Sylvain Chavanel narrowly held off hard-charging Tyler Farrar to open the ENECO Tour of BeNeLux with the leader's white jersey. This should make for a fun week for both riders, as well as a few others. The ENECO Tour has typically been a series of sprints with a few bumps in the road and at least one plausibly hard stage, plus a prologue and a decisive time trial. Well, this year's edition like the previous one finishes with a time trial that will in all likelihood decide the race. With that in mind, let's look at some winners and losers for today:
Sylvain Chavanel -- It may be a stretch to say that he can hold off the other chrono aces for the overall victory, but not much of one. Unlike double-defending champion Jose Ivan Gutierrez, Chavanel can put his nose into the odd sprint, and can sail over the bumpy parts of this race (e.g., Saturday's stage to Libramont). So if he can pad his current advantage over the other chronomen before the finale, he just might pull this thing off. In any event, a Quick Step win in Rotterdam is always a good thing.
Tyler Farrar, Tom Boonen -- Pardon the obvious (top guys = winners) but Farrar's performance gives him the slimmest advantages over the Belgian mega-star and sets up the two for a great few days' worth of dueling. Both riders officially sit 1" back of Chavanel, so the next three stages should determine the overall lead on time bonuses, with these two probably sharing the spoils. From the sprint field the next closest are Greg Henderson (9"), Francesco Gavazzi (15"), Mark Renshaw (s.t.), Jacopo Guarnieri (18"), etc. Look for the fastest of Boonen or Farrar to be in white tomorrow, and maybe for several days.
The Lurkers -- If this race is going to be won in the final time trial, then Brad Wiggins (2"), Vincenzo Nibali (4"), Edvald Boasson Hagen (5"), Martin Tjallingii (s.t.), Gutierrez (6"), Andreas Kloden (7") and Tony Martin (7") should all be liking their chances. Save for Tjallingii, none of these guys should be terribly troubled by the climbs on stage 4, though you never know.
Rabobank -- Full credit to them for putting five riders within ten seconds of the lead. Obviously this race is important to them, and while they don't field a natural winner, you can't totally hate their odds right now.
Graeme Brown -- Of the sprinters no longer one time bonus from the overall lead, Brown (20") had the most to lose today, what with that orange kit on his back. Kenny DeHaes (35") and Yahueni Hutarovich (32") head up the list of sprinters who can't time trial, and were never more than stage hunters, but Brown would likely have enjoyed creeping into the lead sometime over the next few days. Now... frankly, I seriously doubt he'd outsprint Farrar at all, let alone make up 19" on bonuses.
Silence-Lotto -- How many big-bidget Pro Tour teams can say they wish they were Topsport Vlaanderen? Here's one. Seems kind of pitiful that the other top Belgian team can't really field a serious threat to win in Benelux. Michiel Elijzen is their top finisher so far, but he's not likely to out-kick the flashier chronomen next week.