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Launching a powerful sprint on the left-hand side of the road, Von Hoff was lucky to find a gap before easily distancing Bauhaus and Martinez in the bunch sprint on stage 1 of the Tour of Norway; the Australian is the first leader

Photo: Sirotti










18.05.2016 @ 18:22 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Steele Von Hoff proved that ONE made a good decision by signing him for their first year at the pro continental level when he took one of the two biggest victories for the British team in the bunch sprint on the first stage of the Tour of Norway. With a bit of luck to find a gap on the left-hand side of the road, the Australian showed an impressive turn of speed to easily beat Phil Bauhaus (Bora-Argon 18) and Yannick Martinez (Delko) to take both the stage victory and the leader’s jersey.


When he dominated the Australian sprinting scene a few years ago, Steele Von Hoff was destined for greatness and he was duly picked up by the Garmin team. However, his time at the WorldTour never became a success and after two years at the highest level, he moved to the continental NFTO team for the 2015 season.


Despite taking a big win with his national team at the Tour Down Under, none of the WorldTour teams showed any interest in giving him another chance but the ambitious ONE team were keen to add him as one of their marquee riders for their first year at pro continental level. In the first part of the season, things didn’t work out for the Australian fastman but after a short break, he is now back at his best level. Today he took one of the biggest wins for his new team as he was clearly the fastest in the bunch sprint on the first stage of the Tour of Norway, adding a second big victory to the one that Martin Mortensen took a few weeks ago at the Tro-Bro Leon one-day race.


The 6th edition of the Tour of Norway was kicked off with a relatively easy stage that brought the riders over 172.4km from Drammen to Langesund. There were two small category 3 climbs on the menu but the course was almost entirely flat. It all led to a technically non-complicated finish where the riders followed a long, winding, slightly descending road for the final 3km.


It was cloudy with a temperature of 19 degrees when the 124 riders gathered in Drammen for the first day of the race. As expected, the local riders were very eager to join the early break and so there were lots of attacks in the opening phase.


After the many attack Antwan Tolhoek (Roompot), Simone Antonini (Wanty), Haavard Blikra (Østerhus), Trond Trondsen (Sparebanken Sør) and Alexander Wetterhall (Tre Berg) managed to get clear and they quickly got an advantage of more than two minutes. Max Emil Kørner (Ringeriks) tried to bridge the gap but when the peloton was 5.20 behind, he still found himself with 1.20 to make up. Unsurprisingly, he decided to wait for the peloton which was not 6.15 behind the leaders.


The peloton upped the pace and had shaved 15 seconds off the lead at the 30km mark. Moments later Blikra beat Tolhoek, Trondsen and Wetterhall in the first KOM sprint while Trondsen beat Blikra and Antonini in the first intermediates sprint.


After 45km of racing, the gap had been reduced to 5.25 by LottoNL-Jumbo and Dimension Data who had taken control with Steven Lammertink and Adrien Niyonshuti. They kept things in check, allowing the gap to go out to 6.15 as they entered the final 100km.


The chase got more organized as ONE put Peter Williams on the front and Caja Rural also added a rider to the chase. With 70km to go, the gap was down to 4.56 and while Niyonshuti took a small break, it dropped to 4.00 with 45km to go.


Williams, Lammertin and the ONE rider slowly reduced the gap to 3.30 and Niyonshuti soon returned to the front. However, suddenly the gap stabilized and it had even gone out by 10 seconds when they hit the final 30km.


Trondsen beat Blikra and Antonini in the final intermediate sprint and those three riders decided to press on with their attack. Meanwhile, the hard work was taking its toll and the Caja Rural rider and Lammertink had both exploded in the field, meaning that it was left to Niyonshuti and Williams to set the pace.


With 25km to go, the gap was still 3.40 and things were looking difficult for the peloton which brought Tolhoek and Wetterhall back. Things didn’t get any easier as they faced a category 3 climb with 20km to go where the rest of the early workers blew up.


While Blikra beat Trondsen and Antonini in the battle for the KOM points, Paul Martens (LottoNL-Jumbo) moved to the front to lead the peloton all the way up the climb, crossing the line in fourth and bringing the gap down to 2.10. The chase was now gaining momentum and during the next seven kilometres, they shaved another 50 seconds off the lead.


With 13km to go, Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data) and Gert Dockx (Lotto Soudal) were working hard on the front and more power was added to the chase when Sven Erik Bystrøm and Thobias Foss from Norwegian national team also hit the front. Martens got back to work too and Marius Hafsas contributed for Ringeriks-Kraft as did one of the ONE riders.


With 8km to go, the gap dropped to less than a minute and the many small climbs were clearly taking their toll on the leaders. The ONE rider took a huge turn before Stölting took over with 6km to go. Fabian Wegmann led the grup under the five kilometres to go banner just 25 seconds behind the front trio.


With small 6-rider teams, it was important not to hit the front too early and so Youcef Reguigui and Edvald Boasson Hagen hesitated a bit when Wegmann swung off. However,  Joker rider quickly surged ahead to make sure that the pace did not go down.


With 3.5km to go, the gap was still 20 seconds. He took a massive turn before he swung off at the bottom of the final small kicker with 3km to go.


The plan was to set one of his teammates up for an attack and it was Krister Hagen who accelerated had on the small climb. Reinardt van Rensburg (Dimension Data) joined the move and the pair sprinted past the fading breakaway which was brought back.


Hagen and van Rensburg were joined by Marco Marcato (Wanty) was they went over the top with a 10-second advantage over the peloton which was led by the entire Bora-Argon 18 team. Topsport Vlaanderen took over and as all the sprint trains were fighting for position, the gap was melting away.


Drapac hit the front before the flamme rouge where the break was brought back before Roth took over with two riders. Graeme Brown was looking back, trying to find his Drapac sprinter Brenton Jones, and so the Australian team lost their momentum.


Greg Henderson did the lead-out for Tosh van der Sande, but it was the LottoNL-Jumbo pair of Sep Vanmarcke and Tom Van Asbroeck who had latched onto his wheel. However, van der Sande found an opening on the left-hand side of the road and went head to head with van der Sande, Robin Stenuit (Wanty) and Phil Bauhaus (Bora-Argon) as the quartet sprinted next to each other.


Von Hoff looked like he was boxed in but he was fortunate that van der Sande moved to the right and opened a gap for him to come through. When he launched his sprint, he turned out to be in a class of his own and easily beat Bauhaus and Yannick Martinez into the minor podium positions.


With the win, von Hoff takes the overall lead with a four-second advantage over Bauhaus. He faces a very tough first day in the leader’s jersey as stage 2 is the queen stage.  It’s a mostly flat stage with just a single category 2 climb (3.1km, 6.8%) after the midpoint but the stage has a nasty sting in its tail. Flisetjønsskaret is an 11.3km category 1 climb that averages 7% and summits just 19.2km from the finish. From there it is a downhill run to the final 3km which are slightly uphill.



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