By Susan Westemeyer
Rain played a role in the outcome of the opener for the Eneco Tour of Benelux, a ProTour event that began Wednesday. The prologue started out dry after morning rains, but later, the rains rolled in, to dampen the spirits of about a third of the field. Many of the favorites, who raced late, opted for safety over speed and rode a conservative race.
Michiel Elijzen of Team Cofidis took advantage of an early start time and dry weather to win the 5.1km race in 6'09".
"I was very lucky, but my time was very strong," said the disbelieving Elijzen. "The circumstances were certainly favourable for me, because the favourites had to ride their time trial in the rain. But I still had a strong time, when you consider that Knaven and Flecha, who also had a dry course, were slower than me."
The 25 year-old rider is destined for Rabobank in 2008. "I still can't believe that I won," he said. "I don't win that much and if you can do that in a ProTour race that runs through your own country, then of course that is the best. Plus, this morning I signed my contract with Rabobank -- what a day!"
The course was full of curves and turns, 12 in all, with 11 of them being 90° corners. The heavy rain that came down late in the stage made it too dangerous for the riders to try anything fancy, and the wet pavement and puddles slowed them down, anyway.
Juan Antonio Flecha of Rabobank finished one second back in second place and Predictor-Lotto's Johan Van Summeren another second back in third. Thursday's 190km first stage stays in Belgium and ventures into the Ardennes. It is considered the most difficult stage of the race.