Brief ReportThe Hel van het Mergelland starts and finishes in the town of Eijsden which is about 9 kms south of Maastricht in the south of Limburg right on the border with Belgium. The town is tucked in between the main highway north from Luik to Maastricht (A2) and the River Maas. It is also tucked between the "Dutch Alps" and the river flats. This is the south end of Amstel Gold country. There is a tourist route called the Mergelland route and it takes you through the whole region including the significant hills.
The Hel van het Mergelland has 31 climbs (41 km climbing). The race goes into the Belgian Ardennes, south of Eijsden and the riders faced very windy conditions. After 26 km, a group of 9 rode off the front of the peloton. In a short time they had 40 seconds. After 60 km, Ralf Grabsch punctured but was strong enough to regain contact with the breakaway. After 75 km Hans de Meester attacked from the chasing peloton which was 2.20 down to the break. It took 45 minutes for De Meester to get across to the leaders.
In Slenaken (still 35 km to go) Grabsch attacked during a climb. The rest of the breakaway was unable to match him and trailed at 100 metres. But his teammate Raymond Meijs attacked from this group and was strong enough to get across to Grabsch. Now there were two leaders: Grabsch and Meijs, both from Team Gerolsteiner.
In Eijsden, Raymond Meijs (30 years, 1985 World Junior Champion and winner of the Hel van het Mergelland in 1990 and 1997) wins the sprint. Third place arrived at 3.30 and only 32 riders finished overall
Meijs said after the race: "I was strong enough and hope to make a good season without injuries. My target is a good Dutch championships and of course a good World Championship in my own home town of Valkenburg."
So it seems that the local knowledge (Valkenburg is nearby) is worth something.
Eijsden - Eijsden, 180 kms:
1. Raymond Meijs (Ned) Team Gerolsteiner 4.45.02 (37.9 km/ph) 2. Ralf Grabsch (Ger) Team Gerolsteiner 3. Hans de Meester (Ned) Tonissteiner 3.30 4. John van den Akker (Ned) MGI Fietsen 5. Leif Hoste (Bel) Vlaanderen-2002 6. Matthe Pronk (Ned) Rabobank Elite 4.28 7. Marcel Luppes (Ned) Axa Cycling Team 4.32 8. Bram de Groot (Ned) Rabobank Elite 4.35 9. Marcin Gebka (Pol) Mroz 14.08 10. Marc Patry (Bel) MRL 11. Bart Boom (Ned) P&O-L÷wik 12. Danny Stam (Ned) Piels-Timmers 13. Inaki Barrenechea (Spa) Tonissteiner 14. Ivan Peeters (Ned) Axa Cycling Team 15. Bert de Waele (Bel) Groeninge Spurters 16. Stefan van Dijk (Ned) Rabobank 17. Jan van Velzen (Ned) Golff-Gazelle 18. Franky de Buyst (Bel) Tonissteiner 19. Darlusz Wojciechowski (Pol) Mroz 20. Jason Phillips (Aus) Die Continentale 21. Thorwald Veneberg (Ned) Agu Sportteam 22. Grzegorz Rosolinski (Pol) Mroz 23. Daniel van Elven (Ned) Rabobank Elite 24. Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Vlaanderen-2002 25. Ole Sigurd Simensen (Nor) Agro Adler Brandenburg 26. Bjorn Glasner (Ger) Team Gerolsteiner 27. Hielke Boersma (Ned) MGI Fietsen 28. Dennis Heij (Ned) Golff-Gazelle 29. Marco Engels (Ned) Midden Limburg 15.58 30. Steve Vermaut (Bel) Vlaanderen-2002 31. Kees Jeurissen (Ned) P&O-L÷wik 32. Remmert Wielinga (Ned) Agu Sportteam 15.58 Started: 146 114 riders dropped out