Discovery Channel Team Report
In a powerful sprint reminiscent of his winning form of last year, Team Discovery Channel?s Max van Heeswijk won his first race of the season today and the team's 17th when he took the opening stage of the Tour of Benelux in his home country of Holland.
Coming off a career best 13 victories last year and stints in the leader's jersey in races such as the Tours of Spain, Holland and Murcia, van Heeswijk launched his sprint in the final few hundred meters to win going away over Marco Zanotti of the Liquigas team. The victory, coupled with his 17th place finish in yesterday's 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," Discovery Channel team assistant sports manager Dirk Demol said. "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 - this 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."
Today's 192 kilometer stage from Geel, Belgium to Mierlo, Holland closed with three finishing circuits of eight kilometers that Demol called "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 meter 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."
Following an early breakaway, the team's Jurgen Van den Broeck went off on his own for about 40 kms before being caught with 35 kms to go. In the finishing circuits, Demol said he was impressed by the work of Brajkovic. "For such a little guy, I was surprised by his power," Demol said. "He was pulling for two or three kilometers at 60 kph before the real sprint started. He was a big part of the win today."
In yesterday's prologue, Stijn Devolder led the way for the team in fifth place and was one of six Discovery Channel riders in the top 20, with Benoit Joachim seventh, Van den Broeck 10th, Brajkovic 13th, van Heeswijk 17th and Hammond 19th.
"Even before the Tour de France, I spoke with the riders for this race and tried to motivate them," said Demol. "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."
Click here for full stage results.