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After a fast day in brutal Omani heat, Kristoff held off Guardini and Pelucchi in the bunch sprint on stage 3 of the Tour of Oman; Cancellara defended his lead on the eve of the queen stage

Photo: Muscat Municipality/Paumer/B.Bade

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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ANDREA GUARDINI

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FABIAN CANCELLARA

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MATTEO PELUCCHI

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TOUR OF OMAN

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19.02.2015 @ 12:22 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After his three stage wins in the Tour of Qatar, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) continued his dream start to the 2015 season when he added the third stage of the Tour of Oman to his palmares. In the bunch sprint on a brutally hot day in the desert, the Norwegian beat Andrea Guardini (Astana) and Matteo Pelucchi (IAM) to claim his  fourth win of the season while Fabian Cancellara (Trek) finished safely in the peloton to defend his overall lead.

 

With three stage wins in the Tour of Qatar, Alexander Kristoff went into the Tour of Oman as the rider to beat in the bunch sprints. However, the Norwegian failed in his first attempt when he could only manage 5th in the first stage.

 

After that sprint, the Norwegian admitted to have been poorly positioned and described it as a miracle that he had managed to get so close to the fastest riders. This gave him lots of confidence for today’s stage which was again expected to be one for the fast riders.

 

Katusha had worked hard in the first stage and this had left them fatigued for the finale. Today they decided to take a backseat and allowed the Trek team of race leader Fabian Cancellara and Matteo Pelucchi’s IAM teammates to work to bring back the early 3-rider breakaway.

 

That decision paid off as Kristoff had plenty of teammates to support him when it all came down to the expected bunch sprint. Despite most riders being relatively fresh and lots of lead-out trains battling for position, he managed to position himself well for the sprint and he held off stage 1 winner Andrea Guardini and Pelucchi to take his fourth win of the season.

 

For Cancellara, the only challenge was the brutal heat that saw the temperatures reach 38 degrees and he enjoyed a relatively easy day in the saddle. Hence, he defended his 4-second advantage over Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

 

He will start tomorrow’s stage in the leader’s jersey but that is likely to be his final day in that position. Stage 4 is the queen stage that finishes at the top of the famous Green Mountain that has been the scene of some big battle in the last few years. After a rolling first part of the stage, the climbers will come to the fore when they hit the brutal 5.7km ascent whose average gradient of 10.5% and 13.5% gradients for the final 1.5km will do a big part in determining the overall winner of the Tour of Oman.

 

A flat stage

After yesterday’s hilly stage, it was back into flatter terrain for stage 3 which brought the riders over 158.5km from a start at Al Mussanah Sports City and back to a finish at the same place. The race involved two different circuits that consisted of very gradual climbs and descents but nothing was expected to prevent a big bunch sprint.

 

The riders took the start in very hot conditions as the Omani heat simply gives no room to recover in this year’s edition of the race. After they had paid tribute to Claude Criquelion who died yesterday, the riders took off but with a sprint finish on the cards, there was no real incentive to go on the attack.

 

Van Meirhaeghe again on the attack

Hence, it was the first attack by Jef van Meihaeghe (Topsport Vlaanderen) who wanted to score more points for his most aggressive rider’s jersey, that paid off and he was followed by his teammate Preben van Hecke and Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani). The trio were already over 1 minute ahead after 3km of racing and the peloton was in no hurry to chase them down.

 

After 19km of racing, the gap was already 7 minutes and when van Meirhaeghe beat van Hecke and Tonelli in the first intermediate sprint at the 34km mark, it had been extended to 9.15. In the peloton, Cancellara’s Trek team was setting a modest pace and showed no interest in bringing them back.

 

IAM come to the fore

In the 34 degree temperatures, the riders covered 40.5km in the first hour and now the peloton decided to up the pace. After 50km of racing, they had brought it down to 8 minutes and as IAM now joined forces with Trek, they had it down to 6.35 7km later.

 

IAM were very eager to set up a sprint finish for Pelucchi and now the gap was coming down quickly. Through the feeding zone at the 77km mark, it was only 3 minutes but the peloton slowed down a bit to allow the advantage to stabilize around that mark.

 

Van Meirhaeghe gets his points

As the temperature reached 38 degrees, Tinkoff-Saxo decided to apply the pressure in the final uphill section and this had a big impact on the gap. After 116km of racing, it was only 35 seconds but as the peloton again slowed down, it got back up to 45 seconds.

 

Van Meirhaeghe was desperate to get to the second intermediate sprint and he accomplished his mission when he beat van Hecke and Tonelli at that point after 136.5km of racing. At this point, the gap was back up to 1.20 but van Meirhaeghe had had enough and decided to drop back to the peloton.

 

Trentin abandons

Inside the final 20km, a big crash brought down several riders, including Nikias Arndt, Warren Barguil (both Giant-Alpecin) and Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep). While Barguil managed to rejoin the peloton, Trentin was forced to abandon.

 

Under the impetus of Astana and Movistar, the peloton accelerated and with 16km to go, it was all over for the escapees. The battle for position was now fierce as Tinkoff-Saxo, MTN-Qhubeka and Bora-Argon 18 also came to the fore.

 

Sky hit the front with 5km to go but they were passed by Astana and Tinkoff-Saxo. Katusha took over but passing the flamme rouge, it was Orica-GreenEDGE who led the peloton. In the end, however, Kristoff came away with the win.

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