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Ivanov wins by a nose

Katusha's Serguei Ivanov won the first stage of the Tour of Belgium in Tervuren on Wednesday, just barely holding off the sprinters after a last kilometre solo breakaway. The Russian had just enough time to raise his arms in victory as the rush to the line came from behind, and edged out Rabobank's Graeme Brown, Borut Bozic (Vacansoleil) and Belgian champion Jurgen Roelandts (Silence-Lotto).

"I felt like I was going to win. I was sure in the last 200m the wind was in my favor," said Ivanov, who last year took third overall. "This year I want to try to better my result from last year. I won the stage, so I am already happy, if I can win the whole race it would be fantastic."

The first attack went just 10 kilometres into the 185.4 out and back circuit. Ivanov's Katusha team worked to control the race as nine riders escaped with some dangerous riders present.

Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto), Kevin Van Impe (Quick Step), Rick Flange (Rabobank), David Deroo (Skill-Shimano), Johnny High Erland (Vacansoleil Pro Cycling), Martin Kohler (BMC Racing Team), Olivier Pardini (Willems Verandas) and Dieter Cappelle (Palmans Cras) and Sep Vanmarcke (Jong Vlaanderen - Bauknecht) never gained more than 25 seconds, and were caught 20km later.

The next break was more successful, and after the first intermediate sprint, won by Dutch champion Lars Boom, another move went. This time Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team), Sep Vanmarcke (Jong Vlaanderen-Bauknecht) and Federico Canuti (CSF Group-Navigare) gained a maximum of seven minutes with 100km to go.

Vanmarcke took the second sprint as the trio's lead began to shrink rapidly under the pressure of the Katusha, Quick Step and Silence-Lotto teams. But as the gap fell to within a minute on the rugged run-in to the finish, the peloton began to split apart.

"There was a change in tactic because the final 50km are really hard," said Ivanov. "I spoke to Robbie [McEwen], and he said to try to do your own race. 30km before the finish we went faster and faster on the climbs."

Ivanov went with an attack of 14 riders which swallowed up the three men out front. The lead of the race was then Ivanov with three Silence Lotto riders, Jurgen Roelandts, Mickaël Delage and Michael Elijzen, two from Quick Step, Sébastien Rosseler and Maarten Wynants, three from Rabobank (Nick Nuyens, Stef Clement and Graeme Brown) as well as Cristiano Fumagalli (Ceramica Flaminia-Bossoni Docce), David Deroo and Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano), Borut Bozic (Vacansoleil), Jan Bakelants and Ben Hermans (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator), with Bookwalter, Vanmarcke and Canuti.

"The group was good for me," Ivanov said. "Since I was alone for Katusha, I just stayed in the back and did less work than the others because many teams had more than one rider. I waited to see if our sprinters - Napolitano, McEwen and Steegmans - would catch us. 5km before the finish they were very close, and on the last little hill I thought I would go."

The peloton came close, but as the chase touched the tail end of the breakaway, Rosseler launched an attack and was followed by Ivanov. Roelandts, Brown, and one more rider. The Russian then dispatched his companions with one powerful move coming into the final kilometre, and held just enough of an advantage at the line to take the win and the first black leader's jersey of the 2009 Tour of Belgium.

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Laura Weislo

Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.

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