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After the peloton had taken a wrong turn, Howard, Kluge and Asselman escaped in the first stage of the Tour des Fjords; the Australian made a late attack to beat the Dutchman by two seconds and take the overall lead

Photo: A.S.O.






31.08.2016 @ 18:45 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Leigh Howard (IAM) took the victory in the opening stage of the Tour des Fjords after a very confusing and chaotic start to the five-day race. After the peloton had taken a wrong turn on the final circuit, Howard, his teammate Roger Kluge and Jesper Asselman (Roompot) escaped and the Australian made a well-timed attack to take the win ahead of the Dutchman, with August Jensen (Joker) winning the sprint for third five seconds later. Howard is the first leader of the race.


The first stage of the five-day Tour des Fjords was hugely anticipated as it ended with one lap of the circuit that will be used for the 2017 Worlds in Bergen. However, the stage ended in a huge chaos and drama and the organizers must cross their fingers that things go better when the bet riders in the world will battle for the rainbow jersey in one year’s time.


After hard work all day, Alexander Kristoff’s Katusha team had everything under control and were ready to set up the local hero for a bunch sprint win when the drama unfolded. Most of the bunch suddenly took a wrong turn and with less than 15km to go, there were riders all over the road.


Leigh Howard, Roger Kluge and Jesper Asselman had been riding on the front and taken the right direction and so they found themselves with a big advantage as the peloton turned around, regrouped and got organized again. The trio worked well together to grab the unexpected opportunity and even though the peloton got very close in the end, it was too late. After huge work from Kluge, it was Howard who made the most of it as the Australian made a late attack to beat Asselman before August Jensen won the sprint for third five seconds too late.


The fourth edition of the Tour des Fjords kicked off with a relatively short 140km opening stage. The riders travelled from Osøyra to Bergen and first did a small loop north of the starting city to go up the Fanafjellet climb at the 18.4km mark. Having contested a sprint in Osøyra, they headed along mainly flat roads to Bergen while tackling the Grasdalen climb at the 64.6km mark. The first passage of the line came at the 121.1km mark where the second sprint was located and then the race ended with one lap of the 19km Worlds circuit that included a small climb 9.7km from the finish. From there, it was a flat and technical run-in to the finish.


The riders had dry conditions when they took the start and as soon as the flag was dropped, the attacking started. Ken Eikeand (FixIT) and Kasper Asgreen (Veitu Pro) were the first to make a move but they were quickly brought back after the Dane had tried alone. At the same time, heavy rain started to fall and a big crash created some chaos.


The attacking continued for a while before Carl Fredrik Hagen (Spareebanken), Joey Rosskopf (BMC) Quentin Pacher (Delko) and Christian Mager (Stölting) escaped. They crested the summit of the first climb in that order while the peloton reached the top 2 minutes later.


The gap went out to four minutes before Katusha hit the front. For a long time, Anton Vorobyev, Dmitry Kozontchuk and Nils Politt were riding on the front, slowly reducing the gap. Meanwhile, Mager beat Hagen and Rosskopf in the first intermediate sprint. The Germans was also the fastest in the second KOM sprint where he beat Pacher and Hagen.


Vorobyev, Kzontchuk and Politt kept riding on the front and had reduced the gap to 2.50 when they hit the final 70km. The trio used flatter terrain after a small climb to accelerate hard and so they brought it down to just 1.35 in five kilometres.


The gap briefly came down to 40 seconds but as the Katusha trio eased off a bit, the gap had again gone out to 2.45 as they entered the final 50km. That was the signal for IAM to come to the fore and as Matthias Brändle hit the front, the balance tipped. With 40km to go, the advantage was down to 2.05 and it had dropped to 1.30 as they tackled a small climb five kilometres later.


With 30km to go, the front quartet was only 50 seconds ahead and riders now started to get dropped from the peloton in the lumpy terrain. It was also too hard for Mager as the young Geman was dropped from the breakaway, and for Politt who ended his work on the front.


With 20km to go, Brändle and Vorobyev shared the work with a FixIT rider and the front trio was dangling just a few metres ahead of the group. Two kilometres later, they had to surrender and everything was back together as they approached the first passage of the line.


FixIT hit the front with two riders and set the pace until Michael Mørkøv led Kristoff out for the intermediate sprint. The Norwegian and the Dane made it a 1-2 for Katusha as they headed through the finish for the first time.


A Joker rider tried to attack but Katusha shut it down immediately. IAM then took control with Roger Kluge and while he rode on the front, the drama started.


A big part of the peloton took a wrong turn and suddenly Kluge, his IAM teammate Leigh Howard and Jesper Asselman (Roompot) and a few more riders had gone clear while the bunch took its time to turn around. A chase group with Nikolai Trusov, his Tinkoff teammate Lorenzo Fortunato, Brändle Andrea Pasqualon (Roth), Adam Phelan (Drapac) and Alexander Porsev (Katusha) was formed a little behind the three leaders.


Fortunato did all the work in the second group and so they constantly lost time to the three leaders who had a 25-second advantage as they hit the climb with 10km to go. Asselman tried to up the pace and Kluge was briefly distanced as the Dutchman applied the pressure. However, he managed to get back and the trio crested the summit together, with Howard leading Asselman and his teammate across the line.


The peloton was back on track and had almost caught the chasers as they hit the ascent. Damiano Caruso (BMC) attacked and made it across but when he looked around, he had the rest of the peloton in tow.


Fortunato kept riding on the front on the main group until Katusha took over with Porsev. With Kristoff glued to his wheel, the Russian upped the pace as he tried to bring back the three leaders.


With 5km to go, the gap was still 15 seconds but as there was no help for Porsev, it didn’t come down at all during the next 1500m. That forced BMC to react and the American team put Michael Schär on the front.


Kluge, Asselman and Howard worked well together though and they still had an advantage of 15 seconds when they hit the final 3km. Meanwhile, Trusov tried to attack but Schär soon rbought him back.


The front trio took some risks in the many turns on the wet circuit and Kluge briefly got a small advantage. Asselman brought the group back together and then the Germans sacrificed himself for Howard.


Katusha and BMC were chasing hard and while they passed Trusov inside the final kilometre, it all came down to a nail.biting finale. It was a huge duel between Kluge and a Katusha rider before Howard made a big attack with 400m to go. Asselman was unable to respond and the Australian managed to hold off both the Dutchman and the peloton to take the win. Asselman took second, 2 seconds behind the winner, and Jensen won the sprint for third with a time loss of 5 seconds after Kluge had been caught in the finale.


With the win, Howard moves into the lead with a 6-second advantage over Asselman and he faces a harder second stage. The 202.3km course will bring the riders from Stord to Odda and is mainly flat. After an early intermediate sprint, the peloton will tackle the first climb when they exit the spectacular Bømlafjord Tunnel. From there they will head along flat roads while contesting the final two intermediate sprints with 96.6km and 76.7km to go respectively. The key challenge is the 8.8km climb to Grostøl whose summit comes with 22.2km to go. From there, the riders will descend to the flat and non-technical finish.



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