Patrick Roelandt did not hesitate when asked whether it would be any different hanging onto the leader's jersey after he won Stage 2 of the Tour Du Pont, which made its way through the Maryland countryside before ending in Columbia yesterday.
"I don't know," Roelandt said with a laugh and through an interpreter. "I've never had it before."
The 28-year-old of the Tonton-Tapis team from Belgium didn't ride like someone who never had had a lead in a major race. He pulled away from the pack at the 108-mile mark of the 136-mile race and opened gaps of nearly six minutes for the win that gave him the overall lead going into the third-stage circuit race that starts this afternoon in Arlington, Va.
Dag-Otto Lauritzen, a Norweigan racing for the Motorola team, nipped Greg Oravetz, an American racing for Coors Light, for second place, 2 minutes, 13 seconds behind Roelandt's time of 6 hours, 15 minutes, 50 seconds. Erik Breukink of PDM, who had the overall lead after two days, dropped to second overall after finishing 89th.
Neither Roelandt nor any of his teammates had ridden in the race -- called the Tour de Trump the last two years. Roelandt was with the rest of the pack when the 112 riders left Newark, Del., at 9 a.m.
After taking the lead at the 108-mile mark of the course, which traveled southwest from Newark through the countryside, including routes in Reisterstown before entering Howard County, Roelandt -- with the help of blocking by his teammates -- opened a lead of 5:40 at the 6-hour, 2-minute mark.
Roelandt was tiring toward the end, but he was all smiles with his fists pumped in the air as several thousand people greeted him at the finish outside The Mall in Columbia, in contrast to the few spectators along the route.
"The last 15 kilometers, I think I can't make it," said Roelandt, who had to change bikes with 22 miles left to have a flat tire repaired. "When I got to 5 kilometers, I was sure I would win. When I broke away, all the time I looked forward, never to the side or the back."
Lauritzen, who is ninth overall after his second-place finish, praise the strategy of the relatively unknown Roelandt.
"He had a good ride against some big teams, and it was a good tactical move to move out when he did," Lauritzen said. "He made the move, and nobody became agressive to chase him. I think a few guys suffered a little because of the heat."
Breukink, whose overall time after three days is 1:52 behind Roelandt, questioned why no other team -- specifically Coors Light -- never attempted a serious attack.
"We had to control the race, and I don't know why the otheteams didn't chase," Breukink said. "But I'm not worried about Roelandt because he's not so dangerous."
Oravetz, the Coors Light front-runner whose third-place finish moved him into a tie for fourth overall, expressed "surprise" at the criticism from Breukink.
"I thought Motorola would get a guy away because they looked strong," Oravetz said. "Once the gap got to four minutes with 15 kilometers to go, I thought [Roelandt] had it. We rode a team race, and [PDM] was riding to protect the jersey."
Oravetz said the road conditions through Maryland were not as difficult as expected.
"Everyone thought the hills would be stronger than they actually were," he said. "But the sun really had an effect on everybody."
Everyone except Roelandt, who smiled and moved his head up and down when asked whether the stage win was the highlight of his five-year career. In between pumping his fist skyward on the victory stand, Roelandt was presented the red jersey that is worn by the day's most aggressive rider.
"Winning a stage at a beginning of a tour like this is very good," said Roelandt, who today will be assuming the unusual role of being chased.
Where the Tour Du Pont goes from Columbia:
Stage 3: Begins (12:30 p.m.) and ends in Arlington, Va.
Distance: 80 miles (11 laps over a 7.2-mile course that will takriders past the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery)
Remaining: After today, there will be six stages starting iVirginia, before going to Pennsylvania, which includes a circuit race in the Pocono Mountains. The Tour Du Pont will conclude Sunday in Wilmington, Del.