Discovery Channel Team Report
Ekimov wins stage; Devolder overall winner at Three Days of the Panne.
Team Discovery Channel?s Stijn Devolder won the second professional event of his young career today in his home country of Belgium, taking the overall at the Three Days of the Panne stage race.
Devolder placed fifth in the afternoon time trial stage in De Panne, good enough to claim the overall by 16 seconds over Italian Alessandro Ballan.
Devolder's teammate, Viatcheslav Ekimov , helped make it a double for the Discovery Channel team when he won the TT stage from Belgian Bert Roesems by less than one second.
The overall win was a sweet one for Devolder, who has been close to victory numerous times this spring but has come up just short, until today, confirming his condition for this Sunday's important Tour of Flanders.
"He's so happy," said Dirk Demol, the team's assistant sports manager. "For Stijn, it's great because he has been looking for this win the whole season. He's been close many times and his aggressive way of riding, always attacking, has paid off. Plus, it's a big win for him. Honestly, I was a bit afraid that if he wasn't able to win, mentally it would have been a huge disappointment for him, one that might have stayed with him for a while. Now with the victory, it's just the opposite. He can do no wrong at the moment."
Devolder's key move in the race was making Tuesday's opening stage breakaway of ten riders that rode clear halfway through the 202 km stage. From there, Devolder chased down Ballan, who had attacked the lead break, with just over 20 kms remaining. The duo then worked together to remain clear of the rest of the lead group before Ballan jumped around the young Belgian in the final sprint to win the stage. However, Ballan and Devolder both finished 19 seconds ahead of third place while the main peloton placed nearly five minutes back. Ballan then maintained his four second lead over Devolder - obtained via a ten second time bonus against Devolder's six second bonus in stage one - through stages two and three leading into the final time trial.
"He was immediately in a good position, just four seconds down on Ballan," added Demol. "Yet, Ballan is a good time trial rider, as three years ago he was the Italian amateur champion, so there was nothing easy in this for Stijn."
The Discovery Channel's Leif Hoste also came through with a solid ride in today's time trial, placing sixth, two seconds back of Devolder.
Next up for Devolder, Ekimov and Hoste is Sunday's Tour of Flanders. The three riders will join Lance Armstrong , George Hincapie , Roger Hammond , Hayden Roulston and Antonio Cruz for Sundays' ProTour event.
Devolder won the junior Tour of Flanders twice and, according to Demol, "It's his dream race. He rode well last year, finishing in the second bunch [21st, at 01:38], so the distance isn't a problem for him." Also last year, Hoste placed third while riding for Lotto-Domo and Hincapie 10th.
Final overall rankings: