Tom Boonen of Team Quick Step won the mass sprint of the first stage of the Eneco Tour, finishing a bike length ahead of Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) and Milram's Fabio Sabatini in Roermond. There was no change in the overall lead, as Jose Ivan Gutierrez of Caisse d'Epargne successfully defended his leader's jersey.
"I had wanted to do well in yesterday's prologue," Boonen said, "but the rain unfortunately penalized my trial. Today the entire team did an exceptional job and in the final part De Jongh guided me to perfection. I'm very happy, this victory gives me confidence leading up to my participation in La Vuelta España and in anticipation of the World race in Varese at the end of September."
Two Dutch riders, Floris Goesinnen of Team Skil-Shimano and Rabobank's Bram Tankink, escaped early and built up a lead of nine minutes before the peloton reacted and tracked them down, catching the pair with 10 km to go.
That set up the expected mass sprint, as Teams Columbia and Silence-Lotto did much of the lead work, holding the speed high. Their work was in vain, though. Quick Step took over at the end, with Steven De Jongh setting Boonen up for his 12th win of the season.
How it unfolded
The riders started out under cloudy skies in Beek shortly after noon. Almost immediately Floris Goesinnen of the Dutch Professional Continenal Team Skil-Shimano jumped out and quickly built up a lead of three minutes, then up to seven minutes. Bram Tankink of Rabobank went after him, and with 138 km to go, he caught his countryman and the two had an 8'30" lead.
The race had its first drop-out, as Dionisio Galparsoso of Euskaltel left the race. He had finished last in the prologue the previous day. Also dropping out during the stage was Steve Morabito of Astana.
With 100 km to go, the Dutch duo had built up a lead of nine minutes, but that was too much for he peloton, with the sprinters hoping for a chance today. Within 40 km their lead had shrunk to about four minutes.
From then on it dropped rapidly, down to two minutes with 40 km to go. At 30 km, the two leaders entered the two kilometre long Roer Tunnel with a lead of just over one minute. As expected, the sprinters' teams led the way: Quick Step, Columbia, and Liquigas.
Goesinnen and Tankink crossed the finish line for the first time and headed off on the 25 km long circuit with a lead of only 52 seconds.
The two escapees took all the points along the way, but overall leader Jose Ivan Gutierrez was able to take third in each of the first two intermediate sprints. Each of them gave him a one-second bonus, which helped him to pad his narrow lead. He was unable to take the last one though, as Rabobank's Michiel Elijzen won the battle for the final bonus second.
The lead had gone down to 28 seconds with 20 km to go. It was a tricky course, with vehicles parked along the road and numerous traffic islands and roundabouts to be negotiated by the fast-moving, closely-packed peloton.
It was over for Goesennin and Tankink with 10 km to go. Raivis Belohvosciks of Scott-American Beef pulled way from the peloton and overtook the two shortly before the peloton caught them. He maintained a short lead for only a few minutes.
Things got hectic in the last few kilometres, as all the sprinters and their helpers all moved up to the front, each team wanting to find the perfect position.
At 4km to go, Columbia and Francaise des Jeux moved to the front to keep the speed up. Silence Lotto kept a man at the front, too. The glowing green of Liquigas was also highly visible. Quick Step firmly took command at the 3 km marker.
The peloton flew under the 1 km marker, and to no one's surprise, Tom Boonen of Quick Step proved to have the fastest legs at the finish.