By Susan Westemeyer
Bernhard Eisel (Team High Road) has won his fourth stage in the Volta ao Algarve since 2005, taking Sunday's closing stage, while Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) wrapped up the general classification victory. Despite being a sprinter, Eisel did not let it come down to a sprint, instead he broke away from a small lead group to claim a solo three second victory over Portugal's Rui A. Costa (Benfica).
"After 30 km I was able to get away with a Barloworld rider," explained Eisel on his website eisel.com. "Then seven riders came up from behind and joined us, and the field was never able to catch us. Quick Step pushed the peloton, but we were able to hold a slight lead to the end."
The Austrian decided not to out-sprint his fellow escapees, opting for the solo victory instead. "1000 metres before the finish line I attacked, made it through, and got my first stage win of the year," he said. "Two years ago I won a stage in Algarve and in 2005 I won two. But this win today means the most to me."
The 27 year-old will now turn his attention to the spring classics, with the Omloop Het Volk on March 1 being his next race, followed by Paris-Nice. "My form is right, I was very strong today," he noted. "That motivates me for the [Spring] Classics; Milano-Sanremo, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix and so on."
While the Quick Step team wasn't able to completely control the final stage, Belgian Devolder managed to hold onto the lead he claimed after a commanding victory in difficult conditions on the Stage 4 Individual Time Trial. Devolder held out a 22 second margin over Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis Credit Par Telephone) while Lithuanian Tomas Vaitkus (Astana) took third overall just 10 seconds further adrift.
"Everything went well," said Devolder. "The team has been strong and all the guys gave their best. It's really a team victory."
The victory in Portugal was the 13th of Devolder's career, with the Belgian having claimed overall classification wins at Drie Daagse Van de Panne in 2005 and last year's Tour of Austria. The Portuguese event was Devolder's first with Quick Step, having signed with the ProTour outfit following the closure of Discovery Channel at the end of 2007.
"This victory allows me to face with serenity the next important appointments," said Devolder. "This race has been a good test to understand at what point is my condition."
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