The 2008 Tour of Belgium kicked off today in Eeklo with a 180.5 kilometre stage that culminated in a bunch sprint.

Kenny De Haes (Topsport Vlaanderen) hit the line flying to take the stage win and leader’s jersey in the five stage, UCI 2.1-ranked race.

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) was on the start line – his first race back after a long break since the Spring Classics. However, Boonen took a low-key approach and did not contest the sprint due to – as reported in the Belgian press – illness. Instead Boonen’s team-mate Gert Steegmans came third, with Aussie fastman Allan Davis (Mitsubishi-Jartazi) in second.

Belgian cyclo-cross star Sven Nys was there riding in his new Landbouwkrediet-Tonissteiner colours, his first race for the squad since transferring from Rabobank. Nys finished the stage in 72nd spot.

Nys is team-mate of British rider Ian Stannard, one of three Brits at the Tour of Belgium. Stannard finished in a creditable 34th. The two other British riders, An Post-M Donnelly-Grant Thornton-Sean Kelly team-mates Daniel Lloyd and Dan Fleeman, were 47th and 84th respectively.

Tomorrow’s second stage is also likely to end in a bunch sprint, before the race hits the hills on stage three (Friday) and a decisive individual time trial on stage four (Saturday). The race finishes with stage five ending in Putte on Sunday.

TOUR OF BELGIUM 2008 STAGE 1: RESULTS

1. Kenny De Haes (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen 180.5km in 4hour 9min 19secs

2. Allan Davis (Aus) Mitsubishi-Jartazi

3. Gert Steegmans (Bel) Quick Step

4. Mattia Gavazzi (Ita) Preti Mangimi

5. Roberto Ferrari (Ita) LPR Brakes

6. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Silence-Lotto

7. Rene Haselbacher (Aut) Astana

8. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Silence-Lotto

9. Sergio Marinangeli (Ita) LPR Brakes

10. Tom Leezer (Ned) Rabobank all at same time.

British

34. Ian Stannard (GB) Landbouwkrediet-Tonissteiner

47. Daniel Lloyd (GB) An Post-M Donnelly-Grant Thornton-Sean Kelly

84. Dan Fleeman (GB) An Post-M Donnelly-Grant Thornton-Sean Kelly all at same time.

Tour of Belgium 2008Gert Steegmans signs autographs for fans before coming third on stage one

Tour of Belgium 2008Tomas Vaitkus also gets in on the autograph signing

Tour of Belgium 2008Cyclo-cross ace Sven Nys in his first outing in new Landbouwkrediet-Tonissteiner team colours

Tour of Belgium 2008Old habits die hard: Sven Nys with former Rabobank team-mates

Tour of Belgium 2008Kenny de Haes wins stage one of the 2008 Tour of Belgium

Tour of Belgium 2008Kenny De Haes wears the leader’s jersey

Tour of Belgium 2008Kenny De Haes takes the first stage, race lead and the champagne

All photos by Luc Claessen/ISPA