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Coming off Guardini’s wheel, Bennett took the biggest win of his career when he won the final stage of the Tour of Qatar; Kristoff could only manage 19th and so Terpstra won the race overall

Photo: TNE/Stiehl

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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ANDREA GUARDINI

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BORA-HANSGROHE

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MACIEJ BODNAR

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NACER BOUHANNI

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NIKI TERPSTRA

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QUICK-STEP - ALPHA VINYL

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SAM BENNETT

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TOUR OF QATAR

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13.02.2015 @ 14:38 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) took the biggest win of his career when the young Irishman beat almost the entire sprinting elite in the final stage of the Tour of Qatar. Coming off Andrea Guardini’s (Astana) wheel, the Irishman easily distanced the Italian while Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) could only manage 19th, meaning that Niki Terstra (Etixx-QuickStep) won the race overall for the second year in a row.

 

In his first professional season, Sam Bennett took a few wins in smaller races that indicated that he has the potential to develop into a future top sprinter but he didn’t get the chance to beat all the top sprinters. Today he got his big breakthrough victory when he won the prestigious final stage of the Tour of Qatar, beating almost the entire sprinting elite.

 

Going into this season, Bora-Argon 18 have done a lot to strengthen their lead-out train but actually nothing seemed to go to plan for the German team. With no teammates at his side, Bennett was the only black-clad rider in the front positions as the sprint teams battled for positions in the finale.

 

With 3km to go, IAM seemed to be in control with Reto Hollenstein and Matthias Brändle working hard on the front for their sprinter Heinrich Haussler. However, it was the Astana team that proved its strength when four of their riders hit the front, with sprinter Andrea Guardini sitting at the back of the train.

 

The Kazakh team went into the final U-turn with 1300m to go in the perfect position but they lost the battle against the Tinkoff-Saxo team who made a big surge as they passed the flamme rouge. Michael Mørkøv, Nikolai Trussov, Matti Breschel and Peter Sagan hit the front for the Russian team and they gave Sagan the perfect lead-out.

 

Guardini had moved onto Sagan’s wheel while Bennett had done well in the fierce fight for position to be just behind the Astana rider. When the Italian anticipated Sagan and easily passed the Slovakian, Bennett was in the perfect position. The Irishman timed his sprint perfectly and easily distanced Guardini while a fast-finishing Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) passed Sagan to complete the podium.

 

The big loser in the sprint was Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) who could only manage 19th after his team had worked hard all day to set him up for the overall win. The Russian team had brought things back together for the first intermediate sprint where the Norwegian picked up two bonus seconds, meaning that he just had to win the stage to take the overall victory. However, his team had used too much energy throughout the stage and Kristoff was never in contention in the bunch sprint.

 

Hence, Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) could step onto the podium as the winner of the race for the second year in a row while Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff-Saxo) finished second. Kristoff’s three stage wins, however, had been enough to elevate him into third after he had dropped down after the time trial.

 

Kristoff could console himself with the fact that he took a comfortable win in the points classification whiel Sagan was the best young rider. Unsurprisingly, Etixx-QuickStep again won the teams classification in the Qatari race.

 

With the Tour of Qatar done and dusted, racing in the Middle East moves to the Tour of Oman which kicks off on Tuesday. Many of the same riders will be back in action but they will be joined by a host of world-class climbers who relish the chance to test themselves on the mountainous course.

 

A sprint stage

After the windy dramas of the last few days, it was time for the traditional Tour of Qatar finale that brought the riders over just 113.5km from the Sealine Beach Resort to a finish at the Doha Corniche. After a flat run along the coast, the riders finished their race by doing 10 laps of a 5.7km finishing circuit in the Qatari capital in a stage that has traditionally been decided by the big sprinters.

 

Feeling a little sick, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was the notable non-starter when the riders left the Sealine Beach Resort in unusually calm conditions and under a bright, blue sky. Right from the start, four riders attacked and they were quickly allowed to get a 50-second advantage.

 

Katusha take control

Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Nicola Boem and Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani) worked well together but already after 10km of racing, Katusha came to the fore to stabilize the gap at around one minute. At the 26km mark, it reached 1.25 and Katusha even allowed it to briefly touch the 2-minute mark but after 34.5km of racing, it was back down to just 1.10.

 

Katusha wanted to bring things back together for the first intermediate sprint and when they reached the finishing circuit with 57km to go, they had reduced the gap to 40 seconds. At the end of the first lap, it was only 22 seconds and as Katusha accelerated, the break was almost caught with 50km to go.

 

Bonus seconds for Kristoff

Pirazzi tried to make a desperate solo attempt but it was all in vain and with 45km to go, it was all back together. 5km later Etixx-QuickStep tried to prevent Kristoff from gaining bonus seconds and they managed to win the sprint with Tom Boonen and have Matteo Trentin finish third. However, the Norwegian was second, meaning that he scored the all-important two seconds.

 

With the sprint out of the way, Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) and Gijs van Hoecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) went on the attack and at the end of the fourth lap, they were 25 seconds ahead. One lap later, they had increased it to 50 seconds but now Katusha was back riding on the front with Dmitry Kozontchuk.

 

Katusha in control

The Russian team kept the gap stable for another lap while Keisse led van Hoecke across the line in the final intermediate sprint. Andriy Grivko (Astana) attacked to try to pick up the final bonus second but he had Tim Declercq (Topsport Vlaanderen) on his wheel and the Belgian easily passed the Ukrainian to take third in the sprint.

 

The battle for position had now started and after Giant-Alpecin had briefly started to chase, Tinkoff-Sax made a big acceleration that spelled the end for the breakaway with 20km to go. FDJ took a short turn with Johan Le Bon while Marcel Kittel moved the Giant-Alpecin train into position.

 

A fight for position

Movistar, Etixx-QuickStep, Tinkoff-Saxo and Trek had now lined out their trains on the front of the peloton and they set the pace for a few kilometres. With 2 laps to go, Tinkoff-Saxo again took over while all teams were now trying to position themselves.

 

With 9km to go, Trek hit the front with Fabian Cancellara taking a massive turn that last nearly 3km. His teammate Markel Irizar had a brief stint on the front before Astana and Cofidis took over.

 

With 4km to go, it was again Tinkoff-Saxo on the front with Pavel Brutt and Christopher Juul doing the work before Enrique Sanz made a big move up to position Jose Joaquin Rojas for the sprint. They were passed by the IAM team and from there the sprint developed into a breakthrough win for Bennett.

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