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After a big crash had left just around 20 riders to sprint for the win, Kristoff held off Theuns and Hutarovich to continue his run of success by winning the Scheldeprijs

Photo: Sirotti

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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EDWARD THEUNS

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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SCHELDEPRIJS VLAANDEREN

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YAUHENI HUTAROVICH

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08.04.2015 @ 18:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) continued his impressive run of success when he emerged as the fastest in a crash-marred sprint at the Scheldeprijs. After the tumble had left just 20 riders to sprint for the win, he came off Marc Sarreau’s (FDJ) wheel and narrowly held off a fast-finishing Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Yauheni Hutarovich (Bretagne) to add the oldest Flemish classic to his palmares.

 

While most of the favourites for Paris-Roubaix decided to take it easy and avoid any unnecessary risks in today’s 103rd edition of the Scheldeprijs, the in-form Alexander Kristoff went into the race with a different approach. Despite the race being known for its many crashes, the Norwegian was determined to continue his run of success that has seen him win the last four road races he has done.

 

The Flemish race is known as the world championships for the sprinters and with Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and André Greipel all absent, Kristoff went into the race as the overwhelming favourite. Hence, it was left to his Katusha team to do the majority of the work to catch a surprisingly strong 7-rider breakaway and they spent a lot of time on the front of the peloton while Kristoff hid in the pack.

 

In the end, the Norwegian confirmed his good condition as he managed to add the Flemish classic to his impressive palmares. However, the sprint underlined that he had taken a big risk by going for the win as a big crash marred the finale.

 

As they approached the flamme rouge, Etixx-QuickStep had taken complete control with Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Fabia Sabatini, Mark Renshaw and Matteo Trentin and Kristoff found himself with two Katusha teammates a bit too far back. When Van Keirsbulck swung off, Sabaini took over and he led the peloton past the 2km to go mark.

 

The Etixx train had hit the front too early but they got a bit of respite when Andrew Fenn took a turn for Sky. When he swung off just before the flamme rouge, Renshaw had to take over but as he knew it was too early, he had to slow down.

 

This opened the door for the three Katusha riders to move up and they hit the front with 900m to go. Meanwhile, the big battle for position caused a big crash that left just 20 riders in the small group that would sprint for the win.

 

When Jaopo Guarnieri took over for the Russian team, Katusha lost the control as Mickael Delage hit the front with his young FDJ sprinter Marc Sarreau on his wheel. However, Kristoff reacted quickly and as he got onto Sarreau’s wheel he found himself in the perfect position.

 

When Sarreau launched his sprint, Kristoff also went full gas and he easily passed the fading Frenchman. Doing a long sprint in the headwind, he lost ground in the finale and both Edward Theuns and Yauheni Hutarovich got close but they had to settle for the minor podium positions.

 

Kristoff will be back in action on Sunday for the final race of the cobbled classics season when he will be at the start of Paris-Roubaix. The Belgian classics season continues next Wednesday when the Brabantse Pijl marks the transition from the cobbled races to the hillier events.

 

A traditional course

The 103rd edition of the Scheldeprijs was held on a very traditional 200.0 course that started in Antwerpen and finished in Schoten. The riders first tackled a big loop on the northeastern outskirts of Schoten before they returned to the main city where they tackled the Broekstraat pave for the first time. In the end, the riders did three laps of a flat 16.4km finishing circuit that again included the pave which was the main challenge in a race that is usually decided in a bunch sprint.

 

The riders had perfect weather condition when they left Antwerpen to head out on their 200km ride in the flat terrain around the Schelde river. Right from the start, 8 riders tried to get clear, including one from Lotto Soudal and one from Topsport Vlaanderen.

 

Bodnar gets clear

That move was quickly neutralized and instead Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff-Saxo) escaped at the 11km mark. While he built an advantage of 10 seconds, Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin) who was making his season debut on the road, had a technical problem.

 

Bodnar was brought back and as they attacking continued, a big crash happened. Louis Verhelst (Cofidis) was worst off and was transferred to the hospital.

 

The break takes off

At the 27km mark, the peloton was still together and while Tiziano Dall’Antonia (Androni) rejoined the group after the crash, the attacking continued. Finally, the elastic snapped when 7 riders got clear.

 

Frederik Backaert (Wanty), Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis), Matteo Busato (Southeast), Huub Duijn (Roompot) and Tanner Putt (Unitedhealthcare) were the instigators of the move and they were joined by Laurens De Vreese (Astana) and Vincent Jerome (Europcar). The peloton slowed down and after 40km of racing, the gap was 3 minutes.

 

Brutt and Nardin lead the chase

After a small natural break in the peloton, the gap went out to 4.25. That was the signal for Tinkoff-Saxo and Androni to start to chase and under the impetus of Pavel Brutt and Alberto Nardin, the gap came down to 2.30 after 78km of racing.

 

The peloton slowed down a bit and as they reached the halfway point, the gap was again 3.30. Katusha and MTN-Qhubeka now took control of the peloton, with Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) and Nic Dougall (MTN-Qhubeka) starting to work with Brutt and Nardin.

 

The gap comes down

Surprisingly, the front group split up when Putt, Duijn and Vanbilsen decided to take natural break at the 100km mark. However, the four leaders decided to wait for their companions and the front group came back together. However, the small breather had brought the gap down to 3.00 and as the peloton rode full gas, it was down to just 2.30 with 90km to go.

 

Smukulis, Brutt, Dougall, Nardin and another Androni rider worked well to bring it down to 1.50 with 80km to go before they again stepped off the gas. This allowed the gap to get back up to 2.30 with 65km to go when Trentin was one of several riders who had to fight his way back from a puncture.

 

Broeckstraat does some damage

As the riders approached the Broeckstraat for the first time, the fight for position intensified and this spelled the end for Dougall and the two Androni riders who disappeared from the front. Brutt led the peloton over the cobbles and as they exited the sector, the gap was only 1.50.

 

Dougall managed to get back to work with Brutt and Smukulis and while Johan Vansummeren (Ag2r) came back from a puncture, Smukulis led the group over the line for the first time, 1.45 behind the leaders. FDJ now also started to work as Alexandre Geniez took some turns on the front.

 

Mortensen attacks

As they hit the Broeckstraat for the second time, the gap was only 1.10 and this was inspiration for Martin Mortensen (Cult) who tried to bridge across. However, the Dane never made the junction and he decided to wait for the peloton after the pave.

 

Brutt and Smukulis went back to work and the Latvian led the peloton across the line for the second time with a deficit of 1.00. When he finished his work, his Katusha teammate Rudiger Selig started to work with Brutt and with 25km to go, they had reduced the gap to just 25 seconds.

 

Selig and Kuznetsov lead the chase

Selig led the peloton over the Broeckstraat as Brutt had now disappeared from the front and instead Viacheslav Kuznetsov started to work for Katusha. However, the two riders from the Russian team were losing ground and while there was a huge fight for position, they saw the gap grow back up to 35 seconds by the time they started the final lap.

 

With 12km to go, Selig had swung off and instead MTN-Qhubeka were now lending Kuznetsov a hand. Marco Haller (Katusha) took a short turn before Tinkoff-Saxo took over.

 

The break splits up

MTN-Qhubeka hit the front while Busato was the first rider to get dropped from the break. As they hit the Broeckstraat pave, De Vreese attacked and he was joined by Duijn after he had exited the cobbles.

 

In the peloton, it was big Ian Stannard (Sky) who led the peloton over the cobbles before his teammate Luke Rowe took over. Bradley Wiggins decided to sit up when Geraint Thomas took a short turn before Astana hit the front. Moments later, Etixx-QuickStep kicked into action and with 4.1km to go, they brought the break back, setting the scene for the dramatic finale.

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