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Despite being in a very bad position at the start of the sprint, Bennett found a gap in the middle of the road and managed to pass Zurlo and Kristoff to win the bunch sprint on stage 2 of the Arctic Race of Norway; Kristoff defended the lead

Photo: TNE/Stiehl

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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ARCTIC RACE OF NORWAY

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BORA-HANSGROHE

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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SAM BENNETT

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14.08.2015 @ 17:57 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) confirmed that he is back in form after illness took him out of the Tour de France when he took a hugely impressive victory on stage 2 of the Arctic Race of Norway. Despite having lost contact with his teammates and being in a very poor position, he suddenly found a gap and showing superior speed, he managed to hold pass Federico Zurlo (Unitedhealthcare) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) who defended the overall lead on the eve of the queen stage.

 

After he had beaten all the best sprinters at the Tour of Qatar, many had big expectations for Sam Bennett when the young Irishman made his Tour de France debut this summer. However, the race ended as a disaster for the Bora-Argon 18 sprinter.

 

Illness had forced him to miss his final preparation races and so he entered the race short of form. As his health problems continued, he was finally forced to leave the race at the midpoint and never got the chance to do more than a single bunch sprint.

 

Hence, he didn’t really know what to expect when he returned to competition in yesterday’s first stage of the Arctic Race of Norway but he showed surprisingly good form when he finished third in the very hard uphill sprint. That made him one to watch in stage 2 which had a flat finale and he delivered the goods as he proved to be by far the fastest rider in the bunch sprint that decided the stage.

 

It had been a relatively straightforward stage with a small breakaway being controlled by Katusha’s Sergey Lagutin before IAM came to the fore with Stef Clement. After Lagutin had swung off, the strong Dutchman brought the final escapee Jean-Marc-Bideau (Bretagne) back with 16km to go and from there he rode on the front until the fight for position really started with 10km to go, neutralizing a small attack from Christian Mager (Cult).

 

Katusha, Bretagne, Topsport Vlaanderen, Bora-Argon 18 and Giant-Alpecin were among the teams that were lined out on the front for 4km until Katusha took control with an impressive Lagutin with 6km to go. The Russian took one final turn and then it was left to Ilnur Zakarin to continue the pace-setting while Giant-Alpecin was well-organized just behind.

 

With 4km to go, Adrien Petit too a big turn for Cofidis before Zakarin was back in charge, followed by Sven Erik Bystrøm. Meanwhile, Kristoff and lead-out man Marco Haller had latched onto the back of the Giant-Alpecin train which seemed to be the best organized team.

 

When Lagutin swung off, Thierry Hupond took a turn for Giant-Alpecin but was passed by the Bora-Argon 18 train which lined out five riders on the front. Paul Voss maintained a high speed on the wide roads and kept Sam Bennett in a great position at the back of the train.

 

Bystrøm, Haller and Kristoff had latched onto their wheel and sprinted up next to the Bora-Argon riders as Voss swung off with 1km to. Bora-Argon came out in top with two riders but Bennett was nowhere to be seen as he had lost contact with his teammates.

 

That made it a hugely confusing sprint as the two lead-out men slowed down and it was Michael Mørkøv who sprinted ahead in the opposite site of the road, with Tinkoff-Saxo sprinter Michael Kolar on his wheel. However, the Slovakian faded as Daniel McLay (Bretagne) launched the sprinted down the middle of the road. Federico Zurlo (Unitedhealthcare) passed the Brit and looked destined to take the win until Bennett suddenly found a gap and managed to pass the Italian to take the win.

 

Kristoff had room to sprint but was not fast enough to do better than third. However, as he had picked up one bonus second in the first intermediate sprint, it was enough to defend the overall lead with a 1-second advantage over Bennett.

 

He is likely to lose his grip on the blue jersey tomorrow though as the third stage is the queen stage of the race. After a relatively flat ride, the stage ends at the top of 3.7km climb whose average gradient of 7.8% will make it a day for climbers and puncheurs.

 

One for the sprinters

After yesterday’s uphill sprint, it was expected to be another day for the fast riders in stage two which brought the riders over 162.5km from Evenskjer to Setermoen. The course was by no means flat as it included no less than five climbs but as the final 45km were relatively easy and had a flat finale, a bunch sprint was expected.

 

It was another sunny day in Northern Norway when the riders gathered for the start. Reinardt van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka) who had fallen ill, was absent as they rolled out for their neutral ride.

 

Bonus seconds for Kristoff

Like yesterday it was a very fast start with lots of attacks and it was impossible for anyone to get clear in the first part of the race. Hence, it was still together at the first intermediate sprint after 12km of racing where Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) beat Armaury Capiot (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) to get within 2 second of the race lead. Moments later August Jensen (Coop) beat Linus Gerdemann (Cult) and Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar) in the first KOM sprint.

 

The attacking continued and after 30km of fast racing, no one had still managed to get a significant advantage. Here five riders managed to build a gap of 10 seconds but before they were identified, it was back together.

 

The break takes off

Halvord Tandrevold (Froy) left the race before August Jensen (Coop) beat Antwan Tolhoek (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Christian Mager (Cult) in the second KOM sprint. That didn’t stop the attacking which continued for a while.

 

At the 63km mark, Maxat Ayazbayev (Astana), Jean-Marc Bideau (Bretagne), Torstein Traen (Ringeriks), Carl Fredrik Hagen (Sparebanken) and Sindre Eid Hermansen (FixIT) had managed to build an advantage of 25 seconds and now the peloton finally slowed down. As they hit the third climb, the front group had extended the gap to 1.50.

 

Katusha in control

Unsurprisingly, it was Katusha that took control with Lagutin and while Theo Bos (MTN-Qhubeka), he allowed the gap to go out to 3.00. As they passed through the feed zone, he had reduced it to 2.10 as the small 5-rider team was unwilling to let the break get much of an advantage.

 

Meanwhile, the front group contested the KOM sprints. Ayabayev beat Hagen and Traeen in the third one while Hagen beat the Kazakh and Hermansen in the fourth one.

 

Bideau attacks

At the 100km mark, the gap had already been reduced to 1.35 and it was still Lagutin riding strongly on the front. With 50km to go, it was down to just a minute but as the escapees reacted well they extended it to 1.35 teen kilometres later. Meanwhile, Bideau beat Hagen and Ayazbayev in the final KOM sprint where Traeen was dropped. Hagen beat Bideau and Ayazbayev in the second intermediate sprint.

 

With 35km to go, the gap was only 40 seconds and here Hagen narrowly held off Bideau and Hermansen in the final intermediate sprint. Bideau decided to launch an immediate attack and only Hagen and Hermansen could keep up with him.

 

The break is caught

In the peloton, Clement was now working with Lagutin and those two riders brought Ayazbayev back. With 30km to go, the Sparebanken duo of Andreas Erland and Kristian Aasvold launched an attack but they only stayed clear for 3km before they were brought back.

 

Meanwhile, Clement and Lagutin kept the gap stable at around 40-50 seconds before they accelerated. On a small climb with 25km to go, it was only 25 seconds and as he launched an attack, Bideau dropped Hagen before Hermansen also had to surrender. At this point, Boasson Hagen suffered a puncture but he was quickly back in the peloton while Lagutin ended his work.

 

With 18km to go, Bideau was the lone survivor and had extended his advantage to 30 seconds but on a small climb, he started to fade. He decided to sit up and with 16km to go, Clement had brought him back to set the scene for the bunch sprint.

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