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After a perfect lead-out by Orica-GreenEDGE, Matthews narrowly held off Arndt and Tsatevich in a photo finish to win stage 2 of the Tour of Alberta; the Australian also took the overall lead

Photo: A.S.O.

ALEXEI TSATEVICH

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MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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NIKIAS ARNDT

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TOUR OF ALBERTA

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04.09.2015 @ 00:10 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) made up for yesterday’s disappointment in the team time trial when he managed to win the bunch sprint on the second day of the Tour of Alberta. After a perfect lead-out by Michael Hepburn, he narrowly held off Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) and Alexei Tsatevich (Katusha) in a photo finish which was enough to take both the stage win and the overall lead.

 

Going into the Tour of Alberta, Orica-GreenEDGE had three goals. They wanted to win the opening team time trial, take a few sprint wins with Michael Matthews and win the overall with Adam Yates.

 

The first goal failed with the tiniest of margins as Trek managed to beat them by 0.76 second in the opener and so they quickly turned their attention to Matthews for today’s first road stage which was expected to suit the fast riders. Despite lining up for his first race since fracturing a rib in the Tour de France, the Australian delivered the goods as he came out on top in a hugely close sprint.

 

The mostly flat course featured a late climb that summited just 9km from the finish and as they hit the lower slopes, it was the Drapac team in control. The Australian team was slowly reeling in Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18) who was the lone survivor from an early four-rider break.

 

However, there was nothing to be done against the Drapac machine as Clarke slowly reeled him int. Just as the junction was made with 8km to, Ryan Roth (Silber) tried to attack, followed by Dion Smith (Hincapie) and Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale-Garmin). They were joined by Daniel Eaton (Axeon) and Katusha to form a five-rider group.

 

Giant-Alpecin briefly tried to attack and when that failed they started to chase. Further up the road, Slagter was doing some damage and after the Katusha rider had been dropped, the Dutchman took off in a solo move.

 

Slagter crested the summit with a small advantage but decided to wait for his three chaser but they only had a 5-second advantage when they entered the final 5km.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE took control in the peloton and the strong duo of Luke Durbrudge and Sven Tuft slowly approached the front quartet and they made the catch with 3km to go. However, they were passed by the Katusha train led by Sven Erik Bystrøm and Sergey Lagutin.

 

It came down to a huge sprint battle between Orica-GreenEDGE led by Jens Mouris, Orica-GreenEDGE and Drapac but it was the Australians that came out on top. Sam Belwey led the peloton under the flamme rouge and managed to stay there until the final turn with 500m to go where Michael Hepburn took over.

 

Matthews was delivered in the perfect position on the front while Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) tried to pass him on the left. The Irishman failed and instead it was Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) and Alexei Tsatevich (Katusha) who came up on the right-hand side and it came down to a photo finish between the trio. In the end, Matthews was declared the winner in a sprint that was marred by a crash.

 

Taking 10 bonus seconds, Matthews takes the overall lead with a 10-second advantage over Marco Coledan (Trek) and several Trek and Orica-GreenEDGE riders who had the same time after yesterday’s team time trial. He will try to defend that position in tomorrow’s third stage which is the first big GC day. The mostly rolling course includes a small climb just after the midpoint but it is the finale that is set to provide some action. First the riders will tackle a warm-up climb before they descend to the bottom of the final ascent that averages 8% over 5km for the first ever summit finish in the Canadian race.

 

A mostly flat stage

After the opening team time trial, the riders faced a challenging first road stage which brought them over 171.6km around the city of Grande Prairie. The first 130 kilometres were primarily flat and included a dirt road secion. The final 40 kilometres featured two 20 kilometre loops with a 1.5 kilometre climb out of the scenic Wapiti river valley and the first King of the Mountain jersey points were awarded at those climbs. The riders tackled the climb a final time with 6km to go before they followed slightly descending roads to the finish.

 

It was cloudy, windy day with a bit of rain when the riders gathered for the start. All riders that finished yesterday’s stage were present as they rolled out for their neutral ride.

 

Four riders get clear

As expected, the race for off to a fast start with a few attacks but the early break had been established after 20km of racing. Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18), Phil O’Donnell (Axeon), Ben Perry (Silber) and Thomas Vaubourzeix (Lupus) managed to get clear and they had built an advantage of 3.15 five km from the first intermediate sprint which was won by Benedetti ahead of Vaubourzeix and Perry.

 

Benedetti was again the fastest in the second sprint as the escapees crossed the line in the same order. In the peloton, it was the Trek team that had taken control, with Gregory Rast and Kristof Vandewalle working hard on the front.

 

A battle for KOM points

With 80km to go, the gap was still 3.20 as Trek held things firmly under control. Ten kilometres later they approached the dirt road section and this created a nervous fight for position as a result, the gap came down to 2.35 but apart from a puncture from Kris Dahl (Smartstop), nothing dramatic happened in this tricky section.

 

Vandewalle and Rast went back to work and kept the gap stable around 2.30 for a long time. As they hit the first climb, the escapees started to focus on the KOM sprint and it was Perry who did all the work before he launched a long sprint. The Canadian was clearly the fastest and held off Benedetti and Vaubourzeix who were in a close battle for second. Evan Huffman (Smartstop) accelerated to be first from the peloton while Rast and Vandewalle were next.

 

More points for Perry

The gap had gone out to 3.00 and Rast and Vandewalle went back to work. They slowly accelerated and with 40km to go, they had reduced their deficit to just 1.30.

 

The gap stabilized and it was still 1.30 when they hit the climb for the second time. Here O’Donnell was distanced as Vaubourzeix rode strongly on the ascent. The Frenchman launched a long sprint but had to settle for third behind Perry and Benedetti.

 

Skjerping takes off

Kristoffer Skjerping (Cannondale-Garmin) tried to attack on the climb but it was impossible to stay clear as there was a bit more stress in the peloton. Both he and O’Donnell were brought back as Rast and Vandewalle were still working hard.

 

Things calmed down a bit as the gap was down to 40 seconds and so the Trek pair allowed the gap to slowly grow. They got some assistance from a rider from one of the continental teams but the gap had still gone out to 55 seconds with 23km to go.

 

Drapac take control

Here Travis Samuel (H&R) tried to take off and four kilometres later, he had put 30 seconds into the peloton which was now 1.10 behind. He dangled out there for a little while but when Drapac put two riders, including Will Clarke, on the front to work with the Trek riders and the rider from the smaller team, he was quickly brought back.

 

Drapac took complete control and when the gap was down to 20 seconds with 9km to go, Perry tried to attack. He failed to get clear but tried again as soon as they hit the climb. Vaubourzeix sat up immediately but Benedetti countered the move and while the rest of the break was caught, he fought hard to maintain a small advantage. In the end, it was all in vain and it was Matthews who took the win.

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