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Despite riding into a headwind, Kristoff launched a powerful sprint at the end of the fourth stage of the Tour of Qatar and had enough power to hold off Sagan and Arndt; Terpstra lost 5 seconds but defended his lead

Photo: Qatar Cycling Federation/Paumer/B.Bade

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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NIKI TERPSTRA

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NIKIAS ARNDT

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PETER SAGAN

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TOUR OF QATAR

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11.02.2015 @ 14:32 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) confirmed that he is in excellent condition from the start of the season when he added the victory in stage 4 of the Tour of Qatar to the victory he had already taken in stage 2. Despite a strong headwind on the finishing straight, the Norwegian showed immense power by launching a long sprint and still hold off Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) to continue his run of success. A split caused a time loss of 5 seconds for race leader Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) but the Dutchman defended his overall lead.

 

Going into this year’s edition of the Tour of Qatar, Alexander Kristoff had never managed to win a single stage in the desert race despite numerous attempts. Having taken a step up in 2014, however, he has now used the Qatari event to position himself at the top of the current sprinting hierarchy.

 

Two days ago Kristoff used his strength to survive the big crosswind battle before launching a powerful sprint to beat 14 tired rivals at the end of what was a very fast stage. Today he added another win to his tally but this time it was pure sprinting power that gave him the win.

 

With a strong headwind blowing all day, the riders had even taken the start 1 hour and 10 minutes earlier than planned and the conditions dampened all the aggression in the peloton. The first section had a bit of a crosswind and caused some nervous moments but when the riders turned into the headwind, it became a slow and very controlled race, with 3 riders forming an early breakaway.

 

Etixx-QuickStep, Giant-Alpecin, FDJ and Tinkoff-Saxo combined forces to reel the escapees in and the slow pace meant that the riders were all fresh when they arrived for the expected bunch sprint. This meant that the sprint trains all had lots of firepower and the fight for position turned into a war in the final kilometres.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE played with the muscles as they hit the front inside the final 3km but they ran out of power too early when Adam Blythe’s final lead-out man already took his turn with more than one kilometre to go. Hence, he had to drop back but he managed to latch onto the back of the Giant-Alpecin train which had again timed everything to perfection.

 

The German team completely dominated the final kilometre but surprisingly they were not riding for Marcel Kittel. Instead, it was Nikias Arndt on the back of the train who was delivered in the perfect position.

 

As usual, Kristoff had placed himself near the front and the Norwegian wasn’t afraid of anticipating the Giant rider by doing a long sprint into the headwind. Arndt tried to respond but was no match to Kristoff’s power.

 

Peter Sagan did a very good sprint from far back but even though Kristoff had been riding in the wind for a long time, he still hadn’t enough left to come around the Norwegian and so he had to settle for second. Arndt narrowly held off Blythe to take third.

 

A split in the finale meant that race leader Niki Terpstra lost 5 seconds of his 11-second lead over Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff-Saxo). However, he is still 6 seconds ahead as he goes into tomorrow’s fifth stage which could be a dramatic affair. More wind is expected and with a long crosswind section in the second half, it could become another true battle with riders spread all across the road.

 

A flat stage

After the time trial, it was back into classic Tour of Qatar terrain as the riders headed over 165.5km from Al Thakhira to Mesaieed. As usual, it was a completely flat run through the desert but after an opening tailwind section, the riders faced either a cross-headwind or a headwind for the rest of the day, meaning that a bunch sprint was the expected outcome.

 

The riders took the start on another hot and sunny day in Qatar and again there was lots of wind even though it was not as strong as it had been in the first three stages. The riders headed directly into a very short crosswinds section before they turned into a tailwind and this made for a nervous and fast start to the race.

 

A break is formed

Etixx-QuickStep, Trek, Movistar and Katusha were among the active teams as they tried to split things and Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani) and Danny van Poppel (Trek) were among the riders who lost contact early on. As the riders turned into a tailwind, however, things calmed down and this allowed a break to be established.

 

Dmitriy Gruzdev (Astana), Jaco Venter (MTN-Qhubeka) and Jarl Salomein (Topsport Vlaanderen) managed to escape and after 15km of racing, they were already 40 seconds ahead. As the peloton slowed down, the gap increased and it reached a maximum of 2.45 after around 30km of racing.

 

Katusha take control

Katusha decided to take control of the situation and at the 35km mark, they had reduced their deficit to 2.20. As the Russian team stopped their work, the gap went up to 3.30 before Etixx-QuickStep started to chase.

 

The riders covered 50.2km in the first hour of racing which was mainly with a strong tailwind but now they had turned into a headwind and that made for some slower racing. A crash brought down Theo Bos (MTN-Qhubeka) but the Dutchman managed to rejoin the peloton. Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) also had to fight his way back from a puncture.

 

A slow pace

Etixx-QuickStep kept the gap stable at around 3.30 but when Salomein beat Venter and Gruzdev in the first intermediate sprint, it had come down to 3.00. The headwind had significantly slowed down the race and the riders only covered 30.9km in the second hour.

 

At the 100km mark, the gap was back up to 3.30 and now it was Lars Boom (Astana) who had to chase back from a crash. At this point, FDJ and Giant-Alpecin started to work with Etixx-QuickStep and this caused the gap to come down to 2.15 with 45km to go.

 

Haussler goes down

With 45km to go, the peloton started to get nervous and this caused a new crash that involved Heinrich Haussler (IAM) and forced Bradley Wiggins (Sky) to change his rear wheel. Haussler managed to rejoin the peloton which was 1.15 behind by the time Gruzdev beat Salomein and Venter in the final intermediate sprint with 29km to go.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo also came to the fore and as they entered the final 20km, it was Jesper Hansen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jens Mouris (Orica-GreenEDGE), Tom Stamsnijder (Giant-Alpecin) and the Etixx-QuickStep duo of Martin Velits and Iljo Keisse who set the pace. With the strong headwind, the teams waited for a long time before they started to move into position but with 10km to go, the battle really started.

 

A big fight for position

Etixx-QuickStep’s Sijn Vandenbergh held off a surge from the Astana team and in the next few kilometres, it was Katusha and Etixx-QuickStep who had lined out their trains on the front. With 8km to go, MTN-Qhubeka took over before Matthias Brändle took a huge turn for IAM.

 

With 6km to go, the entire Bora team managed to take the first positions but they were passed by an impressive Orica-GreenEDGE team who had strength in numbers. They got a bit of respite when a Movistar rider took a turn but soon after they were back in control.

 

A Bora rider gave them another breather but with 2km to go, it was already time for final lead-out man Docker to hit the front. That was way too early and instead it was Giant-Alpecin who dominated the finale before Kristoff took the win.

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