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After another dominant performance by Etixx-QuickStep, Kittel took his fifth win of the season in the uphill sprint on stage 4 of the Volta ao Algarve, beating Wippert and Debusschere; Martin retained the lead

Photo: ANSA - PERI / Dal Zennaro

DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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JENS DEBUSSCHERE

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MARCEL KITTEL

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TONY MARTIN

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VOLTA AO ALGARVE

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WOUTER WIPPERT

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20.02.2016 @ 18:13 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Marcel Kittel continued his dream start to his Etixx-QuickStep career by claiming another sprint win on stage four of the Volta ao Algarve. Three days after winning the first stage, he was again delivered perfectly by Etixx-QuickStep and easily beat Wouter Wippert (Cannondale) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) in the uphill finish while his teammate Tony Martin retained the lead.

 

Going into the 2016 season, many were questioning whether Marcel Kittel would be able to return to the top after his disastrous 2015 season. However, just before the conclusion of his second race with Etixx-QuickStep, he has already silenced all his critics.

 

In the Dubai Tour, he won two stages and the overall and it was only a crash in stage 2 that prevented him from maintaining a status as unbeaten in the sprints. This week he has continued his dominance in the Volta ao Algarve where he has been in a class of his own in the bunch kicks.

 

Kittel knew that he had two opportunities in the five-day race and got an important confidence boost by beating compatriot André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) on stage 1. Today he managed to double his tally in the second sprint stage of the race and so he is still unbeaten in the sprints that he has actually contested.

 

All day Lotto Soudal and Etixx-QuicStep had controlled a four-rider breakaway of Adam Stachowiak (Verva ActiveJet), Ivan Savitskiy (Gazprom-RusVelo), Charles Planet (Novo Nordisk) and Guillaume De Almeida (Rádio Popular ONDA Boavista). With 50km to go, the gap was down to 2.30 and this created some aggression in the front group. Planet and Stachowiak managed to distance Savitskiy and De Almeida who soon dropped his Russian companion.

 

With 45km to go, a big crash brought down Greipel and riders from Movistar. That briefly disrupted the chase while the German chased back to the peloton.

 

Stachowiak dropped Planet and entered the final 42km with an advantage of 6 seconds of the Novo Nordisk rider and 12 seconds over De Almeida while Savitskiy was brought back by Etixx-QuickStep that led the chase. The two leaders again joined forces but De Almeida was losing ground and had been distanced by 50 seconds with 36km to go. At this point the gap was still 2.30 at the end of four hours at an average speed of 39.7km/h.

 

De Almeida was brought back as the peloton accelerated and they had reduced the gap to just 1.20. While Geraint Thomas (Sky) rejoined the peloton after a puncture, they took back another 30 seconds during the next five kilometres but then allowed the gap to go back out to 1.02.

 

The peloton again accelerated as Movistar and Tinkoff hit the front and they were just 20 seconds behind when Stachowiak beat Planet in the final intermediate sprint 18km from the finish, with Sergio Paulinho (Tinkoff) leading the bunch across the line to take third. The game of cat and mouse continued though and with 15km to go, the gap was again 40 seconds.

 

As the sprint teams started to line up, the catch was inevitable and with 8km to go, it was over for the two escapees. From here it was a big fight but it was Etixx-QuickStep that came out on top. They hit the front with 3km to go and managed to deliver Kittel in a perfect position to take a dominant sprint win ahead of Wouter Wippert and Jens Debusschere who did the sprint for Lotto Soudal due to Greipel’s crash.

 

Tony Martin finished safely in the bunch and so retained his 3-second advantage over Geraint Thomas (Sky). He faces a big test tomorrow in the queen stage which includes the traditional uphill finish on the Alto do Malhao. After a lumpy first part with just one climb, the riders will tackle the 2.9km climb for the first time with 42.8km to go. Then there’s another small climb before it all comes to an exciting conclusion at the top of the final ascent which averages almost 10%.

 

One for the sprinters

After yesterday’s time trial, the sprinters were expected to get a final chance to shine in stage four which brought the riders over 194km from S. Bras de Alportel to Tavira. After a lumpy first part with two smaller climbs, the riders headed into flatter terrain in the second part where they followed a coastal road in the final few kilometres. In the end, there was a tricky finale as the final 400m were uphill at an average gradient of 4.5%.

 

It was a sunny and less windy day when the riders gathered for the start. Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal) who crashed on the first day and Joonas Henttala (Novo Nordisk) were both absent as they rolled out for their neutral ride.

 

Three riders get clear

As soon as the flag was dropped, seven riders managed to escape as Andre Cardoso (Cannondale), Ivan Savitiskiy (Gazprom-RusVelo), Charles Planet (Novo Nordisk), Pawel Cieslik (Verva-ActiveJet), Bruno Silva (LA Aluminios - Antarte), Sandro Filipe Silva (Louletano- Hospital de Loulé) and Pablo Guerrero (Radio Popular Onda Boavista) took off. They managed to stay clear until the 6km mark where they were brought back.

 

That opened the door for Adam Stachowiak (Verva ActiveJet), Ivan Savitskiy (Gazprom-RusVelo) and Charles Planet (Novo Nordisk) to try and they worked hard to try to get a real advantage. Guillaume De Almeida (Rádio Popular ONDA Boavista) took off in lone pursuit before the peloton finally sat up and allowed the gap to go out to a minute after 10km of racing.

 

De Almeida makes the junction

The slow pace in the peloton meant that the gap was already 2.30 at the 13km to mark while De Almeida was stuck 33 seconds behind the leaders. As they hit the first climb after 26km of racing, he was still 30 seconds behind while the peloton had been distanced by 5 minutes and was led at a slow pace by Etixx-QuickStep and Tinkoff.

 

On the climb, De Almeida made the junction before Stachoiak led Savitskiy and Planet over the top. At this point, the gap had gone out to a massive 6.22.

 

The peloton accelerates

The riders averaged 41km/h during the first hour and it was now time for Etixx-QuickStep and Tinkoff to up the pace. With 149km to go, they had reduced the gap to 4.30 and here Planet won the first intermediate sprint.

 

As they started the second climb, the gap was still 4.30 but the escapees managed to push it out to 5.32 when Savitskiy led Stachowiak and Planet over the top. Etixx-QuickStep, Lotto Soudal, Astana and Caja Rural were now occupying the front positions and kept the gap at around five minutes.

 

Herklotz abandons

The pace had been reduced as the average speed was only 38km/h at the end of the second hour and now the chase gradually got organized. With 116km to go, the gap was 4.45 and it was 4.25 just six kilometres later.

 

As the riders entered the final 100km, the gap had been reduced to just 3.25 and this prompted the peloton to step off the gas. While Silvio Herklotz (Bora-Argon 18) left the race, they kept the gap between the 3- and 4-minute marks.

 

Sprint win for Savitskiy

It was Etixx-QuickStep and Lotto Soudal dictating affairs and they had brought the gap down to 3 minutes after 3 hours at an average speed of 38.7km as they again went back to work. That’s when LA Alumios briefly took a few turns before Lotto Soudal lined up five riders on the front, keeping the gap around 3 minutes.

 

With 65km to go, the gap was still 2.45 and this gave the escapees time to contest the second intermediate sprint which was won by Savitskiy ahead of Planet and Stachowiak. In the peloton, Etixx-QuickStep had again joined forces with Lotto Soudal and they kept the gap relatively stable before they accelerated tin the finale to set up the expected bunch sprint.

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