After only two kilometres Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) and Irish rider Ian McKissick
(BMC) broke off. Milrams young gun Domink Roels tried to bridge up to the duo at the front but Ten Dam and McKissick kept
up their pace and Roels was caught again by the pack. After 10 kilometres the two riders had a lead of 2 minutes on the bunch.
After 37,5 kilometres Ten Dam and McKissick reached the summit of the Côte de Signy l’Abbaye
with a lead of 12 minutes and 45 seconds. After 64 kilomtres their lead had grown to 16:50.
That was the signal for High Road, Francaise
des Jeux and Lampre to start the chase. At the first intermediate sprint (after 92.5 kilometres) the bunch was 13:50 behind
the two race leaders. At the second intermediate sprint the bunch were 7:50 behind Ten Dam and McKissick.
The acceleration of the bunch caused a
split, several favourites for the overall were among the riders who were dropped: Casar (Francaise de Jeux), Rolland (Credit
Agricole), Kirchen (High Road), Nazon (AG2R), L'Hotellerie (Skil – Shimano) and Zabriskie (Slipstream chipottle) were
not in the first chasing group.
The lead of the duo had dropped to 1:30
with 12.5 kilomtres to go and that wasn't enough for Ten Dam. The 27 year old Dutch rider increased the pace and dropped McKissick.
The first chasing group of 35 riders came closer but Ten Dan managed to save 10 seconds on the line and took the opening stage
of this years Criterium International after a break of 190 kilomtres.Ten Dam is also the first overall leader of this years
Stage winner Laurens Ten Dam told rabobank.nl:
"It is absolutely wonderful that I have been able to reward my team this quickly for the trust they have put in me." The overall
leader added: "I felt strong after 150 kilometers whereas McKissick started to feel more exhausted. He rode faster in the
beginning. That is also because I was holding back a little bit. When he started to fall behind, I put myself into an overdrive.
This tour is already a success for me." According to the Rabobank team website Ten Dam already said during the team's meeting
on Friday night that he was planning to go on the attack.
"I have continuously ridden among the first five today. I responded to the
first breakaway, but we could not get away. I did it myself the second time; I was joined by a good fellow escapee and it
took long for the pack to respond. When we had the 17-minute lead, I thought that in the end we would have one minute left.
But later on I realized that if the pack were to start a hunt down at full speed, things could go very quickly. Luckily, the
margin eventually turned out to be just enough."
Rabobank's sports director Frans Maasen told rabobank.nl: "This is definitely
a victory for the books. He will not quickly forget this win. All the other teams were full of praise about this achievement."
Maassen added: "Ten Dam was not there and of all places he still manages to ride away from him during that part of the race.
He should not be worried about tomorrow, because he has already showcased and displayed his potential."
Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde
finished with the first chasing group, 10 seconds behind stage winner Laurens Ten Dam. Valverde said before the start of todays
stage: “Despite getting off to a strong start[Velverde won the Vuelta a Murcia, editor] , I wasn’t expecting to
win so early on because, while I’m in decent shape, I am not yet 100%...”Valverde finished on the podium in the
2007 Critérium International, but doesn’t consider himself among the favourites for 2008. “ I like the Critérium
International a lot but it isn’t one of my goals. I am looking to be at the front in the second half of the season”,
said the Spanish rider.
Last years overall winner of the French
stage race came in with the first chasing group as well, finishing on a fifth place the German CSC rider could set a new record
if he wins the overall. Voigt is now sharing the record with Irish legend Sean Kelly, both riders won the Criterium International
three times. In a pre race interview with eurosport.yahoo.de Voigt said: “Cycling is developing in the right direction.”
Voigt said that he understands race organiser ASO is angry at the Astana team after last years “bang with the story
around Alexander Vinokourov.” But the CSC rider also understands Astana: “They say we try to do everything right
this year, we are a new team with new team owners and a new concept, give us a chance! I think, hey, give them this chance.”
About his chances to win this year Criterium International, Voigt said: “We have an extremly strong team here, almost
every rider from our team could win this race. Of course we want to be at the front again after four victories in a row. Personally
I will of course perform as good as I can.”
Voigt continued by saying: “With
my third victory last year... it was really beautiful to get even with Sean Kelly's record . He was my idol, used to have
his pictures on my wall . He was my hero because he was so consistent and rode strong the whole year.”
AG2R's Cyril Dessel finished 80th,
6:51 behind Ten Dam. This morning’s edition of French daily 'L’Equipe' published an article on Cyril Dessel, who suffered a difficult 2007 season while suffering from toxoplasmosis.
After wearing the leader’s yellow jersey on the 2006 Tour de France, Dessel was hampered by nagging physical problems
and a lack of confidence, which he’s now trying to regain on the road. “The mental aspect is key for me, when
I feel that everything is there, I know my form can quickly return. But at the age of 33, it isn’t easy to change”,