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After a dramatic finale, Katusha split a select front group to pieces in the sprint before Kristoff moved ahead to win stage four of the Tour of Qatar; Boasson punctured out of the race lead as Cavendish took the golden jersey

Photo: Paumer Kare Dhelie Thorstad

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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DIMENSION DATA

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GREG VAN AVERMAET

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JACOPO GUARNIERI

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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MARK CAVENDISH

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TOUR OF QATAR

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11.02.2016 @ 14:44 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alexander Kristoff bounced back from his disappointing time trial by claiming his second victory in three days on a very dramatic fourth stage of the Tour of Qatar. With an impressive lead-out, Katusha split a select front group to pieces inside the final kilometre and Kristoff easily held off Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) to take the win, with his lead-out man Jacopo Guarnieri completing the podium. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) punctured out of the front group and instead his teammate Mark Cavendish takes the golden jersey with a 2-second advantage over Van Avermaet.

 

Yesterday a disappointed Alexander Kristoff admitted that his poor time trial performance meant that he would not be able to win the overall at the Tour of Qatar. However, cycling is an unpredictable sport and 24 hours later he now finds himself with another shot at a first GC victory in the desert state.

 

All week Katusha have been one of the strongest teams and the Russian again played with the muscles in the finale of a dramatic fourth stage. The team ripped the peloton to pieces and set Kristoff perfectly up for the sprint and as all his rivals had almost dropped off, it was an easy task for the Norwegian to take his second win of the week.

 

Nothing suggested that there would be any drama as there was barely any wind in the first part of the stage and it had developed into a traditional sprint race. As the peloton approached the final lap of the 13.4km finishing circuit, a four-rider break of Preben Van Hecke  (Topsport Vlaanderen), Patrick Gretsch (Ag2r), Mark McNally (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Jesper Asselman (Roompot) was dangling just 30 seconds ahead of the peloton which was controlled by the Dimension Data pair of Matthew Brammeier and Jay Thomson.

 

That’s when LottoNL-Jumbo decided to change the script and while Thomas Koep (Stölting) hit the deck in a crash, the Dutchmen attacked hard in the crosswind. They immediately created several splits, with BMC, Dimension Data, Katusha, Bora-Argon 18 and LottoNL-Jumbo all have strength in numbers.

 

The acceleration ended the day for the breakaway as the front group worked well together to extend their advantage. Almost everybody was contributing to the pace-setting, including Kristoff and most of the sprinters.

 

Edvald Boasson Hagen had easily made the selection but disaster struck for the Norwegian with 7km to go. He got a bike from one of his teammates and started to chase with teammate Tyler Farrar, Thomson and Mark Renshaw who all waited for him, but by the time he was back on the bike he had been passed by several groups.

 

Boasson Hagen made it back to the peloton but they were 35 seconds behind the front group in which LottoNL-Jumbo, Bora-Argon 18 and BMC were setting a brutal pace. Dimension Data, Astana and Unitedhealthcare all chased hard and Boasson Hagen took some impressive turns himself but the gap stayed constant around 30-35 seconds. Things didn’t get any easier when his teammates all cracked and in the final 3km, most of the work was left to Boasson Hagen.

 

In the front group, LottoNL-Jumbo took complete control before BMC came to the fore to lend them a hand. Katusha also started to contribute with 3km to go but it was their surge with 2km to go that made the difference.

 

Nils Politt, Viacheslav Kuznetsov, Michael Mørkøv, Jacopo Guarnieri and Kristoff hit the front and when the German swung off at the flamme rouge, it was Kuznetsov’s time to take over. The Russian split the group to pieces and suddenly only the BMC pair of Greg Van Avermaet and Manuel Quinziato and sprinters Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) and Mark Cavendish had managed to hang on.

 

Mørkøv took his turn on the front and when Guarnieri took over, even Quinziato, Bennett and Cavendish dropped off. That left Kristoff with an easy task when he launched his sprint and Van Avermaet could do nothing more than hang on for dear life, with Guarnieri even hanging on for third place.

 

Boasson Hagen reached the finish with a time loss of 45 seconds and so dropped to 5th overall, 19 seconds behind his teammate Cavendish who is the new leader. As the Manxman missed out on time bonuses, the advantage over Van Avermaet is just 2 second, with Quinziato 6 seconds and Kristoff 9 seconds behind respectively.

 

That turns the short 114.5km final stage into a thriller as bonus seconds can change the outcome. It’s another flat stage and after a short run along the coast, the stage ends with 10 laps of the traditional fast 5.7km circuit in Doha where the sprinters are expected to shine.

 

The longest stage

After yesterday’s time trial, the riders tackled the longest stage of the race which brought them over 189km from Al-Zubarah Fort to Madinat al Shamal. As usual the roads were completely flat but with lots of changes of direction, things could split up in the crosswinds. After a first trip to the interior of the peninsula, the riders travelled along the coast to the north where they first did one lap of a 36km circuit and then four laps of a 13.4km finishing circuit where the wind had often split the field in the past.

 

It was a sunny and unusually calm day when the 132 riders that finished the time trial, headed out for the neutral ride. Despite the lack of wind, there was lots of nervousness though and the peloton split up after only 2km of racing. 12 riders briefly got a lead of 10 seconds but the wind was not strong enough to do much damage and instead it became a battle to join the breakaway.

 

Nine riders get clear

While several riders were hit by numerous punctures, 11 riders escaped and that suited the peloton well. Two riders dropped off but 9 riders pressed on.

 

Mark McNally (Wanty), Artyom Zakharov (Astana), Patrick Gretsch, Sebastien Turgot (Ag2r), Daniel Eaton (United Healthcare), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen), Berden De Vries (Roompot), Adrien Kurek (CCC) and Thomas Koep (Stölting) quickly got an advantage of 30 seconds and with the Ag2r riders as the driving forces, they increased the it to 1.35 after 38km of racing. In the peloton, Dimension Data took control and allowed the gap to grow to 2.10 at the 53km mark.

 

BMC split the field

Gretsch was first over the line in the first intermediate sprint, followed by Van Hecke and Zakharov, while the peloton geared up for some action. Immediately after the sprint, BMC has attacked hard in the crosswind and the field was split into three groups, the first one being just 1.05 behind the leaders.

 

Apart from Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) who was in the second group but fell back to the third one following a puncture, all main riders were in the first group that was just 15 seconds behind the leaders as they approached the first circuit in the finale. The second group had been distanced by 48 seconds at this point while Bennett was 1.10 behind.

 

A regrouping takes place

With 90km to go, the riders hit the circuit and here it was over for the escapees. At the same time, Cavendish had to fight his way back to the front group after a mechanical.

 

The first group was slowing down as all the favourites had made the selection, and the main group slowly brought their deficit down to around 15 seconds. Moments later, the junction was made and and it ws all back together as they tackled the big circuit.

 

Four riders get clear

The situation calmed down and this allowed Jesper Asselman (Roompot), Van Hecke, Gretsch and McNally to escape and during their lap of the circuit, they managed to build an advantage of 1.55. It went out to a maximum of 2.50 before Dimension Data upped the pace and organized a chase.

 

Matthew Brammeier and Mekseb Debesay hit the front for the South African team and slowly started to reel the break in. As they tackled the first lap of the small circuit, there was briefly some nervousness when they changed direction, with BMC and Katusha lining up their trains alongside Dimension Data – and this meant that the gap was already down to 1.50 with 45km to go.

 

Dimension Data in control

The situation calmed down a bit and Brammeier and Debesay again took over the pace-setting. When Gretsch led McNally and Asselman across the line at the end of the first lap to win the final intermediate sprint, the gap was down to just 1.20.

 

Brammeier and Debesay kept it relatively stable at around 1.15-1.30 before Youcef Reguigui took over from Debesay. He upped the pace and together with Brammeier, he reduced the gap to just a minute at the start of the penultimate lap.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo attack in the wind

The peloton briefly slowed down and so the gap went out to 1.10 before the fight for position automatically created a faster pace. At the entrance of the final 20km, the gap was down to just 55 seconds.

 

Reguigui ended his work and it was Brammeier and Jay Thomson who worked together to bring the gap further down. With 17km to go, it was just 35 seconds and things seemed to be under control when LottoNL-Jumbo suddenly changed the script by attacking in the crosswind.

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