Italian Daniele Bennati powered to his first win since the Giro d'Italia on the Eneco Tour's third stage. The Liquigas sprinter bested stage one winner Tom Boonen and Belgian champion Jürgen Roelandts to slip into the overall lead thanks to the ten second time bonus on the line ahead of Team Columbia's Edvald Boasson Hagen.
The morning's leader José Iván Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne) gave up his hold on the overall at the final intermediate sprint, where the young Norwegian Boasson Hagen took three bonus seconds.
Bennati was happy with his victory over Boonen. "I am proud because it is the first time that I have beaten him," the Italian said. "What my team did at the end was impressive."
"This gives me confidence for the Vuelta, especially because I know I will face Boonen and Quick Step there," he added.
Boonen took his loss philosophically, saying that once again his lead-out train was not well-coordinated, and ended up two men short at the end. "Winning is not the only thing, it is also important to have a good feeling," he said. "My sprint is good. But the mechanism must get better."
Team Columbia gambled on taking over the leader's jersey for its young Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen, who went into the stage only hundredths of a second behind Jose Ivan Gutierrez. When Boasson Hagen won the three seconds of the last intermediate sprint, his lead looked assured. But the USA-based team was unable to involve itself in the sprint Saturday, and Bennati took the 10 seconds awarded to the winner to move into first place. Things aren't all that bad for Columbia, though. Boasson Hagen is still second, by only one second, and Andre Greipel is third, only four seconds down.
How it unfolded
The riders were greeted by pleasant weather for a change: sunshine, dry roads and only a light wind. One rider was missing at the start today: Philippe Gilbert of Française des Jeux did not start.
Only three kilometres into the stage, Aitor Hernandez Gutierrez of Euskalel attacked and gained ground on the peloton. He was soon joined by Matthe Pronk (Cycle Collstrop), Raul Alarcon Garcia (Scott-American Beef) and Yohann Gene of Bougues Telecom. The four quickly picked up two and a half minutes.
With 50 kilometres behind them, the foursome had more than seven minutes on the peloton. That was enough for the peloton, which started getting serious and brought the lead down to 5'15" with 116 km to go.
The lead kept dropping and with 75 km to go, it was down to 2'48", which sparked a new escape attempt. Maareten Tjallingii of Silence-Lotto was the first to go, and he was quickly joined by AG2R's Laurent Mangel. It didn't take long for them to catch the four in front, only six kilometres. The sextet was able to hold a lead of two to two and a half minutes.
Tom Boonen personally picked up the speed with 50 km to go and shattered the peloton. A large group was able to go with him, but many riders were caught napping. The field was basically split in half.
The Quick-Step led group was going so fast that they caught the six escapees within a few minutes. And once again Boonen went to the front and turned the speed up a notch, hoping to shed a few competitors along the way.
At the last intermediate sprint of the day, with 38 kilometres to go, Columbia's André Greipel and Edvald Boassan Hagen jumped out and took not only the points but also the bonus seconds. The three seconds were enough to give the young Norwegian the 'virtual' leader's jersey.
The sprinters' teams kept the pace high as they rolled along the flat Dutch landscape. All of the top ten riders were in the first field, which by this time had a lead of nearly a minute on the chasing group.
They took that lead with them as they disappeared into the 6.6 km Westerschelde tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was the Tunnel Sprint, which leader José Iván Gutierrez won. Unfortunately for him, there were no bonus seconds attached to the sprint.
With 10 kilometres to go, Columbia moved to the front to keep the pace high and ensure the leader's jersey for Boasson Hagen. Liquigas kept a man up front, too. Columbia was unable to maintain control, though, and was nowhere to be seen as the field swept under the one kilometer marker. Boonen opened the sprint and seemed sure to power his way to the win, but Bennati came around him to win by half a bike length.