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By Andrew Hood
The Eneco Benelux Tour ended bitterly for George Hincapie on Wednesday after arch-rival Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) hooked him in the final 50 meters, sending the Discovery Channel leader sprawling to the ground and causing him to lose the race on time bonuses.
Schumacher started the 201km seventh and final stage three seconds behind race leader Hincapie, but the German rider bounded ahead to finish third behind winner Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) and runner-up Manuele Mori (Saunier Duval-Prodir) to earn a four-second bonus that nudges him into overall victory in the eight-day Benelux tour by one second.
Hincapie, who wore the leader’s jersey since winning Sunday’s time-trial stage, looked to be in control of the hilly stage and only needed to keep Schumacher out of the time bonuses to assure overall victory.
With Gilbert holding on to a slender, two-second margin to take the victory into Ans with a solo attack with 3km to go, the main bunch powered through a sweeping left turn toward the final 75 meters to the line.
Schumacher was forced to surge to his right to avoid rowdy fans who were leaning over the barriers and his rear wheel undercut Hincapie’s front tire and sent the American skittering to the ground in disbelief with just 60 meters to go.
An angry Hincapie sat on the ground as he watched Schumacher dash to third and grab enough time bonuses to snag the overall victory. Hincapie later crossed the line and was awarded the same time as the main bunch, but lost the race by one second with the time bonuses.
Hincapie wanted to hear nothing from Schumacher at the finish line as he tried to explain why he had to swing wide to avoid the fans. The American filed an appeal with the race jury, but to no avail – Schumacher was awarded the overall victory.
”It is a shame about the last 100 meters, but my victory was not undeserved,” Schumacher told The Associated Press, arguing that he could have beaten Mori for second place in the sprint had he not been hit.
”I was a victim myself,” he said.