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By closing a 2-minute gap in 10km, Kristoff made it across to a front trio 4km from the finish and easily beat van der Lijke and Koch in the 6-rider sprint on stage 3 at the Tour des Fjords; the Norwegian is the new leader of the race

Photo: Sirotti








02.09.2016 @ 19:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) made one of the most remarkable comebacks to make it two in a row in his home race Tour des Fjords when he won the hard third stage of the race. Together with Jonas Koch (Verva) and Nick van der Lijke (Roompot), he closed a gap of two minutes to Damiano Caruso, Michael Schär (BMC) and Pieter Weening (Roompot) in less than 10km and finally crushed his five rivals in the sprint to take the victory and move into the race lead.


Alexander Kristoff may have taken most of his many wins in bunch sprints but as his Tour of Flanders victory shows, he is much more than a sprinter. Today he put his impressive strength of show to take his second stage win in two days at his home race Tour des Fjords and keep his GC hopes alive with a remarkable comeback at a time when it seemed all over.


The third stage included two big mountains at the midpoint and a lumpy run-in to the finish and after Pieter Weening, Damiano Caruso and Michael Schär had used the hard terrain to build a big advantage, it seemed like it was all over for Kristoff. With 15km to go, he found himself in a very tired peloton where no one had anything left for the chase and was sitting two minutes behind the leaders.


However, Kristoff refused to give up and as he went to the front to lead the chase himself, he suddenly got a gap. He got some welcome company from Jonas Koch and Nick van der Lijke and with an impressive performance the trio bridged the gap, making the junction just 4km from the finish. From there, the outcome was never in doubt as Kristoff was in a class of his own in the sprint and instead of being out of the GC battle, he now finds himself in the overall lead.


After two relatively flat stages, the riders faced some serious climbing on stage 3 which brought the riders over a massive 221.2km from Ulvik to Suldalsosen. The first 75km were almost completely flat and included the first intermediate sprint at the 71.1km mark. Then the riders tackled the long climb of Røldalsfjellet whose top came at the 102.8km mark. A short descent led to the 8.5km climb of Kringletjørn. The top came with 101.6km to go and the descent was followed by flat roads that included two intermediate sprints with 69.8km and 31km to go respectively.


Like in the first two stages, the riders had rainy conditions when they gathered for the start and there were no non-starters as they rolled through the neutral zone. Right from the start, there were lots of attacks and it was Sjoerd van Ginneken (Roompot) who got the first significant advantage. Reidar Borgersen (Joker) was one of the next to try and suddenly 19 riders had an advantage of a minute.


Alexander Porsev (Katusha), Joey Rosskopf (BMC), Marcel Aregger (IAM), Fredrik Galta (Delko Marseille), Adam Phelan (Drapac), Frederic Brun and Benoit Jarrier (Fortuneo), James Oram (One Pro Cycling), Huub Duijn, Sjoerd Van Ginneken and Pieter Weening (Roompot), Christian Mager (Stölting), Dylan Page (Team Roth), Kenny De Ketele (Topsport Vlaanderen), Cees Bol (Rabobank Development), Jonas Aaen Jørgensen (Riwal Platform), Reidar Borgersen (Joker), Rasmus Tiller (Ringeriks-Kraft) and Fridtjof Røinås (Sparebanken Sør) worked well together to maintain the gap but it was obviously too dangerous for Katusha. The Russian team put four riders on the front and for a long time, the gap was stable. Slowly the balance started to top and while the sun came out, it had dropped to 35 seconds after almost one hour of fast racing. The fast pace made it difficult for riders to come back after the many punctures that marred the race.


At the 45km mark, the gap was down to 15 seconds and as IAM also started to chase and that made the difference. After a first hour at an average speed of 48km/h, it all came back together.


Of course the attacking started immediately and it took more than 10km for the right group to be formed. When the elastic snapped, Frederic Brun (Fortuneo), Sjoerd Van Ginneken (Roompot), Jef Van Meirhaeghe (Topsport Vlaanderen), Nikolai Tefre Lunder (Bliz-Merida), Andreas Stokbro (Riwal Platform), Audun Brekke Fløtten (Ringeriks-Kraft) and Alex Rasmussen (ColoQuick Cult) had gone clear and as Kristoff stopped for a natural break, the gap went out to more than a minute.


Van Ginneken beat Fløtten and Van Meirhaeghe in the first intermediate sprint before the peloton crossed the line four minutes later and the gap even went out to 4.55 before they hit the first climb. At the same time, light rain started to fall on the riders.


The gap started to come down and was only 4.10 when John Ebsen (ONE) launched the first attack. He quickly got an advantage of 45 seconds and 3km from the top, he was just 3.20 behind the leaders. Unfortunately, he suffered a mechanical and so was brought back.


That’s when BMC decided to blow the race to pieces and after a big acceleration, Damiano Caruso, Michael Schär (BMC), Lorenzo Fortunato (Tinkoff), Pieter Weening (Roompot) and Carl Fredrik Hagen (Sparebanken Sør) had gone clear, just 1.40 behind the leaders. IAM and Katusha started to chase but they were losing ground.


Van Ginneken beat Fløtten, Brun and Stokbro in the KOM sprint before the chasers made the junction to make it 12 riders in the lead. However, the gap was only 1.15 as they hit the second climb.


Unsurprisingly, the group split up on the climb where Van Meirhaeghe, Lunder, Stokbro, Føtten and Rasmussen were dropped.  The seven leadersincreased their advantage to almost 3 minutes. Meanwhile, Quentin Pacher (Delko) took off in pursuit.


The escapees were working well together on the climb and as they hit the final 100km, they led Pacer by 50 seconds and the peloton by 3.40. Moments later Hagen beat Weening, Schär and Caruso in the KOM sprint.


Pacher dug deep on the upper slopes, crossing the line less than 30 minutes behind, and then made the junction in the first part of the descent. Meanwhile, IAM and Katusha shared the pace-setting in the peloton, with Matthias Brändle and Marcel Aregger doing the work.


As soon as they had crested the summit, Brändle and Aregger increased the speed and started to bring the break back. With 85km to go, the gap was down to 2.25 and as they hit flat roads 10km later, it was already down to 1.40. Katusha also came to the fore as they asked Dmitiy Kozontchuk to help the two IAM riders.


Schär beat Caruso and Weening in the intermediate sprint before the group split in two even though there were still more than 60km to go. Weening, van Ginneken and Caruso surged clear before Schär made a big effort to bridge the gap.


Having left the weaker guys behind, the strong quartet worked very well together to increase their advantage. At the same time, the peloton lost some momentum as only Aregger was contributing to the chase and so the gap had gone out to 2.30 as they hit the final 50km.


The gap was 2.45 just five kilometres later, and this was the signal for Katusha to kick into action. The Russian team put Michael Mørkøv and Nils Politt on the front and the pair started to cooperate with Aregger.


With less than 40km to go, van Ginneken was dropped from the break, leaving just three riders to press on. They worked well together and things were looking promising when Katusha and IAM apparently threw in the towel.


Stölting started to chase with Mads Pedersen as they hit the final 30km but they were not getting any closer. Meanwhile, the leaders were working well together and were bot too bothered by the final intermediate sprint which Schär won ahead of Weening and Caruso.


The chase was not really organized and when Aregger again hit the front after a long day of chasing, it was evident that the pace was not fast enough. Pedersen then returned but he got no help at all and the gap was still 2.30 with 25km to go.


Katusha finally came to the fore again when Alexander Porsev and Politt lent Pedersen a hand but they barely took back much time. With 18km to go, the leaders still had an advantage of 2.10.


Surprisingly, race leader Leigh Howard (IAM) suffered as they headed up a small climb where Pedersen, Politt and Porsev went full has. However, they soon blew up and so it was suddenly a mix of riders from Topsport, Delko and Fortuneo-Vital Concept that set the pace. That allowed Howard to survive as they reached the top of a small climb with 16km to go.


On the descent, Alexander Kristoff tried to keep his GC hopes alive as he hit the front but it was too late as the gap was still 1.50. The Norwegian even opened a gap and decided to press on with his attack. Nikolay Trusov (Tinkoff) and a Delko rider were chasing desperately and finally made it across when the Norwegian eased off. Further back, Howard was again dropped.


Jonas Koch (Verva) and Nick van der Lijke (Roompot) passed the Kristoff trio and only the Norwegian could follow the pair. Hence, a chase trio was formed and they worked well together to ride away from the field.


Things suddenly got exciting when the chasers reduced the gap to just 50 seconds with 9km to go where they had already put 25 seconds into the peloton. Even though van der Lijke was just following wheels, Kristoff and Koch showed impressive strength and with 5km to go, they were just 10 seconds behind the leaders.


Kristoff dug deep and with a huge turn he brought the two trios together just after the passage of the 4km mark. He even went straight to the front to set the pace as they hit a small climb.


Kristoff did most of the work on the front when the six leaders hit the final 3km with an advantage of more than a minute. Koch then made the first attack and initially only Kristoff could follow. Schåar and van der Lijke dug deep to make it across but Weening and Caruso were left behind.


Kristoff didn’t get much help and so the six riders were back together as they hit the final 1500m. He led the group under the flamme rouge and then launched his sprint from the front with 200m to go. No one could even get close to the Norwegian who had time to celebrate his win. Van der Lijke and Koch completed the podium before the peloton sprinted for seventh, with Cees Bol (Rabobank) crossing the line 46 seconds later.


With the win, Kristoff takes the overall lead with a 20-second advantage over Schär and van der Lijke. However, he faces another very tough challenge tomorrow in stage 4 which is suited to puncheurs and will bring the riders over 163.4km from Stavanger to Sandnes. The first part is completely flat and includes a sprint at the 29.1km mark. Then the riders will tackle the 1.5km Fjermestad and 2.7km Seldal climbs with 97km and 65.8km to go respectively and contest an intermediate sprint at the 77.5km mark. The stage ends with two laps of an 11.5km finishing circuit that includes a small climb (900m, 8.5%) just 3.8km from the finish. The final 2km are flat and includes a sharp turn less than 500m from the line.



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