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On a very fast day with lots of crosswinds, Kristoff beat Guardini and Van Avermaet in a sprint from a 15-rider first group after the peloton had blown to pieces; the Norwegian also took the overall lead

Photo: ARN/P.Perreve

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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ANDREA GUARDINI

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GREG VAN AVERMAET

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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TOUR OF QATAR

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09.02.2015 @ 14:10 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) proved that he is in excellent condition right from the beginning of the season when he took a very powerful sprint win on a dramatic second stage of the Tour of Qatar. After strong crosswinds had blown the race to pieces, the Norwegian beat Andrea Guardini (Astana) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) in the sprint from the 15-rider group that was left in the front and as Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) had failed to make the selection, he also took the leader’s jersey.

 

During the last two seasons, Alexander Kristoff has proved that he is virtually unbeatable in a sprint that comes at the end of a long, hard, selective race. In 2013, he won the bunch sprints for the minor positions in all the monuments he did and last year he won Milan-Sanremo and Vattenfall Cyclassics in dominant fashion.

 

Those skills made him an obvious favourite when strong winds turned the Tour of Qatar into the traditional battlefield on the second day of the race. Despite riding just his second race of the year, the Norwegian proved that he is fully ready to excel in the classics as he made all the key splits and despite being up against several fast guys in the 15-rider sprint, no one was any match to the powerful Norwegian.

 

After strong headwind had made yesterday’s first stage a very slow affair, things were completely different on the second day as the riders faced a combination of strong cross- and tailwind. As the strongest team for such conditions, Etixx-QuickStep were licking their lips in anticipation and they blew the race apart right from the gun.

 

After just a few kilometres of racing, Tom Boonen and his teammates had split the peloton into four groups, with riders like Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Alejandro Valverde and race leader Jose Joaqin Rojas (both Movistar) among the riders that had lost contact. However, Kristoff and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) were fully aware and made it into the small front group that emerged.

 

As they turned into a tailwind, however, things calmed down a bit and a regrouping took place while a 5-rider break took off and the race settled into a steady rhythm before the riders again hit the crosswinds in the finale. Here Etixx-QuickStep again split the peloton to pieces and gradually the riders dropped off until just 15 riders remained.

 

Rojas, Demare, Bouhanni and Fabian Cancellara (Trek) were some of the key names to miss out and when the riders entered the final 10km, it was down to a battle between Boonen, Nikolas Maes, Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep), Peter Sagan, Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jasper Stuyven (Trek), Greg Van Avermaet, Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Kristoff, Andrea Guardini, Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana), Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard (Sky), Adam Blythe (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Heinrich Haussler (IAM). With the other groups, more than 30 seconds behind, the tactics came into play when they turned into a headwind in the finale and the pace dropped significantly.

 

Ian Stannard tried to launch a surprise attack but Maes was quick to shut it down and from there the Belgian took control of the situation. He shut down an attack from Bodnar and then rode on the front until they passed the flamme rouge.

 

Here Tleubayev did a long lead-out for his teammate Guardini before Terpstra took over. Kristoff proved his strength by staying in second position all the time and when he launched his sprint with 200m to go, the outcome was not in doubt. Guardini came fast in the end but had to settle for second while Van Avermaet completed the podium.

 

Boonen picked up 3 bonus seconds in an intermediate sprint, meaning that he has now taken a total of 9 bonus seconds. However, Kristoff got 10 for the win and so he now leads the race with a 1-second advantage over Boonen.

 

He will try to defend his position tomorrow in the 11.9km time trial on the Lusail Motor Circuit. As always in Qatar, it is completely flat but lots of corners and strong winds will make it a hard and very technical affair.

 

A windy stage

After the very slow first stage, all was set for the completely opposite scenario for the second stage. The riders travelled over 194.5km from Al Wakra to Al Khor Corniche over the usual flat desert roads but with a strong wind blowing from a southerly direction, the riders would first have a strong crosswind, then a tailwind and finally a crosswind in the finale again.

 

With the riders heading directly into a crosswind, a lot of nervous faces were at the start line where they were greeted by 30-degree temperatures, bright sunshine and strong winds. Right from the beginning, Etixx-QuickStep went on the attack and while Nelson Oliveira (Lampre-Merida) went down in a crash in the hectic opening phase, the peloton immediately blew to pieces.

 

The race blows apart

Very quickly two bigger groups had formed under the impetus of the Belgian team and all the distinctive jerseys Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar), Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) had made it into the first one alongside the likes of Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Fabian Cancellara (Trek), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Heinrich Haussler (IAM). However, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) both found themselves caught out and fought hard to get back, 20 seconds behind.

 

Etixx-QuickStep continued to apply the pressure and suddenly the race had exploded to pieces, with four group spread out across the road. Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) found themselves in the second group that quickly had lost 40 seconds.

 

A strong front group

Etixx-QuickStep created another split and this time race leader Rojas and best young rider Demare fell off the pace. Trek and Etixx-QuickStep were the best represented in the 25-rider first group that contained Terpstra, Boonen, Nikolas Maes, Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep), Nikias Arndt, Bert De Backer, Ramon Sinkeldam (Giant-Alpecin), Peter Sagan, Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff-Saxo), Fabian Cancellara, Jasper Stuyven, Danny Van Poppel, Boy Van Poppel (Trek), Alexander Kristoff, Marco Haller (Katusha), Borut Bozic, Andriy Grivko, Andrea Guardini (Astana), Luke Rowe (Sky), Matthieu Ladagnous, Yoann Offredo (FDJ), Adam Blythe, Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEDGE), Heinrich Haussler (IAM) and Ralf Matzka (Bora-Argon 18).

 

Movistar, BMC and Orica-GreenEDGE led the chase in the second group with Rojas, Gilbert and Kittel that was 15 seconds behind at the 40km mark while a third group with Demare and Bouhanni was at 1.10. The group with Valverde, Wiggins and Lars Boom (Astana) had already been distanced by 2.25.

 

A break takes off

At the 50km mark, the Rojas group managed to rejoin the leader as they had turned into a tailwind while Valverde managed to join the Demare group. This caused the pace to go down and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Jelle Wallays (Topsport), Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEDGE), Michael Mørkøv (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Johann Van Zyl (MTN-Qhubeka) were quick to exploit the situation to make an attack.

 

The slower pace allowed the Valverde -Bouhanni group to rejoin the peloton while the five escapees started to build an advantage of around a minute where it was kept stable in the fierce tailwind. The peloton allowed itself to take a small breather and while Wallays rejoined the break after a puncture, the gap reached 3.50 at the 106km mark.

 

Boonen splits the peloton again

At this point, Movistar was setting the pace and a group with Wiggins and Demare now also got back to the peloton. At the first sprint, Van Avermaet beat Hayman and Mørkøv while Jef van Meirhaghe (Topsport) became the first rider to abandon the race.

 

While the riders could notice an average speed of 54kph for the first two hours, they reached another change of direction and unsurprisingly, it was Boonen who won the sprint to enter the turn in first position. Together with his Etixx-QuickStep teammates, he made another attack that gradually split the group.

 

The break is caught

Boasson Hagen, Kittel and Valverde were among the riders that failed to make it into the 36-rider front echelon that contained the likes of Boonen, Terpstra, Sagan, Kristoff, Haussler, Blythe, Cancellara, Gilbert, Bouhanni, Demare and Rojas. The fast pace saw the gap to the breakway come down and with 65km to go, the leaders were only 1.40 ahead of the peloton while the Kittel group was at 2.15.

 

At the 123km mark, it was all over for the escapees while the Kittel group was losing ground as it was now 55 seconds behind. As the riders turned into more of a headwind, they started to make a comeback though and even though Movistar and Trek worked hard in the first group, it was only 35 seconds a little later.

 

Bad luck for Gilbert

Just as Etixx-QuickStep made another attack, Gilbert had to change his wheel. At the same time, the front group split and Bouhanni and Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) were among the first riders to lose contact.

 

With 47km to go, the gap was 1.15 as the front group was speeding along with the likes of Terpstra, Boonen, Rojas, Sagan, Van Avermaet, Guardini, Kristoff, Demare, Blythe and Haussler all there. Demare had to stop for a front wheel change but three of his teammates managed to bring him back.

 

Bonus seconds for Boonen

Cancellara had now lost contact and found himself in the Kittel group that was 1.20 behind. At this point, Boonen beat his teammate Maes and Marcus Burghardt (BMC) in the final intermediate sprint to pick up 3 bonus seconds.

 

The riders again entered a crosswind section and this time it was Haussler who applied the pressure. The group split again, with Demare being one of the first to get dropped and later Rojas also lost contact.

 

A 15-rider front group

The group was now down to just Terpstra, Boonen, Maes, Arndt, Sagan, Bodnar, Stuyven, Burghardt, Van Avermaet, Kristoff, Guardini, Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana), Rowe, Ian Stannard (Sky), Mickael Delage (FDJ), Offredo, Blythe, Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE), Haussler, Roger Kluge (IAM) and Daniel Schorn. A puncture took out Keukeleire and later Arndt, Delage, Kluge, Schorn and Offredo also got dropped, leaving just 15 riders in the lead.

 

They maintained the speed until the tactical battle started and in the end, it was Kristoff who took the win.

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