By Brecht Decaluwé in Valkenburg, Netherlands
Fourth-placed Karsten Kroon (CSC) also proved that he can handle the pressure of the team leadership in a major Classic, attacking on occasions that allowed team-mate Fränk Schleck to save his energy for the finale.
"Fränk [Schleck] was probably the strongest man in the race today," said Kroon. "When he attacked, I didn't need to work but I could do some blocking work behind him. We started with equal chances today, and that we would work for each other; seeing him win the race gives me a great feeling. I'm glad that I could show the public what my abilities are, and for next week, I hope to be there in the finale again," said the Dutchman.
Talking about how the race unfolded from his perspective, Kroon said: "I suffered some cramps at the Keutenberg. The race was really hard right from the start, the rain and the cold temperatures didn't help either." Referring to his team switch from Rabobank to CSC at the end of last season, the former domestique of Michael Boogerd was extremely pleased: "Nothing against Boogerd, he's a great guy, but it's nice for me to see that I was forcing the race in its decisive order at the Eyserbosweg.
"Boogerd had to follow me, instead of the other way around. It was an honest fight and it gave me a good feeling to ride the race like that. We got in the finale with equal chances - it was him or me. If you see how he got away, you know he was the strongest. The victory remains in the team and that is the most important thing."