nice to start so close to home, but you shouldn't underestimate this region. There's always a lot of wind. I'm mainly looking forward to the stages to Houffalize and Geraardsbergen. The short Ardennes stage will provide fireworks and the Vesten [at the famous Muur] is one of the most beautiful locations for a stage finish."
Oliver Naesen is another popular rider from the region who received plenty of support in Hulst. "I came here to win," said the former Belgian champion. "I am happy the time-trial is shorter than usual and I am really looking forward to the stage to Geraardsbergen. I'm a little bit afraid of the stage before to Houffalize though."
Naesen is not the only rider to fear the Ardennes, but our ambassador Maarten Tjallingii has singled out another typical rider of the northern classics to contend for the green jersey: Sep Vanmarcke. "It would be nice to win here," he said. "The BinckBank Tour is the first race in my autumn programme where I want to perform well, but if I want to think about the overall win I will have to survive the Ardennes stage."
Lars Boom is a former winner of the event, taking the overall win seven years ago. "We're getting another challenging course this year," the Dutchman said. "Am I going for another win? It will depend on how I get through the stage to Houffalize. If that works out, there is still a time-trial that should suit me and then I can start thinking about the GC."
Unsurprisingly the Dutch Jumbo-Visma outfit also wants to shine in a Dutch-Belgian stage race. In the bunch sprints they can count on Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen and they will support Belgian talent Laurens de Plus for the overall standings after a strong tour de France performance. "Despite the many post-Tour criteriums I managed to rest a bit and I trained well," said De Plus. "I am really motivated for this week and we have a strong team."
A strong team is also being fielded by Deceunick-Quick-Step. With Zdenek Stybar they have a former winner within their ranks, the Czech rider saying: "If I don't win again, then it would be great if one of my team-mates can win." They certainly have a couple of riders who are capable of exactly that, including Bob Jungels and Philippe Gilbert. "The stage to Houffalize will be great, but in the final stage anything can happen. On the Muur you can lose or win everything," Gilbert predicted.
TRIBUTE TO BJORG LAMBRECHT
The Lotto-Soudal riders were missing from the team presentation. Tuesday's second stage clashes with the funeral of their late team-mate Bjorg Lambrecht. The team therefore decided to pay their last respects to Bjorg on Sunday. The crowd did so as well, giving Bjorg and the team a heartfelt applause.