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After a crash had split the field, Kristoff produced a very powerful sprint to beat Cavendish in a photo finish at the end of the second stage of the Tour of Qatar; Cavendish defended the overall lead

Photo: QCF/Paumer

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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DIMENSION DATA

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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MARK CAVENDISH

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TOUR OF QATAR

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09.02.2016 @ 13:20 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) bounced back from yesterday’s disappointment by beating Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) in a huge battle between the two giants on the second stage of the Tour of Qatar. After a big crash had left just a small group to sprint for the win, the Norwegian held off the Manxman when he tried to pass him on the right while Roy Jans (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) completed the podium. Cavendish defended the lead with a 5-second advantage over Kristoff.

 

One year ago Alexander Kristoff got the Tour of Qatar off to a disappointing start as he performed poorly in the first sprint. However, he bounced back in the most impressive fashion by winning the next three road stages and end the race in third overall.

 

It was hard not to get a feeling of déjà vu in today’s second stage of the 2016 edition of the Qatari event. Yesterday Kristoff was left disappointed as he drifted backwards in the sprint on the opening stage and had to settle for fifth but today he looked like his usual powerful self when he responded extremely well to Mark Cavendish’s fast kick and held the Manxman off in a photo finish to win the second stage.

 

The stage had extra importance as it included three laps of the World Championships circuit and so had been described as the big dress rehearsal for the big event in October. After today’s race, the sprinters will be licking their lips in anticipation as the strong wind was unable to do any damage and it all came down to the expected bunch sprint.

 

Earlier in the stage there had been some drama when the peloton had split in the crosswinds and Cavendish found himself in the second group. However, things came back together as they hit the circuit and after a two-rider breakaway had enjoyed some air time, it was back together with 17.2km to go.

 

Katusha were in complete control with Nils Politt and Dmitriy Kozontchuk but soon BMC and Dimension Data positioned them next to them. Jay Thomson took the front for the South Africans while Katusha drifted slightly backwards.

 

With 10km to go, BMC and Bora-Argon 18 lined their trains out on the front, with Michael Schär and Christoph Pfingsten setting the pace for a few kilometres. Dimension Data again moved up as they tried to pass the two teams with a huge surge from Tyler Farrar and while BMC responded well, Bora-Argon 18 drifted backwards.

 

Katusha took control with Politt and they set the pace with 6km to go when Astana moved up next to them. Marco Haller was next in charge for Katusha but they were passed by the Stölting train.

 

With 4km to go, things got confusing as Fortuneo-Vital Concept briefly hit the front but it was Dimension Data that won the battle with Youcef Reguigui. Bora-Argon 18 had a brief stint in charge but with 3km to go, it was again Dimension Data and Farrar setting the pace.

 

The South Africans lost moment um in the chaotic finale and inside the final 2km, Wanty and Jempy Drucker (BMC) briefly had control. In the end, Dimension Data seemed to have won the battle as Mark Renshaw led Edvald Boasson Hagen and Cavendish under the flamme rouge.

 

However, Katusha were ready to strike and Haller, Viacheslav Kuznetsov, Michael Mørkøv, Jacopo Guarnieri and Kristoff hit the front. That’s when a big crash brought down the likes of Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18), Andrea Guardini (Astana), Yauheni Hutarovich (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Zico Waeytens, Søren Kragh Andersen (Giant-Alpecin), Brenton Jones and Graeme Brown (Drapac) and it was just a small group that escaped the carnage.

 

Boasson Hagen sprinted past the Katusha riders but Guarnieri did a great to push Kristoff onto the Dimension Data’s wheel and so Boasson ended up giving Kristoff the perfect lead-out. However, Cavendish was right behind and when Kristoff launched his sprint, the Brit tried to pass.

 

For a brief moment, it looked like Cavendish would take another win but Kristoff had an extra acceleration and managed to hold off the Manxman in a photo finish. Roy Jans could do nothing more than staying in third as the two stars were in a class of their own.

 

With the win Kristoff moved into second overall but Cavendish is still the leader of the race, with a 5-second advantage over the Norwegian while Modolo is 14 seconds behind in third. Things are likely to change in tomorrow’s third stage which is the 11.9km flat time trial on the Lusail Motor Circuit.

 

The big dress rehearsal

After dramatic opening stage, it was time for one of the highlights on stage 2 which was dubbed at the big dress reahearsal for the World Championships. The 135km course brought the riders from the Katara Cultural Village in the capital of Doha to a finish at the Qatar University just a few kilometres away. The stage was split in two parts: first the riders tackled a small loop in the desert and then returned to Doha where they completed three laps of the flat 19km circuit that will be used for the Worlds. In the end, they travelled 5km from the circuit to the finish at the University.

 

It was sunny and very windy when the riders gathered for the start. Apart from the four riders that crashed out yesterday, all riders were present as they rolled out for the neutral start.

 

Four riders get clear

With a fierce headwind from the start, it was much less stressful than yesterday and hence it didn’t take long for four riders to get clear. Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen), Gediminas Bagdonas (Ag2r) and Brian Van Goethem (Roompot) formed the first real breakaway of the 2016 Tour of Qatar.

 

After 10km of racing, they had a lead of 58 seconds and with Westra as the big engine they increased it to 2 minutes. However, it never got bigger than this as the peloton started to get nervous when they approached the important turn that signaled the start of the trip back to Doha.

 

Cavendish is dropped

A big fight for position started and as a result, the gap dropped to 1.22 after 26 km of racing. Katusha and Dimension Data was very active at the front of the peloton that just was 35 seconds behind at the 32km mark, and just minutes later it was over for the break.

 

At the same time split the field into four groups, and while riders like Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Andrea Guardini (Astana) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) was in the first group, there was no Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) or Sacha Modolo (Lampre -Merida). This allowed Kristoff beat Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and his teammate Viacheslav Kuznetsov in the first intermediate sprint while the big fight between the various groups continued. After an hour at 38km/h, 18 seconds separated the Cavendish and Kristoff groups.

 

Cavendish loses ground

Alexander Kristoff, Viacheslav Kuznetsov, Michael Mørkøv, Jacopo Guarnieri (Katusha), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Greg Van Avermaet, Manuel Quinziato, Daniel Oss, Michael Schär (BMC), Sam Bennett, Andreas Schillinger, Zakkari Dempster, Rudiger Selig, Scott Thwaites (Bora-Argon 18), Andrea Guardini, Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Moreno Hofland, Mike Teunissen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Graeme Brown (Drapac), Patrick Gretsch (Ag2r), Mads Pedersen (Stölting), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) og Andrea Palini (Skydive) were the riders in the front group and they pushed their advantage over the small Cavendish group out to 50 seconds as they entered the final 75km. The peloton was 10 seconds further adrift.

 

BMC and Katusha were the main animators in the first group and for several kilometres, they kept the gap at around 50 seconds. However, when they entered the circuit, the roads were less exposed and while the peloton and the Cavendish group merged, they seemed to give up.

 

A regrouping takes place

The pace dropped significantly and the gap was only 20 seconds at the entrance of the final 65km. This opened the door for Teunissen and Van Hecke to attack and while they built an advantage, the peloton caught the Kristoff group.

 

Gatis Smukulis (Astana) attacked immediately and he passed Teunissen who decided to sit up. He caught Van Hecker and the pair built an advantage of 15 seconds with 60km to go.

 

Dimension Data in control

The peloton was content with the situation and Dimension Data positioned Jay Thomson on the front. He set the pace single-handedly and kept the gap between 0.25 and 0.35 for several kilometres.

 

The gap slowly started to grow and had reached 45 seconds with 42km to go when a bigger group regained contact with the peloton. With 40km, it had gone out to 50 seconds.

 

Bonus second for Boasson Hagen

Van Hecke led Smukulis across the line in the first intermediate sprint before Boasson Hagen made a small attack to pick up the final bonus second for third place. He dropped back to the peloton which was now led by Thomson and his Dimension Data teammate Matt Brammeier.

 

With 35km, the gap had gone out to a minute but that would be the maximum as Danilo Napolitano (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) started to cooperate with Brammeier and Thomson. With 30km to go, the gap had dropped to 50 seconds and five kilometres later, another 5 seconds had been shaved off. That was the signal for Katusha to put a rider on the front too and at the same time, the fight for positioning slowly intensified.

 

The break is caught

With 21km to go, the gap was still 30 seconds but Van Hecke decided that it was time to sit up and left it to Smukulis to press on. At the same time, Katusha made a big acceleration in the peloton as Nils Politt and Dmitriy Kozontchuk strung out the field and quickly reduced the gap to 20 seconds while also bringing Van Hecke back.

 

Smukulis realized that he had no chance and with 17.2km to go, it was all back together, with Kozontchuk and Politt still setting the pace. They stayed in control for a few kilometres until the fight between the lead-out trains started, ultimately leading to Kristoff’s first 2016 win.

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