After solo specialist Tchmil broke away after only 50k of the 265km race, towing another dozen riders clear it was obviously going to be a hard slog. Dekker’s Rabobank team had to work hard to bring down a break that clocked an 8 1/2 minute lead before being caught at the 210km point.
Armstron attacked almost immeadiately taking Eddy Mazzoleni with him and rapidly building a 30 second lead. Dekker rode clear in pursuit and caught Armstrong with 30km to go. The two dropped Mazzoleni on a climb with Dekker working with Armstrong despite team orders just to sit and wait for the chase group only a minute behind. Armstrong pulled away from Dekker on the infamous Cauberg climb but Dekker fought his way back and Lance did most of the work into the finish at Maastricht, keeping the one minute gap constant ahead of the disorganised chasing group.
Dekker led into the finishing straight but managed to control the cat and mouse game of the final hundred meters to sprint clear of Armstrong to take victory by a bike length. Dekker was understandably delighted to take the win and the UCI points lead and Lance wasn’t dissapointed either.
“In 1999, I was upset to finish second,” said the Texan afterwards. “This year, I knew I was up against a fast finisher and a proven winner. I knew it would be difficult to win, so I’m not disappointed. On the contrary, it’s the first time I’ve ridden 250 kilometres this year so I’m very happy with my condition. My legs are good and I’m breathing well. There were strong riders around me so I felt like I was in good company,” he continued. “It’s a good starting point for the Tour de France.”
Lance’s main ‘Tour opponent, Jan Ullrich, has meanwhile stated he will be riding the Giro D’Italia starting in a few weeks time. “At the Giro,” Ullrich said, ” I can race 200 kilometres a day for three weeks in full racing conditions. It’s ideal preparation for the Tour.”