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In a true power sprint on the uphill finishing straight in Harstad, Kristoff beat Boasson Hagen to win the first stage of the Arctic Race of Norway; the Katusha rider is the first leader of the race

Photo: Sirotti

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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EDVALD BOASSON HAGEN

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SAM BENNETT

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13.08.2015 @ 18:17 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After a disappointing Tour de France, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) found back to his winning ways when he took a convincing victory in the first stage of the Arctic Race of Norway. On the tough uphill drag to the line, he was clearly the strongest in the head-to-head battle against Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) and that allowed him to move into the race lead.

 

Last year Alexander Kristoff won two stages in the Tour de France and after an amazing spring season many expected him to continue his success in this year’s edition of the French race. However, the event ended as a big disappointment for the Norwegian who was never really close to that elusive victory.

 

Last year he returned to his home country as a national hero when he lined up for the Arctic Race of Norway and he delivered the goods for the home public by taking two stage wins. This year his home race serves more as a chance to make amends for the poor ride in France and he has done nothing to hide his intentions to again dominate the sprints in the event.

 

Today Kristoff finally found back to his winning ways when he won the opening stage in Harstad. To the delight of the home public, it came down to a great duel between Kristoff and Edvald Boasson Hagen in the uphill sprint and it was the Katusha rider who was clearly the most powerful.

 

At the start of the lap of the 8km finishing circuit, Vegard Stake Laengen (Joker) was the lone survivor from a 7-rider break as Marius Hafsas (FixIT) was brought back just as they crossed the line. However, he just had an advantage of 10 seconds over the peloton which was led by Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida).

 

Katusha wanted to win the stage and so they put Sven Erik Bystrøm on the front. The Norwegian led the peloton as they approached a 700m climb that averaged 6.5% while all the sprinters fought hard for position further back.

 

Laengen was still 10 seconds ahead as they hit the ascent where Dylan Teuns (BMC) launched an attack. He was closely marked by Kristoff’s lead-out man Marco Haller and those two riders flew past the fading Stake Laengen.

 

Michael Gogl (Tinkoff-Saxo), Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka), Rein Taaramae (Astana) and a Coop rider joined the move but as Teuns got no help, Kristoff brought it back as they entered the final 4km. Gogle tried to make a counterattack but Haller reacted quickly.

 

An Astana rider used a small slowdown to attack and as there was a bit of hesitation in the 30-rider group that had formed, he quickly got a big gap. Bora-Argon 18 were the ones to take responsibility as they hit the front and they kept the Kazakh on a short leash.

 

Unitedhealthcare took over with Davide Frattini and he brought the Astana rider back with 1.5km to go. When he swung off, Bora-Argon again hit the front with two riders while Haller and Ciolek were keeping Kristoff and Boasson Hagen in position respectively.

 

Passing the flamme rouge, Bystrøm, Haller and Kristoff hit the front while Boasson Hagen had latched onto their train as they started to go up the slightly riding finishing straight. Ciolek moved up with Boasson Hagen and did the lead-out while Haller and Kristoff slotted in behind the two MTN-Qhubeka riders.

 

When Ciolek started to fade, Haller sprinted past him before it all came down to a tough head-to-head battle between the two Norwgian sprinters. At first, the MTN-Qhubeka rider had a small advantage but when he got up to speed, Kristoff easily distanced his compatriot. Despite fading in the finale, Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) narrowly held off Niccolo Bonifazio (Lampre-Merida) in the battle for third.

 

With the win, Kristoff also takes the first leader’s jersey with a four-second advantage over Boasson Hagen. He has a big chance to strengthen that position in tomorrow’s second stage which is the easiest stage of the race. There are five climbs in the first two thirds of the stage but as the final 45km are mainly flat, a bunch sprint is expected.

 

An uphill sprint

The third edition of the Arctic Race of Norway kicked off with a 213.5km stage around the city of Harstad. The roads were mostly flat with just one smaller climb in the first part of the stage. With 66km to go, the riders would cross the finish line to start a lap of a 57.5km circuit that included another small climb. In the end, they would do one lap of an 8.5km finishing circuit with a 700m ascent averaging 6.5% just 6km from the finish. The final kilometre was slightly uphill with a gradient of 2.2%.

 

It was a perfect day for riding a bike when the riders gathered for the start in Harstad and with many continental teams, it was no surprise that there were lots of attacks right from the gun. However, the break got clear relatively early when Maxime Cam (Bretagne), Vegard Stake Laengen (Joker), Max Emil Korner (Ringeriks-Kraft), Haavard Blikra (Coop), Jon Breivold, (Froy), Jens Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Marius Hafsas (FixIT) escaped.

 

A big gap

After 14km of racing, they already had an advantage of 1.40 and it had gone out to 6.45 by the time Blikra beat Laengen and Cam in the first intermediate sprint. At the 50km mark, it reached a maximum of 7 minutes before the peloton started to slowly reel the escapees in and after 70km of racing, they had reduced their deficit to 5.35.

 

The gap stabilized a bit and was still 5.25 at the 87km mark before Laengen beat Cam and Hafsas in the first KOM sprint. At this point, the peloton accelerated again and had reduced the gap to 4.50.

 

Katusha and Lampre-Merida take control

It was Katusha and Lampre-Merida who had taken control of the peloton, with Sergey Lagutin and Mario Costa working on the front. As they entered the final 70km, they had reduced the gap to 2.50.

 

Blikra beat Laengen and Cam in the second intermediate sprint while Europcar joined forces with Lampre-Merida and Katusha as they put Perrig Quemeneur on the front. With 55km to go, they had reduced the gap to just 2 minutes and things were not getting better for the escapees when Louis Meintjes also started to chase for MTN-Qhubeka.

 

Laengen takes off

Blikra beat Laengen and Cam in the second KOM sprint while the gap continued to come down. When Costa ended his work with 40km to go, it was only 1.45 and 10km later, it had been reduced to just 1.10.

 

The escapees managed to stabilize the situation as Lagutin had now also ended his work before Blira beat Laengen and Cam in the final intermediate sprint. Here Laengen made an immediate counterattack and he got a nice gap over his fading companions.

 

No help for Quemeneur

A strong Hafsas managed to rejoin his compatriot and those two riders worked well together to extend the gap to 1.15 as they entered the final 20km. Meanwhile, Frederik Galta (Coop) had to stop for a wheel change.

 

Jayde Julius took a few turns for MTN-Qhubeka when Meintjes blew up but suddenly all the work was left to Quemeneur. The lone Frenchman could do nothing more than keep the gap stable but he still managed to bring the five chasers back with 15km to go.

 

Bystrøm takes control

IAM decided to chase with Pirmin Lang who worked with Julius before Coop took control as they sprinted towards a small climb with 13km to go. Here Gogl tried to attack but he was immediately brought back before Katusha again took control.

 

Bystrøm rode on the front as they entered the final 10km with a deficit of 40 seconds and as Lampre-Merida took over with Serpa, the gap came down quickly. As they hit the finishing straight, it was only 15 seconds and here Laengen dropped Hafsas who was caught just as they started the final lap where the action unfolded.

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