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Kristoff was in a class of his own in the reduced bunch sprint at the end of the first stage of the Tour des Fjords, taking the stage win and the overall lead; lead-out man Haller made it a 1-2 for Katusha

Photo: Sirotti

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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DARYL IMPEY

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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MARCO HALLER

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TOUR DES FJORDS

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27.05.2015 @ 18:51 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Defending champion Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) continued his dominance of the Norwegian races when he took an easy sprint victory in the first stage of the Tour des Fjords. His Katusha team completely dominated the finale and lead-out man Marco Haller even made it a 1-2 for the Russian team. Kristoff also takes the first leader’s jersey in the race.

 

One week ago Alexander Kristoff won two stages of the Tour of Norway and this week he has a big chance to add a few more victories to his growing palmares in the Tour des Fjords where he lines up as the defending champion. Today he got his title defence off to the perfect start when he won the lumpy opening stage on a wet day in his home country.

 

The stage was a typical Tour des Fjords affair with many rolling hills and two tough climbs inside the final 25km. That made it a perfect day for Kristoff who made it into the 20-rider group that emerged over the top of the final climb and in the sprint he was perfectly delivered to the victory by lead-out man Marco Haller who even held on to second place.

 

As they hit the climb, Ronan van Zandbeek (De Rijke), Micki van Empel (Roompot) and Preben van Hecke (Topsport) were still a few seconds ahead of the speeding peloton that was led by MTN-Qhubeka. van Zandbeek quickly dropped back to the peloton and moments later, Van Hecke and van Empel were also back in the fold. An Activejet rider was setting the pace until a Rabobank rider broke the standstill by launching an attack.

 

The young Dutchman got some strong company as Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural), Sven Erik Bystøm (Katusha) and Michael Valgren (Tinkoff-Saxo) joined him. In the peloton, the chase was being led by Edvald Boasson Hagen wo made the junction with a handful of riders in tow, including Simon Spilak (Katuska), Adam Yates Daryl Impey, Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Marco Marcato (Wallonie).

 

There was no cooperation in the group and so Turruka launched a new attack. He got nowhere and instead Orica-GreenEDGE decided to use their strength in numbers as Meier and Yates hit the front of the 20-rider group that had emerged over the top of the climb.

 

Meier and Yates set a high speed while the Katusha and Caja Rural trains started to position themselves a little further back. With 3km to go, Yates swung off and protected sprinter Impey had now moved onto Meier’s wheel.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE lost control with 3.5km to go when Angel Madrazo hit the front for Caja Rural. He toom a huge turn before Katusha kicked into action 500m later when Simon Spilak, Bystrøm, Marco Haller and Kristoff lined out on the front.

 

Spilak set the pace until the flamme rouge where Bystrøm took over. He briefly got some help from a Joker rider before he allowed Haller to do the lead-out. Impey was on Kristoff’s wheel but was no match to his immense speed and Haller even managed to hold the South African off to take second.

 

With the win, Kristoff also takes the first leader’s jersey and he goes into stage 2 with a 4-second advantage over Haller. It is another lumpy stage with three categorized climbs in the first part while the second part includes several smaller ascents. However, it should be an easier day than the opener and all is set for a bunch sprint on day 2.

 

A tricky opener

The third edition of the Tour des Fjords kicked off with a 174.3km stage that brought the riders from Bergen to Norheimsund. It consisted of the usual rolling roads in the lumpy Norwegian terrain and included two categorized climbs in the first two thirds of the stage. With 24.8km to go, the riders crossed the line for the first time and then did two laps of a 12.4km circuit that included a tough climb which offered KOM points at the first passage.

 

The riders had rainy weather when they gathered for the start in Bergen which is known for its wet conditions. As it is always the case in these races, they got the stage off to a fast start with lots of attacks and it took some time for the early break to be formed.

 

The break is formed

Ronan Van Zandbeek (De Rijke) and Adrian Gjølberg (FixIT) were the first riders to get a significant gap and they worked well together to extend their advantage to 30 seconds. Meanwhile, Andreas Erland (Sparebanken) took off in pursuit and he was later joined by Micki van Empel (Roompot), Jeroen Meijers (Rabobank) and Niklas Gustavsson (Tre Berg).

 

At the start of the first climb, the front duo were 20 seconds ahead of their four chasers while the peloton had been distanced by 1.25. The front groups merged and Van Zandbeek was first across the line at the top, followed by Erland, Gustavsson and Meijers.

 

Katusha in control

The six-rider breakaway quickly extended their advantage to 2.30 but the peloton was reluctant to give them much room. When Gustavsson beat Meijers and Erland in the first intermediate sprint, it was only 2.45.

 

The gap was slowly allowed to grown and at the 40km mark, it had gone out to 4 minutes. At this point, Katusha had taken control and set a steady pace on the front of the peloton.

 

A fight for points

While Meijers fought his way back to the break after a puncture, the gap came down to 3.10. It even went down to 2.40 but as they entered the final 100km, it was back up to 3.30.

 

Sven Erik Bystrøm and Dmitriy Kozontchuk worked well together to gradually reduce their deficit and as they approached the second climb, the gap had come down to 2.45. Here Gjølberg beat van Zandbeek, Erland and Gustavsson in the battle for maximum points.

 

Van Hecke bridges across

With 75km to go, the gap was still 2.40 and it was still Kozontchuk and Bystrøm doing the work I the peloton. As they entered the final 60km, the gap was only 2.10 and when Meijers beat Gustavsson and Erland in the next intermediate sprint, it was only 2 minutes.

 

With 50km to go, Preben van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) attacked and he did an impressive ride to bridge the big gap. With 44km to go, he was just 30 seconds behind and moments later he made the junction.

 

Joker take control

Meanwhile, Joker had taken control of the peloton and they tried to make the race hard. Edwin Wilson and Rediar Borgersen took some huge turns for the local team which allowed Katusha to take a short breather.

 

Van Hecke had given new life to the break and with 35km to go, his hard work had reopened the gap to 2.20. However, they started to lose ground as they approached the finishing circuit and with 30km to go, the gap was only 1.50.

 

The break splits up

1km later a motorcycle crashed and several Ringeriks Kraft riders hit the deck too. That didn’t stop the peloton though and as they hit the late climb, the gap was only 1.00.

 

As soon as they started to climb, Frederik Galta (Coop) launched a strong attack while the front group started to splinter. Gustavsson and Meijers were the first to lose contact and later Gjølberg and finally Erland also had to surrender.

 

Trek lead the chase

Van Zandbeek dug deep to win the final KOM sprint while Søren Kragh Andersen (Tre-For) attacked from the peloton. He quickly passed the dropped escapees and Galta but never made it across to the strong front trio.

 

At the top of the climb, the peloton was 50 seconds behind the leaders while Gjølberg, Kragh Andersen, Erland and Galta had combined forces. However, they had no chance against the speeding peloton in which Trek had now taken control. Stijn Devolder took some huge turns and with 14km to go, the chasers were back in the fold.

 

At this point, the gap was only 25 seconds and now MTN-Qhubeka took over with Songezo Jim and Jaco Venter. Their fast pace spelled the end for the break which was caught at the bottom of the final climb, setting the scene for the exciting finale.

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