By Susan Westemeyer
Philippe Gilbert of Française des Jeux took off from the field shortly before the red triangle of the Trofeo Mallorca – the first race in the Mallorca Challenge – on Sunday and was able to cross the finish line first, with the top sprinters nipping at his heels and frustrated by the near-miss.
Third place went to Gerolsteiner's Robert Förster. "We wanted to keep the race in our hands, that worked pretty good," said Gerolsteiner Directeur Sportif Christian Wegmann. "The communication in the sprint finale was surely not perfect, but also not bad. It was a good beginning with a good result."
Graeme Brown of Rabobank was second behind the escapee, and his team thought that he should have won. The Dutch team started working hard with about 2.5 kilometres to go with the other sprinters' teams, but as Rabobank pointed out, neither team's efforts nor "the attempts by unorganised individuals" were able to stop Gilbert's successful surprise attack. "And that's a pity, because Graeme was the best sprinter, even though there are many good sprinters here," said Directeur Sportif Adri van Houwelingen.
Rabobank will use three riders in all of the races, with other riders transferring in and out for the remainder of the races. Grischa Niermann, Laurens ten Dam and Koos Moerenhout will race each day, "but we do not focus entirely on the overall classification. I look at this week more as a series of five chances to win something," van Houwelingen said.
Team Astana made its European season debut in the race, and put its stamp on the race after Cofidis' Tristan Valentin got away for about 10 kilometres. It took over the chase with Française des Jeux, and successfully closed the gap. The team's best finisher was René Haselbacher, who finished 20th. Antonio Colom, who has won several races in the Challenge in the past, as well as the overall title in 2004, said "Let's see how we respond during the race. It is too early to know how we are, but since this race is in my home country it is always motivating."