A powerful charge for the line at the end of the rugged first stage of the Eneco Tour by former Tour of Britain winner Nick Nuyens netted the Belgian both the day?s win and the lead.
Part of a seven man group which broke away on a final 16 kilometre loop round the town of Eupen, Nuyens took over from his Cofidis team-mate and prologue winner Michiel Elijzen, dropped with 50 kilometres to go, at the head of the general classification. But with six stages left to race and a raft of favourites at less than a minute behind Nuyens, the Eneco Tour is far from over.
On a tough day featuring seven classified climbs, including three regulars in the Ardennes Classics – the Mur de Huy, Stockeu and Haute Levee – just as in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the selection was made from behind as the constant succession of climbs whittled down the lead group to the strongest.
Approximately three dozen riders hit the final circuit ahead, but a move by Davitamon-Lotto?s Jurgen Van Der Broeck, combined with Britain?s David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) then putting in a powerful dig of his own, shattered the mini-peloton.
Millar continued to pile on the pressure in the twisting, narrow circuit, but could not get away from six other chasers. An uphill sprint finally decided the stage.
The Scot once again opened fire with a long acceleration 600 metres from the finish, but he could not match Nuyens sudden jump for the line. Rabobank?s Thomas Dekker and Spaniard Jose Ivan Gutierrez followed Nuyens – already the winner of the Etoile de Besseges this February – across the line, with Millar placing fourth.
“Some people said I could only win small races.” Nuyens reflected afterwards. “I wonder what they are saying now.”
“For gc I don’t think my chances are brilliant. Millar, Gutierrez and Leif Hoste” – the latter two both National Time Trial Champions – “should all shine in the final race against the clock.”
Fourth overall, British National Champ Millar and the other favourites will have to be on their guard on Friday?s 199.5 kilometre stage from Antwerp to Knokke-Heist. The longest stage in the race is almost all flat and could well end in a sprint, but the last part is extremely exposed, and coastal winds could split the field.
For Mark Cavendish (T-Mobile), Friday will be his first real opportunity for a stage win in the 2007 Eneco Tour – but it is far from being his last.
ENECO Tour 2007: Stage one: Warem – Eupen 189.5km
1 Nick Nuyens (Bel) Cofidis 4-42-38
2 Thomas Dekker (Ned) Rabobank
3 José Ivan Gutierrez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
4 David Millar (GBr) Saunier Duval – Prodir all st
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Predictor – Lotto at 6 sec
6 Leif Hoste (Bel) Predictor – Lotto at 9 sec
7 Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2r at 13 sec
8 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre at 24 sec
9 Paul Martens (Ger) Skil – Shimano
10 Rubens Bertogliati (Swi) Saunier Duval – Prodir all st
81 Roger Hammond (T-Mobile) at 10-41
126 Steve Cummings (Discovery) at 13-38
127 Mark Cavendish (T-Mobile) at st
1 Nick Nuyens (Bel) Cofidis 4-48-39
2 Thomas Dekker (Ned) Rabobank at 10 sec
3 José Ivan Gutierrez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 17 sec
4 David Millar (GBr) Saunier Duval – Prodir at 19 sec
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Predictor – Lotto at 25 sec
6 Leif Hoste (Bel) Predictor – Lotto at 37 sec
7 Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2r Prévoyance at 38 sec
8 Leon Van Bon (Ned) Rabobank at 44 sec
9 Bram Tankink (Ned) Quickstep – Innergetic at 49 sec
10 Paul Martens (Ger) Skil – Shimano at st
89 Roger Hammond (T-Mobile) at 11-13
124 Mark Cavendish (T-Mobile) at 14-09
127 Steve Cummings (Discovery) at 14-15