Gianni Moscon (Sky) confirmed that he is the best neo-professional of the 2016 season when he claimed his first pro win in impressive fashion on the queen stage of the Arctic Race of Norway. The Italian attacked twice inside the final 2km of the Korgfjellet climb to first bridge across to a front trio and then ride to a solo victory and into the overall lead. Stef Clement (IAM) showed his good form by taking second while Oscar Gatto (Tinkoff) won a sprint for third.
Last year Gianni Moscon was one of the hottest topics on the transfer market. The Italian had been one of the best riders on the U23 scene and most of the WorldTour teams had their eyes on the talent.
Sky won the battle and Moscon has confirmed his class right from the start of his pro career. With his versatile talents, he has been everywhere, working for his leaders in the mountains, playing a key role in Paris-Roubaix and riding for himself in the Coppi e Bartali, the Italian Championships and the Tour de Slovenie.
This week he returns to racing after a long break and he went into the Arctic Race of Norway as a back-up plan for Lars Petter Nordhaug who was riding on home soil. Today he completely overshadowed his leader as he turned out to be in a class of his own in the queen stage that ended at the top of the Korgfjellet climb.
With Nordhaug, Sebastian Henao and Moscon, Sky had strength in numbers and used it to perfection as defending champion Rein Taaramae (Katusha) was forced to do all the work on his own. When Stef Clement, Henao and Bjørn Tore Hoem (Joker) had escaped in the finale, Moscon played his card and bridged across. After a brief moment to recover, he hit out again and no one could stop him from claiming a very impressive solo win.
It all came down to the final 8.9km climb that averaged 6.4% after Sky and Katusha had chased behind a four-rider breakaway with Leigh Howard (IAM), Steele Von Hoff (ONE), Daniel Oss (BMC) and Matt Brammeier (Dimension Data). The Tinkoff trio of Michal Kolar, Juraj Sagan and Oscar Gatto led the peloton onto the ascent 50 seconds behind the leaders.
The front group split up immediately as Oss and Howard dropped Von Hoff and Brammeier. Meanwhile, Katusha tried to make it hard in the peloton and it was Marco Haller who did the early work. He made the group explode and race leader Danny Van Poppel (Sky) and Adrian Stien (Joker) in the white jersey were among the first to get dropped.
As Haller swung off, Yoann Offredo took over for FDJ, with his captain Odd Christian Eiking sitting in second position. The Frenchman brought Von Hoff and Brammeier back and slowly reduced the gap to just 20 seconds.
As the peloton approached from behind, Howard tried to drop Oss but the Italian managed to respond. He made an immediate counterattack but the pair stayed together.
With 6m to go, Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) attacked and he was joined by Bjøre Tore Hoem (Joker). The pair quickly joined the two leaders and as Chavanel went straight to the front, Howard was dropped.
Kuznetsov kept chasing in the peloton and with 5km to go, he brought the front trio back. He maintained his speed for another 300m before defending champion Rein Taaramae (Katusha) launched an attack. He failed to get clear and then tried to make the race hard by riding on the front.
Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) was the next to try but Taaramae shut down immediately. Sky continued to use their strength in number as Sebastian Henao countered immediately and he got Marco Marcato (Wanty) for company. The trio briefly got a gap but Taaramae managed to shut it down.
Taaramae kept riding on the front while his teammate Alexander Kristoff was suffering massively at the back of the group. Moments later, Nordhaug hit out again and this time he got an advantage.
Taaramae was still doing all the work and he managed to bring the local hero back before Amael Moinard (BMC) took off. The Frenchman got the biggest advantage yet and while Marcato and Kristoff fell off, Hoem managed to bridge the gap.
Stef Clement was the next rider to make it across and he went straight to the front to set the pace. That was too much for Moinard who was left behind but instead, Henao joined them to again make it a front trio.
Taaramae did all the work in the peloton but failed to respond when Loic Vliegen (BMC) bridged the gap to the leaders. The peloton had been whittled significantly down as only Oscar Gatto (Tinkoff), Martin Elmiger, Reto Hollenstein (IAM), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport), Eiking, Taaramae, Ben Swift, Nordhaug, Moscon (Sky), Carl Fredrik Hagen (Sparebanken) and Chavanel were still there.
Clement just kept riding on the front and when Taaramae finally swung off, the gap started to grow. This was the signal for Moscon to make his move and in a matter of second, he passed the fading Vliegen and made it across to his teammate Henao, Clement and Hoem.
Mosocn didn’t need long time to recover before he went again and while Clement gave chase alone, he was the first rider to pass the flamme rouge. Further back, Taaramae had again started to chase but he paid the price when Eiking launched an attack and the defending champion fell behind.
However, there was no one stopping Moscon who powered to the finish in an impressive display of power. The Italian had time to celebrate his win, before Clement reached the finish 11 seconds later. Gatto, Elmiger and Eiking passed Henao inside the final 100m and it was the Italian who won the sprint for third, with the rest of the main group reaching the finish with a time loss of 31.seconds
With the win, Moscon moves into the race lead with a 15-second advantage over Clement. He now just needs to get safely through the final stage which is relatively flat and should suit the sprinters. It will bring the riders over 193km from a spectacular start on the Polar Circle in Rana Kommune to a finish in the big city of Bodø. The first part is mainly descending but then the riders will face the category 1 climb of Ljøsenhammeren (10.7km, 4.9%) that they already tackled in the finale of the first stage, albeit from a different side. Then the category 2 climbs of Enge (3.1km, 3.2%) and Kvikstadheia (3.2km, 8.5%) follow in quick succession but the final 77km are relatively flat. The riders will cross the finish line for the first time with 28.5km to go and then the rest of the stage consists of three laps of a 9.5km circuit. It includes the small climb of Kleivaveien and there will be an intermediate sprint at the top on every lap. The riders will reach the top for the final time with 6.5km to go and then a slightly downhill section leads to the flat finale.
The queen stage
After two days for the sprinters, the GC riders were ready to go for the victory in the queen stage. The riders traveled 160km from Nesna to a summit finish on Korgfjellet which they already tackled in the first part of stage 2. Almost right from the start, the riders climbed the category 2 climb of Sjonfjellet (4.1km, 6.6%) and then they tackled another two category 2 climbs, Bustnes (2.7km, 4.8%) and Langfjell (3.4km, 5.6%) at the 43.5km and 88km marks respectively. The second half of the stage was largely flat but it all cama to an exciting conclusion on the final category 1 climb. The average gradient of the 8.9km climb was 6.4% and it was a pretty regular ascent. The climb eased off a bit in the middle section where it averaged 5.5% over three kilometres but then it got steeper again as the final 2900m averaged 7%.
It was cold and rainy when the riders gathered for the start and they all wore plenty of clothes as they rolled through the neutral zone, with a sick Alex Kirsch (Stölting) being the only non-starter. However, the bad weather didn’t dampen the attacking spirit as a Sparebanken rider attacked as soon as the flag was dropped. He didn’t get clear and instead Haavard Blikra (Coop) sneaked away.
Lots of attacks
Blikra’s attack didn’t work out and instead one of his teammates got a small gap together with Tony Hurel (Direct Energie). A small group with Youcef Reggui (Dimension Data) joined them but the group was too big and so BMC shut it down.
Reguigui was very active and he launched a strong attack together with Gregory Rast (Trek) and a ONE rider. Suddenly a big group with the likes of Daniel Oss (BMC), Andrew Fenn (Sky), Marco Haller (Katusha), Twan Castelijns and Tom Van Asbroeck (LottoNL-Jumbo) but they were soon brought back.
Offredo goes solo
Yoann Offredo (FDJ) attacked solo as soon as they hit the first climb and immediately rider started to get dropped. While he tried to build an advantage, Chris Opie (ONE), Michael Kolar (Tinkoff), Andrea Guardini (Astana), Kristian Aasvold (Sparebanken), Max Kørner (Ringeriks Kraft) and a sick Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty) were distanced. The latter who wore the mountains jersey, was sick and was forced to abandon.
The Sky pair of Sebastian Henao and Ben Swift latched onto Oss and Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Argon 18) when they bridged the gap to Offredo but Haller soon chased them down. After another failed attack from Offredo, Kazakh champion Arman Kamyshev (Astana) made a solo move and he soon got a solid advantage.
A formidable break
Offredo and a Coop rider bridged the gap after Kamyshev had spent some time as the lone leader and the Stijn Devolder (Trek) also joined the move. However, the hard work from the Belgian was not enough to stay away and one kilometre from the top, it was again back together.
Oss hit the front and with a very strong turn, he created a group that also included Laurens De Vreese (Astana), Henao, Offredo, Reto Hollenstein (IAM), Oscar Gatto (Tinkoff), Marco Marcato, Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) and Floris De Tier (Topsport Vlaanderen). De Vreese, Henao and Hollenstein were first over the top of the climb while the peloton followed a few seconds later.
Desperate chase for Katusha
Hollenstein and Oss were eager to keep the move going and as the peloton briefly slowed down, they got an advantage of 10 seconds. Katusha immediately sensed that it was a dangerous group and so they put Haller, Jacopo Guarnieri and Sven Erik Bystrøm on the front.
Katusha chased desperately but they could not prevent the strong group from increasing their advantage to 25 seconds. However, the balance tipped as they headed down the descent and after 23km of fast racing, they managed to bring the formidable group back. The peloton had split on the descent as a big group tried to regain contact.
Four riders get clear
Leigh Howard (IAM) and Rast made an immediate attack and briefly created a small group but things again came back together. Howard was again there when he attacked alongside a Joker rider and Andreas Schllinger (Bora-Argon 18). Boy Van Poppel (Trek) joined them but after the latter had tried to go solo, Haller chased it down to set Alexander Kristoff up for the first intermediate sprint. It was mission accomplished as the Norwegian beat Danny Van Poppel (Sky) and Regugui to pick up three bonus seconds.
Right after the sprint, the attacking started again and lots of riders tried before Steele Von Hoff (ONE) got an advantage. Matt Brammeier (Dimension Data), Howard and Oss joined the Australian while Marcus Burghardt (BMC) and a Sparebanken rider gave chase. A big group with Lars Boom (Astana) also escaped but Katusha brought both them and the two chasers back.
The peloton slows down
The four leaders exploited a small breather in the peloton to get a big advantage before Max Kanter (Giant-Alpecin) tried to bridge the gap alone. It was mission impossible for the German who fell back to the peloton.
It was a very strong break and so Guarnieri and Ben Swift (Sky) started to chase as soon as the gap had gone out to 35 seconds. After the hectic stat, things calmed down and the gap slowly went out to more than two minutes as they climbed the second climb. Howard led Brammeier and Oss over the top before Swift and Guarnieri brought the peloton to the top 2.30 later.
Fenn and Guarnieri in control
Andrew Fenn took over from his teammate Swift and as soon as they had gone over the top, the Brit and Guarnieri increased the pace. As they entered the final 100km, the pair had reduced the gap to just 2.05.
Oss led Von Hoff and Brammeier over the line in the second intermediate sprint where the gap had dropped to 1.40. As it was too early to catch the break, the peloton slowed significantly down and the gap again started to go up as they tackled a small loop around the city of Mo I Rana.
Brammeier wins the KOM sprint
The slow pace allowed the gap to go out to 2.20 but after the feed zone, Guarnieri and Fenn again increased the speed. They kept the gap relatively stable before the front quartet hit the third climb with an advantage of 2.10.
Guarnieri and Fenn rode fast up the climb and when the Italian led the group over the top, the gap was only 1.05. Further up the road, Brammeier made a small attack to win the KOM sprint ahead of Howard and Oss.
A game of cat and mose
After the climb, the peloton again slowed down as they didn’t want to catch the break too early and a natural break meant that the gap again started to grow. With 65km to go, the gap was again 2.10 and then Guarnieri and Fenn again increased the pace.
The injection of pace again had a big effect as they gap had dropped to just 1.05 when the escapees hit the final 50km. That was the signal for the escapees to increase their speed and during the next 5km, they increased their advantage by another 25 seconds.
Norwegians on the attack
As the peloton was not chasing hard, Amund Grøndahl (Joker) and Fridtjof Røinås (Sparebanken) attacked and they quickly got a solid advantage of 25 seconds. Fenn and Guarnieri didn’t react and they just kept the distance to the front quartet at around 1.30.
The two chasers never got to within a minute of the leaders before they started to lose ground and with 26km to go, they were back in the peloton. Here Fenn and Guarnieri were doing all the work, keeping the gap stable at 1.30.
A fight for position
The gap had been reduced to 1.20 when Von Hoff won the final sprint ahead of Brammeier and Oss and now Guarnieri had finished his job. Fenn took a huge final turn while the fight for positioning was intensifying.
Topsport, Giant-Alpecin, FDJ and Wanty lined their troops out on the front as they sped towards the climb. Five kilometres from the bottom, they were 1.10 behind the leaders.
Bora-Argon 18, Katusha, Fortuneo-Vital Concept, and FDJ had taken control with 11km to go. However, it was Tinkoff and FDJ that entered the final 10km in first position before the Russian team lead the bunch onto the climb 50 seconds behind the leaders. Moments later, the peloton exploded and the scene was set for the final battle.
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