By Bjorn Haake in Frankfurt a.M
When Team CSC's Karsten Kroon was asked about his Henninger Turm win in 2004 at the sign-in for the 2008 edition, he looked over to his right and smiled. "It was only 10 metres from here where I got a great victory," he said. His smile quickly turned to a look of scepticism, as he realised that with just five team-mates – out of a possible eight lining up today – repeating that victory was going to be tough.
"Back then, the weather was very different," he explained that his previous win near the Henninger tower was in part made possible when most of the favourites decided they didn't want to race in such horrible conditions. It was pouring rain all day and the temperatures were anything but warm.
Yet, around five hours later, the Dutchman, with the help of his team-mate Andy Schleck, once again crossed the line as victor of the German Haute Category event. This time, the sky was sunny and, one small shower aside, the predicted afternoon rain held off long enough for the race to finish in fine conditions.
This time, according to Kroon, it was the strongest that made the cut after 100 kilometres of racing, when 21 riders escaped from the peloton.
Schleck was pivotal in Kroon's success, as the pair worked perfectly together to set up the win for Team CSC. After explaining to his team-mate that he had recovered for the finale, Schleck knew exactly what had to be done. With the finish coming after a very tough and hilly parcours through the Taunus, Kroon was perfectly suited to taking the victory.
"We decided during the race that I would try for the sprint," Kroon, whose strength lies in small-group sprints, explained.
Schleck controlled the group in the final three laps of the 4.5-kilometre circuit, keeping the ever-aggressive Gerolsteiner riders at bay. Davide Rebellin and Fabian Wegmann tried, but eventually it came to the showdown in the shadow of the Binding brewery, whose tenure as sponsor of the event ends with this year's edition.
Rebellin, a strong man under the given circumstances, was Kroon's biggest threat to the title, but there was a simple reason why the Italian didn't have enough left in the tank.
"Davide had to work much harder today," Kroon explained. "I was taking fewer pulls. Everybody was looking to Gerolsteiner. It was a difficult race for them [as the home team]. For seven years I did the Amstel Gold Race with Rabobank. It is a very difficult situation and we took advantage of that today."
With a lead-out man of the calibre of Schleck it was hard to get around the Team CSC riders on the finishing straight, which grinds uphill for the good part of 500 metres. Wegmann was leading out Rebellin, but he too had done a tremendous amount of work to ensure that the break stayed away. Schleck put Kroon in position and the Dutchman launched his final move on the right-hand side of the road. Showing that there is no jealousy within the CSC ranks, Schleck crossed the line with a big grin on his face and was visibly happy with the outcome of the day's work.
Gerolsteiner had raced as it predicted the day before, and its tremendous effort left High Road behind. The successor team of T-Mobile would have loved to win in the country where its roots are, but it wasn't meant to be. High Road's Michael Barry, André Greipel and Andreas Klier were put on the front to try to bring back the Gerolsteiner-led move, but to no avail. The sprint for 2006 runner-up Gerald Ciolek never materialised and CSC was able to take advantage of the sparkling mineral water team.
Kroon was unstoppable today - even a recent crash couldn't hamper him. His left knee featured a bandage that covered the remnants of a recent encounter with the pavement, but if there is any pain left in his knee, it is surely forgotten by know.
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