Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) continued his domination of the Tour of Norway when he made it two in a row by winning the bunch sprint on stage 2 of his home race. He narrowly held off a very fast-finishing Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE) to take the victory and extend his overall lead to 8 seconds while Andrew Fenn (Sky) completed the podium.
Last year Alexander Kristoff won two stages in the Tour of Norway. After his amazing start to the season, he has set himself the goal of improving on that statistic in this year’s edition of his home race despite the fact that he is coming back after a long racing break.
Yesterday he got it off to the perfect start when he was in a class of his own in the uphill sprint on stage 1. Today he made it two in a row to already match last year’s tally when he powered clear to win the bunch sprint that ended the second stage.
However, it was a much tighter affair than yesterday’s walk in the park. Yesterday Caleb Ewan did not even try to pass the Norwegian in the uphill finish but today the Australian proved that he is actually the fastest rider in the race when he came very fast at the end to take second in a photo finish in the flat sprint in Langesund.
Things were looking great for Kristoff as he could save his entire lead-out train in the finale. MTN-Qhubeka and Orica-GreenEDGE controlled most of the final 20km and Katusha didn’t have to kick into action before the entered the final 5km. Here Sven Erik Bystrøm controlled the situation and brought back a late attack from Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) while the trio of Marco Haller, Jacopo Guarnieri and Kristoff was ready for the lead-out.
They did everything right to jump from train to train and when Chris Sutton (Sky) swung off with 750m to go, Haller, Guarnieri and Kristoff were in the perfect position on the front. The two lead-out men both took big turns to deliver Kristoff with 150m to go.
Kristoff seemed to be powering to another easy win but Ewan had different plans. From fourth position, the Australian came very fast and if the finish line had come just a little later, he would have taken the win. Andrew Fenn completed the podium.
With the win, Kristoff extended his overall lead over Ewan to 8 seconds. However, he will have a hard time defending that position in stage 3 which is the first big GC day of the race. With 23km to go, the riders wil reach the top of an 11.3km climb which has an average gradient of 7% before they descend to a slightly rising finish.
One for the sprinters
After the opening sprint stage, it was expected to be another day for the fast guys on stage 2 which brought the riders over 193.0km from Drammen to Langesund. It was the typical Norwegian terrain with barely any flat roads and lots of short, steep climbs. However, there were only two categorized ascents. The final of those was located 19km from the finish and then there was another small climb inside the final 10km before the riders descended slightly to a flat finish.
There was one non-starter when the riders gathered for the start on a sunny, windy day in Norway. Jerome Baugnies (Wanty) had fallen ill and had to leave the race, hoping to recover in time for next week’s Tour des Fjords.
A fast start
Like yesterday, the riders got the stage off to an active and animated start. The first rider to get a promising gap was one from Ringeriks-Kraft but he was quickly brought back.
A strong headwind made it difficult to escape but the attacking continued while an injured Kevin van Melsen (Wanty) left the race. After 22km of racing, the peloton was still together.
The break is formed
The peloton briefly split in two but it quickly came back together. Later 6- and 9-ride breakaway were both established but at the 30km mark, it was back together.
Finally, five riders managed to get clear when Angel Madrazo (Caja Rural), Pieter Jacobs (Topsport), Anders Skaarseth (Joker), Ole Forfang (Ringeriks-Kraft) and Vegard Robinson Bugge (Sparebanken) attacked. They managed to build an advantage of 40 seconds when Madrazo beat Jacobs, Skaarseth and Bugge in the first intermediate sprint.
KOM points for Bugge
As they hit the bottom of the first categorized climb, the gap had gone out to 2.30 and when Bugge beat Jacobs, Skaarseth and Madrazo in the battle for maximum points, it was already 5 minutes. However, MTN-Qhubeka and Katusha had now taken control and they worked solidly to keep the gap around that mark for a while.
The South African team disappeared from the front and so it was left to Dmitry Kozontchuk and Egor Silin from Katusha to keep the gap between the 4- and 5-minute marks. With 100km to go, it was still4.50 and a little later, the gap even went out to 5.30.
The chase gets organized
Kozontchuk and Silin didn’t get any help before Orica-GreenEDGE decided it was time to react, Ivan Santaromita came to the fore and started to work with the two Russians. Later more team also started to chase and suddenly Santaormita, Kozontcuk, Nathan Earle (Sky) and Nic Dougall (MTN-Qhubeka) traded pulls on the front.
As a consequence, the gap came down quickly. With 70km to go, it was 4.15 and 10km later it was only 3.20. With 55km to go, it had dropped to below 2.50 and now Katusha and OricaGreenEDGE had left it to Dougall and Earle to set the pace.
The peloton slows down
The situation now seemed to be under control and so Earle also stopped his work. After a little hesitation, Santaromita took a short turn but for a while, Dougall was the only rider riding on the front.
As a consequence, the gap went out to 3.19 when Madrazo beat Skaarseth and Forfang in the second intermediate sprint with 50km to go. Dougall and Santaromita chased for another 10km but when they entered the final 40km, the gap was still 3.15.
Roompot attacks in the wind
Roompot tried to make a surprise attack in the crosswinds with Johnny Hoogerland taking a huge turn on the front. It briefly seemed like overall favourite Lars-Petter Nordhaug (Sky) could get into trouble but the situation quickly calmed down.
With 35km to go, Kozonthuck went back to work 3.10 behind the leaders and he was quickly joined by Santaromita. Later Dougall also came to the fore but with 30km to go, the gap had not gone down at all.
Strong work by Kozontchuk
Kozontchuk decided to go full gas and without getting any help, he brought the gap down to 2.30 in just 5km. Meanwhile, the attacking started in the front group when Skaarseth and Forfang gave it a go but Jacobs and Madrazo combined forces to bring it back together.
When they hit the bottom of the second categorized climb with 21km to go, the gap was still 2.05 and now Bugge again showed that he was the best climber. He quickly got a gap while Jacobs was dropped. Forfang had to dig deep to stay in the chase group while Madrazo and Skarrseth combined forces to bring Bugge back.
Orica-GreenEDGE in control
In the peloton, Orica-GreenDGE had now taken complete control with Santaromita and he took some huge turns on the front of the group. Several riders were dropped and they didn’t get it any easier when the attacking started.
Sean De Bie, Bob Jungels, Lars Petter Nordhaug and Pavel Brutt were among the aggressors but they didn’t manage to get clear. However, they strung out the peloton and quickly brought the gap down.
The gap comes down
Bugge led Skaarseth, Madrazo and Forfang over the top of the climb to take over the mountains jersey and they started the descent with a small advantage of 1.20. In the peloton, Santaromita was still doing all the work and the peloton’s progress had stalled.
Dougall started to work with Santaromita but when they entered the final 15km, the gap was still 1.20. However, those two riders managed to really up the pace and when they entered the final 10km it was down to less than a minute.
A scare for Nordhaug
At that point, Nordhaug had to use a lot of energy to get back in contention after he had had a puncture. He quickly received a wheel from teammate Earle and he made the junction with less than 10km to go.
As they hit the final climb with 8km to go, the gap was down to just 20 seconds and now the attacking started. Two Trek riders were the first to try and their acceleration brought the early break back. When they were caught, David Lopez (Sky) and Bob Jungels (Trek) gave it a go. They quickly managed to get a gap but had a hard-time against a well-oiled Orica-GreenEDGE machine.
Bystrøm in control
Suddenly, the Australians seemed to fade and this allowed the gap to grow. Bjorn Tore Hoem (Joker)and Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal) bridged the gap but as they had the peloton in tow, it all came back together.
Katusha now took control with Sven Erik Bystrøm who rode strongly to keep Amets Txrurruka (Caja Rural) on a short leash after the Basque had attacked on a small climb. With 3.7km to go, he was back in the fold and Bystrøm, Marco Haller, Jacopo Guarnieri and Kristoff were now in complete control of the peloton for Katusha.
Orica-GreenEDGE moved up and as they passed the 3km to go banner, Mathew Hayman hit the front, followed by Adam Blythe. Haller, Guarnieri and Kristoff slotted into third, fourth and fifth while Roompot moved up.
Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal) tried a brief attack but Bystrøm got back on the front to shut it down. He stayed on the front until 1.3km remained where Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) took over.
Kristoff takes the win
The Katusha train of Haller, Guarnieri and Kristoff were just behind and they moved onto the back of Chris Sutton and Andrew Fenn when they made the Sky lead-out under the flamme rouge. Then Haller took over before Guarnieri hit the front with 250m to go.
Kristoff could start his sprint from the perfect position with 150m to go but Ewan came very fast from fourth position. The Australian made big inroads but the finish line came a bit too early and he had to settle for second.
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