Rhonde Van Het Groene Hart, 204.6km/127mi
-by Cathy Mehl

Celebrating Easter Sunday with a 5th team win, Astana Cycling Team's Tomas Vaitkus outsprinted a strong field of contenders to capture the win in the 2nd Rhonde Van Het Groene. Accepting a bouquet of flowers, a trophy and yes, a milk can, Vaitkus scored his second victory of the season in dominating style as he grabbed the win on the line by more than a bike length


courtesy / copyright Graham Watson

On a cloudy and chilly day in the Netherlands, 139 riders on 18 teams took a tour around the countryside known as the Greenbelt. Riding through an area preserved for sport and recreation (but closeby to Amsterdam and Rotterham) the riders representing 21 nationalities faced rain, snow flurries and wind as they made their way from Zoetermeer to Woerden.

An early escape of four riders gained a time advantage of more than two minutes while Team Astana shared in the pace-making from the peloton and after 50km of racing the group was all together. As the weather worsened and the pace remained high, the peloton splintered into several groups as the riders formed echelons to fight the wind and continue their drive toward Woerden.

Between the third and fourth sprint points small groups of riders continued to break away with Gustav Larsson (CSC) managing a nice gap of over 40 seconds after the fifth and final sprint zone. Finally the weather improved and the roads continued to dry as the peloton driven by Astana, Quick Step, Rabobank and High Road kept the pace high and brought the Swede back into the fold. At 5km to go the peloton was all together. Quick Step's Steven de Jongh jumped but Team Astana shut down his effort.

Coming into the final 3kms Team Astana moved forward and ramped up the speed, stringing out a long line of riders behind them. Making several right turns just before the red kite signaling 1000 meters to go the riders were spread wide across the road as each fought for position. Sitting patiently three or four men back, at 200m to go Vaitkus swung wide and powered up his sprint, easily beating last year's winner Wouter Weylandt (Quick Step) as he crossed the line celebrating with both fists pumping. Third place went to Bobbie Traksel (P3 Transfer).

"The entire Astana Cycling Team worked hard the whole day", said a happy team director Viatcheslav Ekimov after the race. "Michael Schr was the first attacker of the day. In the last kilometers, Ren Haselbacher and Schr neutralized an escape of Steven de Jongh. Our seven riders were very attentive during the day, as the peloton broke constantly in many parts. Tomas's win is a real team victory."

Vaitkus continued, "I was really motivated but I had a good feeling, the whole day long. I'm a bit surprised that I felt this well since I had to travel by car from Spain to Holland. I think this confirms that I'm ready for Waregem and Harelbeke."

Ekimov joked, "If this can help, we will send Tomas back to Spain - by car - the days before the Tour of Flanders."

Race results
1. Vaitkus, Tomas AST 4.34'44"
2. Weylandt, Wouter QSI 4.34'44"
3. Traksel, Bobbie FPT 4.34'44"
4. Eeckhout, Niko TSV 4.34'44"
5. Rigotto, Elio MRM 4.34'44"
6. Van Dijk, Stefan MIT 4.34'44"
7. Roelandts, Jurgen SIL 4.34'44"
8. Veelers, Tom SKS 4.34'44"
9. Goddaert, Kristof TSV 4.34'44"
10. Hayman, Mathew RAB 4.34'44"

Team Astana
28. De Kort, Koen 4.34'52" 8"
31. Joachim, Benoit 4.34'52" 8"
37. Schr, Michael 4.34'52" 8"
50. Haselbacher, Rene 4.35'03" 19"
71. Kemps, Aaron 4.36'54" 2'10"
86. Kupeshov, Berik 4.36'54" 2'10"

Results provided by http://www.rondevanhetgroenehart.nl