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With a powerful sprint reminiscent of his winning form of last year, Discovery Channel's Max van Heeswijk won his first race of the season and the team's 17th when he took the opening road stage of the Tour of Benelux in his home country of Holland.
Van Heeswijk, who enjoyed a career best 13 wins last win but has struggled this year to find the same form, launched his sprint in the final few hundred metres to win going away from Marco Zanotti of Liquigas. The victory, coupled with his 17th place finish in the prologue, was enough to put the Dutchman in the race lead by one second over prologue winner Rik Verbrugghe of Quick Step.
"Max has struggled a bit to find his form this season but it's good to see him back on the podium," said Discovery DS Dirk Demol. "It's been an off-season for him so far but to win in your home country is always nice. Plus, it's a ProTour event, so that makes it more important for him and the team.
"I can tell you, I haven't seen him as happy as he was today in a long time. You are always happy to win, but maybe this win can turn around his season. He has worked hard to get better bit by bit, and I can tell you this, it will not be his last win of the year. It's his first but it won't be his last, that is clear to me."
The 192km stage from Geel to Mierlo closed with three finishing circuits of eight kilometres that Demol described as "too dangerous" for the 180-rider field. However, Demol said the work of Roger Hammond, now fourth overall after finishing 13th today, Leif Hoste and Janez Brajkovic set up Van Heeswijk for the finish. "For Max, it's best to bring him to the 700 or 800 metre mark and then let him do his own sprint," said Demol. "The guys did a good job in the last lap and put him in a good position for the final. Max won easy."
Demol said he was impressed by the work of young Slovenian Brajkovic. "For such a little guy, I was surprised by his power," Demol said. "He was pulling for two or three kilometres at 60kph before the real sprint started. He was a big part of the win today.
"Even before the Tour de France, I spoke with the riders for this race and tried to motivate them," Demol continued. "It's a nice course and with three Belgians and one Dutchman on the team, I knew they would prepare well. My ambition here was to win a stage and try and have two guys in the top 15. Today's win was a good start."
Stage 1, Geel-Mierlo
1 Max van Heeswijk (Hol) Discovery Channel 192km in 4.20.08
2 Marco Zanotti (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi
3 Steven de Jongh (Hol) Rabobank
4 Giosu Bonomi (Ita) Lampre-Caffita
5 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile
6 Manuele Mori (Ita) Saunier Duval
7 Ren Haselbacher (Aut) Gerolsteiner
8 Uros Murn (Slo) Phonak
9 Aart Vierhouten (Hol) Davitamon-Lotto
10 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros
13 Roger Hammond (GB) Discovery Channel
1 Max van Heeswijk (Hol) Discovery Channel 4.26.51
2 Rik Verbrugghe (Bel) Quick Step 0.01
3 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Liberty Seguros 0.11
5 Stefan Van Dijk (Hol) MrBookmaker.com
6 Kevin van Impe (Bel) Chocolade Jacques
7 Servais Knaven (Hol) Quick Step 0.12
8 Uwe Peschel (Ger) Gerolsteiner
9 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Discovery Channel
10 Rudi Kemna (Hol) Shimano
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