Eneco Tour stage 5 & 6: Boasson Hagen wins from the front

In the end, Edvald Boasson Hagen had a relatively easy time of defending his narrow lead at the Eneco Tour to claim his second overall win at the race. First Lampre’s Matteo Bono emerged from the day’s breakaway to take stage five, then the Norwegian himself sprinted clear of the field to celebrate overall victory in fine style with a final stage win.

Stage 5: Genk, 189.2km

Matteo Bono took his first win in four years as the day’s breakaway narrowly succeeded in holding off the peloton on Saturday’s figure-of-eight stage starting and finishing in Genk. Edvald Boasson Hagen and Philippe Gilbert finished safely in the main bunch, with the Norwegian maintaining his 12-second lead heading into the final stage.

Bono recorded his first major stage win since 2007

In theory, the day’s profile favoured a bunch sprint, with the most serious climbs occurring mid-stage and just a couple of minor kick-ups on the run-in to the finish. A three-man group of Bono (Lampre-ISD), Artem Ovechkin (Katusha) and Sergey Renev (Astana) broke away after 59km, establishing a lead of 3:25 with 68km remaining as Sky controlled the pace on the front of the peloton. This was reduced to under a minute inside the final 30km, but in rainy conditions both Sky and Omega Pharma-Lotto – after André Greipel punctured with 11km to go – were happy not to commit fully to the chase.

With 7km to go the gap was hovering at around 30 seconds as Skil-Shimano moved forward to set up their sprinter Kenny Van Hummel, but Ovechkin’s Katusha squad positioned themselves at the front to disrupt the chase. And although the advantage was gradually whittled away, the leading trio was just able to stay ahead of a scrappy chase headed by Skil-Shimano and Quick Step.

On the final ramp in the last 500 metres, Renev drove for the line with Bono on his wheel, and the Italian was easily able to come around the outside of the Kazakh rider in the last 50 metres to claim victory. Ovechkin was three seconds back in third, while Renev’s teammate Tomas Vaitkus led the peloton home a further three seconds behind. Boasson Hagen, Gilbert and third-placed David Millar finished safely in the pack to set up a final day showdown.

Boasson Hagen was pleased with the way the stage worked out, allowing him to maintain his 12-second advantage over Gilbert without undue difficulty:

I was pleased that three riders broke away, because it took away the stress about bonus time. I didn’t intend on sprinting for first place today. I had a bigger chance of losing seconds than I had of gaining some. Fortunately Greipel had a flat and Omega Pharma-Lotto didn’t feel like sprinting either.

Tomorrow’s track will be difficult, but the last really hard climb is too far removed from the finish line. But, of course, you never know with Philippe Gilbert.

Stage 5 result:

1. Matteo Bono (Lampre-ISD) 4:12:14

2. Sergey Renev (Astana) same time

3. Artem Ovechkin (Katusha) +0:03

4. Tomas Vaitkus (Astana) +0:06

5. Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) s/t

Stage 6: Sittard-Geleen, 201.2km

Edvald Boasson Hagen emphatically secured overall victory, winning the sprint at the end of the final stage by a country mile after his Sky team controlled the race superbly. Philippe Gilbert had to settle for second overall, 22 seconds behind, as the young Norwegian also secured the points and young riders’ classifications to clinch a hat-trick of jerseys.

The day’s stage starting and finishing in Sittard-Geleen covered much of the same route as the Amstel Gold one-day classic and featured 22 climbs in its 201km. 12 riders, including Boasson Hagen’s teammate Juan Antonio Flecha, formed the break of the day, allowing Sky to leave other teams to lead the chase as the group built a lead of four minutes. They were whittled down to five on the Doodeman climb with around 70km to go: Matt Wilson (Garmin-Cervélo), Matteo Trentin (Quick Step), Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil-DCM), David Tanner (Saxo Bank-Sungard) and the week’s perennial escape artist, Julien Fouchard (Cofidis). The five survivors gained a maximum advantage of 2:31 with 37km remaining and were subsequently joined by HTC-Highroad’s Bernhard Eisel, who had ridden off the front of the peloton.

Boasson Hagen added the points and young riders' jerseys to his overall win

However, with several teams showing an interest in ensuring a bunch sprint, the gap was soon trimmed back to one minute and allowed to hover around that mark, with the peloton always in control of the chase. Taylor Phinney launched a series of attacks in the final 10km in the hope of wrestling the final podium spot from David Millar, but Sky jumped firmly on every move to keep the leaders together and complete the catch of the breakaway with 4km to go. HTC’s Lars Bak counter-attacked almost immediately, building a lead of several seconds and forcing the pack to up its pace to prevent him from escaping completely.

Gilbert made one final bid for glory at around 2km, but with the gradient relatively shallow and Sky in determined mood, he soon realised he had no chance of slipping away and sat up, accepting that overall victory was beyond him. Bak led under the 1km banner with Katusha leading the chase on behalf of their sprinter Denis Galimzyanov, reeling him back in with around 500 metres to go. But as the leaders rounded the final left-hander, both Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Jurgen Roelandts and Galimzyanov ran wide and came off their bikes, bringing down or halting Phinney and several others. In the confusion, Boasson Hagen found himself alone at the front and was able to sprint unopposed to victory by close to ten lengths.

The 2009 and now 2011 Eneco Tour winner paid tribute to the hard work of his team in controlling the stage and closing down any potentially damaging attacks:

I only had one thing to do today and that was to keep an eye on Philippe Gilbert. My team did all the rest. The guys have been cycling at top level all week and today they were there for me. Without my team I would never have won the Eneco Tour. This is a very important stage race for me, so I’m very pleased to have the final victory.

He said that he had backed off slightly in the final corner, avoiding the accidents that befell several others:

I felt like Jurgen Roelandts was going a little too fast. I decided to slow down a bit and made it through the bend. Later on I realised the rider behind me also fell. Of course that made it an easy win.

Boasson Hagen was a worthy winner, proving to have the best combination of time-trialling, sprinting and climbing ability to take the overall win. For Gilbert, too many of the week’s toughest climbs were placed in the middle of stages rather than towards the end, and there were just not enough uphill finishes to compensate for his minor deficiencies against the clock. However, his efforts on Thursday’s queen stage animated the race and ensured a tight finish. Millar held on to third as the top five on general classification remained unchanged over the final two days. Overall, it was a good and interesting race which provided an ideal tune-up for several riders ahead of the Vuelta a España, which starts next weekend.

Stage 6 result:

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 4:53:06

2. Manuel Cardoso (RadioShack) same time

3. Lars Boom (Rabobank) s/t

4. Grega Bole (Lampre-ISD) s/t

5. Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

General classification:

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 22:54:22

2. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:22

3. David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:28

4. Taylor Phinney (BMC) +0:35

5. Jos Van Emden (Rabobank) +0:57

Points classification:

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 122 pts

2. Taylor Phinney (BMC) 85

3. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 68

4. Grega Bole (Lampre-ISD) 66

5. Lars Boom (Rabobank) 56

Link: Official website

Eneco Tour recaps

Prologue: Phinney delivers on his promise with prologue win

Stage 1 & 2: Greipel doubles up but Phinney retains overall lead

Stage 3 & 4: Gilbert runs for the hills, Sergent beats the clock

Eneco Tour stage 3 & 4: Gilbert runs for the hills, Sergent beats the clock

In what is proving to be a closely fought race of seconds, Taylor Phinney conceded the overall lead to Philippe Gilbert after the Belgian champion proved uncatchable on a hilly finish in the Ardennes. In turn, Gilbert then produced an excellent ride against the clock in damp conditions to leave himself within striking distance of new race leader Edvald Boasson Hagen after today’s individual time trial. The Norwegian now holds a slender 12-second advantage heading into the weekend’s final two stages, which includes a concluding 22-climb route on Sunday where Gilbert is sure to attack again in pursuit of overall victory.

Stage 3: Heers to Andenne, 191.2km

It came as little surprise when Philippe Gilbert attacked on the penultimate climb of a stage ideally suited to his strengths. And it was equally predictable when he arrived at the finish in Andenne eight seconds ahead of a select group of favourites. In claiming Omega Pharma-Lottos’s third victory in a row (after André Greipel had won stages one and two), he also relieved BMC’s Taylor Phinney of the overall race lead.

The day’s 191km route into the Ardennes featured several of the climbs used in the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège one-day classics, including the fearsome Mur de Huy. However, it was situated near the midway point and therefore relatively unimportant in terms of deciding the day’s winner. More critical to the result were La Flîme and the Côte des Aguesses, both of whose summits would have to be tackled inside the final 6km of the race.

The ever-present Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) was once again in the day’s breakaway, joined by Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad), Stefan Van Dijk (Verandas Willems-Accent) and Tom Veelers (Skil-Shimano), with the four riders building a lead of close to ten minutes at one stage. However, their advantage soon tumbled as BMC and Omega Pharma upped the pace in the peloton – a healthy gap of six minutes with 75km to go was halved shortly after the 55km mark and was down to a single minute with 33km to go. Fouchard and Rasmussen soon sat up and allowed themselves to be absorbed back into the bunch, while Dutchmen Van Dijk and Veelers held on until 17km to go.

Omega Pharma kept the pack together on the following climb of the Côte de Saint-Roch, with Edvald Boasson Hagen beating Gilbert to claim the maximum three-second bonus at the intermediate sprint point. In the subsequent lull, Euskaltl-Euskadi’s Gorka Izaguirre jumped clear but was easily reeled back in at the 10km banner just before the penultimate climb of La Flîme.

Garmin-Cervélo’s Murilo Fischer – always easy to pick out in the green and gold colours of the Brazilian champion – set the initial tempo on the climb. However, Gilbert’s teammate Jelle Vanendert, who won on Plateau de Beille at the Tour de France last month, soon took over, tapping out a stinging pace which soon exploded the peloton and reduced the lead group to ten riders as Phinney dropped away.

Everyone knew what was coming next and sure enough with 7km remaining – about 1km from the summit – Gilbert kicked hard and accelerated away from the other favourites as if they were standing still. As David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) later tweeted:

I knew he was going to go. He even told me when and where. I still couldn’t do anything when he did.

Gilbert maintained his early season dominance in the Ardennes

Millar tried to lead the chase but Gilbert was off down the road, flying over the summit and increasing his lead to 20 seconds before his pursuers began to organise themselves more cohesively. Nonetheless, the Belgian champion still had an eight-second advantage as he started the final climb of the Côte des Aguesses, which he was able to maintain all the way to the finish to claim his 15th win of the year and take over the overall lead, courtesy of the ten-second time bonus for winning the stage.

Boasson Hagen finished in the group of 16 eight seconds back to move into second overall, just five seconds behind the new race leader. Millar was right behind him, moving up to third at 13 seconds. Phinney crossed the line in a larger bunch a further 29 seconds later.

Gilbert was pleased to have won a stage and taken the overall lead, although he expected to lose it in Friday’s individual time trial:

It’s super to win a stage of the Eneco Tour. It’s even better to take the overall lead, even if I do not expect to stay in white after the time trial on Friday.

I expect to lose two to three seconds per kilometre. It will be very difficult. For me, David Millar and Edvald Boasson Hagen are the two super-favourites. I will do my best to try to limit the damage.

Stage 3 result:

1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 4:54:53

2. Grega Bole (Lampre-ISD) +0:08

3. Ben Hermans (RadioShack) same time

4. Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano) s/t

5. Linus Gerdemann (Leopard-Trek) s/t

Stage 4: Roermond, 14.7km individual time trial

Having held the lead for much of Monday’s prologue before eventually finishing seventh, RadioShack’s Jesse Sergent came out on top after a challenging 14.7km individual time trial in Roermond which was made doubly difficult by sporadically rainy conditions. As expected Edvald Boasson Hagen assumed the overall lead, but Philippe Gilbert rode well to limit his losses to set up an exciting final two days.

The route for this short time trial was particularly technical, featuring several narrow twists and turns, roundabouts and short cobbled sections. Rain showers which fell in the middle and late in the stage left several corners particularly damp, with considerable variation in conditions at different locations and times. Vacansoleil’s Jens Mouris, who had crashed heavily during the previous day’s stage, set the early lead time of 18:25. This stood for a considerable spell until HTC-Highroad’s Alex Rasumssen (fourth in the prologue) clocked 18:09. But the Dane’s benchmark held for only a few minutes until Sergent blitzed the course, recording 17:55 to become the only man to dip under 18 minutes.

Sergent stormed to his second win of 2011

Gilbert’s Omega Pharma teammate Jurgen Roelandts slotted into third with 18:15, but that was as close as anyone would get to Sergent’s time as rain started to fall again. Prologue winner Taylor Phinney, hampered by wetter conditions than the later runners, was eighth fastest in 18:25.

Third-last man on the road David Millar, who started the day just 14 seconds off the lead and was harbouring hopes of a big performance to catapult him into overall contention, could only manage 18:37 in the difficult-to-read conditions. He later admitted he had been too slow through the corners to set a really challenging time.

That left only the final two. Boasson Hagen attacked the course hard but without taking undue risks on the damper corners, finishing one position and two seconds behind Phinney with a time of 18:27. And finally Gilbert, equally powerful but less smooth, rode one of his best time trials to limit his deficit to Boasson Hagen to just 17 seconds. He lost the overall lead, but at 12 seconds behind – with a ten-second bonus for a stage win – he will rate his chances of retaking the lead and claiming overall victory on Sunday.

Stage winner Sergent had hoped for a high finish, but was pleasantly surprised with his victory:

I did not expect this at all. After my seventh place in the opening prologue, my confidence was up and I was hoping for a top five today. But my bad luck of yesterday became my good luck today. I only had 2km on wet roads.

Boasson Hagen said that he had highlighted this stage as his time to take the overall lead:

I had planned to take the overall jersey today. I was feeling quite good, but it was hard in the wet to go as fast as someone else did; but I managed to take the jersey, and that was the main goal, so I’m really happy with that.

However, he recognised that he would face a tough battle to hold Gilbert at bay, particularly on Sunday’s tough rolling stage:

12 seconds lead on Gilbert with two stages to go – I don’t know if it will be enough. But I’ll do all I can to win this Eneco Tour.

Tomorrow starts and finishes in Genk, with only two relatively mild climbs towards the end which are unlikely to see significant time gaps. However, Sunday’s concluding stage features 22 climbs with three short climbs in the final 15km which should provide the springboard for one final all-out attack by Gilbert to try to seize the overall win.

Stage 4 result:

1. Jesse Sergent (RadioShack) 17:55

2. Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad) +0:14

3. Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:20

4. Vladimir Isaichev (Katusha) +0:27

5. Lars Boom (Rabobank) +0:27

General classification:

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 13:49:06

2. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:12

3. David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:18

4. Taylor Phinney (BMC) +0:27

5. Jos Van Emden (Rabobank) +0:47

Points classification:

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 92 pts

2. Taylor Phinney (BMC) 70

3. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 60

4. Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad) 49

5. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 47

Link: Official website

Eneco Tour recaps

Prologue: Phinney delivers on his promise with prologue win

Stage 1 & 2: Greipel doubles up but Phinney retains overall lead

Eneco Tour stage 1 & 2: Greipel doubles up but Phinney retains overall lead

Omega Pharma-Lotto’s André Greipel‘s final burst proved too much for his sprint rivals as he claimed stages one and two at the Eneco Tour of Benelux with a pair of textbook late surges to beat out first Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) in Sint Willebrord and then Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) in Ardooie as the race passed from Holland into Belgium. With his nearest challenger Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) managing just a single third-place finish, BMC’s Taylor Phinney retained the overall lead by just three seconds ahead of tomorrow’s queen stage, which features the vicious Mur de Huy midway and two climbs in the final 6km.

Stage 1: Oosterhout to Sint Willebrord, 192.1km

On a typical Dutch stage featuring narrow roads littered with street furniture, it was no small achievement just to survive to contest the inevitable bunch sprint on a crash-strewn day. Indeed, a crash just over 1km from the line reduced the front group to around 20 riders, with André Greipel outmuscling Denis Galimzyanov to win a tight finish.

An early six-man break formed consisting of Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), Julien Fouchard (Cofidis), Matteo Trentin (Quick Step), Jens Debusschere (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Stijn Neirynck (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) and Feng Han (Skil-Shimano). They build a lead of ten minutes before the BMC team of overall leader Taylor Phinney started to bring it down, aided by Sky and Garmin-Cervélo. Neirynck and Han subsequently fell back from the lead group, leaving the other four on their own at the front.

With around 55km to go, a crash towards the back of the peloton unseated several riders, including Movistar’s Francisco Perez, who was forced to abandon and taken to hospital. A second crash at the 40km mark involving Daniel Sesma (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Sébastien Minard (AG2R La Mondiale) saw the latter retire, and a dozen kilometres later Astana sprinter Allan Davis also had a close encounter with the tarmac. Nonetheless, despite the disruption caused by the crashes, the peloton remained fully committed to the chase, with the lead quartet’s advantage down to three minutes with 33km remaining, two at 26km and just one at 19km.

Greipel timed his effort to perfection to claim the first of two wins

At this point Phinney punctured but was able to chase back to the pack with the help of several BMC teammates. And despite Fouchard’s solo attack off the front of the breakaway, a Rabobank-led peloton swept up all four leaders with about 10km to go. The Dutch team set a rapid tempo, but a counter-attack by HTC-Highroad’s Lars Bak with about 4km to go saw them swamped by other teams. However, with stiff winds buffeting the peloton, no one seemed willing to take on the pace-making. The bunch slowed and compressed, forcing some riders on to the pavement in the search for empty road space as any semblance of organisation disappeared. Eventually Sky and then Quick Step moved forwards, but with the peloton still tightly packed rather than strung out approaching the final kilometre, the chances of an accident were high. Sure enough a Liquigas rider came down after a touch of wheels, and this sliced the bunch in two, with around 20 riders – including most of the top sprinters – in front and everyone else cut adrift.

Phinney himself opened up the sprint as the leaders rounded the final corner. Tyler Farrar shot past him, but Galimzyanov emerged from his wheel to overhaul him. However Greipel, who had initially looked too far back to challenge, accelerated out from behind the Russian to take victory by just under a wheel’s length.

Phinney finished seventh, immediately behind Edvald Boasson Hagen, to maintain his seven-second lead. He was grateful to have steered clear of all the crashes:

I was feeling good at the end. Rabobank made a big push to try and split the field and I was right up there with great help from Greg Van Avermaet and Karsten Kroon in the final. I was fighting for Boasson Hagen’s wheel because I knew that if he won the stage he’d take the jersey. Happy to be up there, but also happy to miss the crashes and I’m really thankful to the guys for all the work they did today.

Greipel explained that his run to the line only opened up in the closing seconds:

It was pretty narrow in the final straight. The team did a really good job to keep me up at the front; but I couldn’t get a gap at first. With a hundred metres to go I think I was 12th, 13th maybe, but finally I could find a bit of space, and I could do my sprint.

Stage 1 result:

1. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 4:21:20

2. Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) same time

3. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) s/t

4. Theo Bos (Rabobank) s/t

5. Tom Veelers (Skil-Shimano) s/t

Stage 2: Aalter to Ardooie, 173.7km

A different country today – Belgium rather than the Netherlands – produced the same result, as Greipel again proved the fastest man over the final 200 metres to take a second successive stage win ahead of Tyler Farrar.

Four riders – Rob Goris (Veranda’s Willems-Accent), Sam Bewley (RadioShack), Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) and Skil-Shimano’s Feng Han (for the second day in a row) – formed the breakaway of the day, gaining over five minutes on the peloton at one stage. However, this was reduced to just one minute with 56km left, and after a counter-move off the front of the peloton Wallays was the only survivor of the lead group, joined by Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis). The pair rebuilt their lead to over a minute ahead with 39km remaining, but despite crosswinds which caused the peloton to split they were caught with 23km still to go.

After a brief solo break by Saramotins’ teammate Julien Fouchard (who had featured in the previous day’s escape) was reeled in, Astana ramped up the pace on the front of the main bunch, with Lampre, RadioShack, HTC-Highroad, Sky and Skil-Shimano all showing intent as the jostling intensified on the narrow, twisty approach to the finish. Into the last kilometre, first Sky and then Skil-Shimano tried to take control, but it was Garmin’s Farrar who made the first decisive move in the sprint, only for Greipel to again time his late run to perfection, this time taking victory by close to a full bike length.

Unlike his stage one victory, where he had to come late after his path to the front was slow to open up, this was a far more routine finish for the German:

I know this finish well, it was the same as last year. There was a block headwind, so I told the guys with five kilometres to go that we had to move up. They did it, it was just a question of [being in] the position in the corner with 1.5 kilometres to go. Sieberg and Roelandts brought me in a really good position there, then Roelandts was pulling the sprint a long time. I let three guys in between us and then I started the sprint. I am really happy.

Farrar finished second, with Boasson Hagen picking up four bonus seconds in third. His maiden Tour de France win notwithstanding, Farrar continues to be the nearly man of sprinters when it comes to the big races – always there or thereabouts, but too often a fraction short of victory. You have to wonder whether his continued inability to turn good positions into stage wins lends credibility to the latest whispers linking Garmin to the best finisher in the business, Mark Cavendish. I’d say it’s likely to be little more than scurrilous rumour – Sky remains the Manxman’s most likely destination – but stranger things have happened.

Taylor Phinney held on to the race lead, although his lead over Boasson Hagen is now down to three seconds. However, he acknowledged that it will be tough to resist the challenge of both the Norwegian and Philippe Gilbert on tomorrow’s hillier stage:

I’m looking forward to the hills tomorrow. It will make for stressful racing, but a little bit more of a natural selection. We will try to hold onto the jersey. Obviously Boasson Hagen took some time back on me today and is a very good climber. Gilbert is the king of these kind of mountains. But we’ll see – we’ll take it as it comes and I’m looking forward to it.

Stage 2 result:

1. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 4:07:21

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) same time

3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) s/t

4. Jean-Pierre Drucker (Veranda’s Willems-Accent) s/t

5. Baden Cooke (Saxo Bank-Sungard) s/t

General classification:

1. Taylor Phinney (BMC) 8:35:38

2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) +0:03

3. David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:08

4. Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad) +0:09

5. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:10

Points classification:

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 62 pts

2. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +60

3. Taylor Phinney (BMC) 58

4. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) 47

5. Tom Veelers (Skil-Shimano) 30

Link: Official website

Eneco Tour recaps

Prologue: Phinney delivers on his promise with prologue win

Eneco Tour prologue: Phinney delivers on his promise with prologue win

Prologue: Amersfoort, 5.7km

World under-23 time trial champion Taylor Phinney took his first major professional win by blitzing the 5.7km prologue of the Eneco Tour of Benelux. The 21-year old BMC rookie was the only man to complete the tricky, punchy course in under seven minutes, beating runner-up Edvald Boasson Hagen by seven seconds.

Setting off at one-minute intervals, the 175 riders faced an oval course including a number of roundabouts and narrow, tight corners, some of which were still drying from earlier rain. Sixth man out Robert Wagner (Leopard-Trek) set the initial benchmark of 7:15. That time stood for over an hour until RadioShack’s Jesse Sergent, a 23-year old time trial specialist from New Zealand, blasted round in 7:09.

Phinney notched his first major victory with a commanding prologue win

Sergent’s time was not seriously threatened until the final 25 riders set off. Sky’s Geraint Thomas then registered a 7:15 to squeeze into a temporary second spot between Sergent and Wagner, but the serious competition followed immediately after the Welshman as the next two riders both produced new best times. First Rabobank’s Jos Van Emden, exhibiting a textbook rock-solid flat time trial profile, stopped the clock at 7:08. Then HTC-Highroad’s Alex Rasmussen, who had finished second in the concluding time trial of May’s Giro d’Italia, went two seconds faster.

Four riders later Phinney set off, attacking each corner with visible aggression and maintaining his speed all the way to the line to finish in an astonishing time of 6:57.77, an average speed of 49.1kph. The American then had to wait as the last 18 riders, including most of the overall favourites and top time-trialists, each took a shot at his time.

Classics king Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) recorded an impressive 7:12, ultimately good enough for eighth. David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo), who had beaten Rasmussen in the Giro TT, took 7:05 to complete the course. He was soon followed by 2009 race winner Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), who went round in 7:04. And when penultimate man Lars Boom (Rabobank), the winner of the prologues at this year’s Tour of Qatar and Critérium du Dauphiné, could manage only 7:07, Phinney could finally start to celebrate.

The young American revealed that he had had a good feeling about the stage beforehand:

I’m super, super happy. I was surprised at how good I felt in my warm-up. I knew it was going to be a good day. This is a good race for me. Racing in Belgium and Holland is kind of my thing. It’s what I love to do.

In the absence of defending champion Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad), Gilbert is most experts’ favourite to claim the overall win, although he can expect fierce competition from other strong-man Classics contenders such as Boasson Hagen and Tour of Flanders winner Nick Nuyens. A strong time-trialist with decent climbing legs such as Millar may also fancy their chances of gaining an advantage in stage four’s 14.7km time trial and withstanding the inevitable attacks on the closing two stages.

The next two days see flat sprinters’ stages before Thursday’s parcours in the Ardennes which includes the climbs of the the Mur de Amay and Mur de Huy.

Prologue result:

1. Taylor Phinney (BMC) 6:57

2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) +0:07

3. David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:08

4. Alex Rasumssen (HTC-Highroad) +0:09

5. Lars Boom (Rabobank) +0:10

6. Jos Van Emden (Rabobank) +0:11

7. Jesse Sergent (RadioShack) +0:12

8. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:15

9. Geraint Thomas (Sky) +0:18

10. Robert Wagner (Leopard-Trek) +0:18

Link: Official website

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