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Confirming his good form, Van Poppel narrowly came around Degenkolb to win the tough uphill sprint on stage 2 of the Arctic Race of Norway and move into the race lead; Hofland completed the podium

Photo: Unipublic










12.08.2016 @ 18:28 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

One week after winning two stages and the points jersey at the Vuelta a Burgos, Danny Van Poppel (Sky) confirmed that he is the in-form sprinter at the moment when he beat all the stars in the uphill sprint on stage 2 of the Arctic Race of Norway. The Dutchman timed his sprint to perfection and just managed to come around John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) who again had to settle for second place. As Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) could only manage sixth, Van Poppel also moves into the race lead.


After his stage win at last year’s Vuelta, Danny Van Poppel was picked up by the Sky team which was in search for another sprinter to complement Elia Viviani and add to the tally for the Brits who have traditionally had a hard time in the bunch kicks. However, nothing went to plan for the Dutchman in the first part of the year as a small knee injury forced him to postpone his debut for a long time.


When he finally returned to racing, he was already in good form and he saved his spring season by taking a popular home win for Sky at the Tour de Yorkshire. Since then he has been gearing up for his big goal of the year, the Vuelta a Espana, where he hopes to get a bid of freedom in a team that is set to be led by Chris Froome.


Van Poppel proved his form by winning two stages and the points jersey at the Vuelta a Burgos and then headed to Norway to finalize his preparation at the Arctic Race of Norway. However, he faced a much tougher competition in the four-day race as he was up against the likes of Giacomo Nizzolo, Alexander Kristoff, Arnaud Demare and John Degenkolb in the Norwegian event.


Yesterday Van Poppel showed that he has no reason to be scared by the many Milan-Sanremo winners in the field as he finished third behind Kristoff and Degenkolb in the first stage. Today he did even better as he beat them all after a close sprint on the uphill finishing straight on stage 2.


Like yesterday, it was Degenkolb who got the perfect lead-out from Søren Kragh Andersen and the German could launch the sprint from a perfect position. Van Poppel was quick to jump onto his wheel and then narrowly came around to take his fourth win of the season and move into the race lead.


After yesterday’s tough opener, the riders faced another lumpy stage on the second stage which brought the riders over 198.5km from Mo I Rana to Sandnessjøen. After a flat start, the riders tackled the category 1 climb of Korgfjellet which will be used in the finale of the third stage too. It averaged 6.4km over 8.9km, with the top coming at the 44.5km mark. From there the riders descended back to flat terrain until they got to the finish line for the first time with 28km to go. Having contested the final intermediate sprint here, the riders ended the race by doing two laps of a 14km circuit. It included the category 2 climb of Kleivskaret (0.5km, 10%) which came 10.5km from the finish. From there, the road continued uphill for a few kilometres before a descent led to the final 4km which were slightly ascending. The final kilometre averaged 1.7%.


Many riders had feared the bad weather in Norway but they had no reason to be concerned when they gathered for stage 2. The peloton was greeted by bright sunshine and no wind when they rolled through the neutral zone, led by local heroes Alexander Kristoff and Odd Christian Eiking.


As soon as the flag was dropped to signal the real start, a Joker rider attacked and he got an immediate advantage. He was the lone leader for around four kilometres while the attacking continued in the peloton. Maxay Ayazbayev (Astana) was the first to join before a group with the likes of Martin Mortensen (ONE) and Matt Brammeier (Dimension Data) also regained contact. However, it soon came back together.


Ayazbayev launched a counterattack but it was Krister Hagen (Coop), Floris De Tier (Topsport Vlaanderen) and another rider who got the next small advantage. However, that move didn’t work either.


The peloton briefly slowed down before Jay Thomson (Dimension Data), Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty) and Carl Fredrik Hagen (Sparebanken) escaped. While Lander Seynaeve (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) worked hard to regan contact after a mechanical, they managed to keep the peloton at bay while the attacks continued.


At the 10km mark, Adrian Stien (Joker), Alex Kirsch (Stölting) and Audun Fløtten (Ringeriks-Kraft) joined the leaders and so a 6-rider group was formed. The peloton slowed down and stopped for a natural break and so the gap quickly went out to more than a minute.


The gap almost reached two minutes at the 15km mark when Katusha hit the front with Viacheslav Kuznetsov. However, the Russian was definitely not chasing and the gap continued to grow rapidly.


The gap had gone out to 5.15 when the front group hit the Korgfjellet climb and it went out to 5.30 before Kuznetsov manage to stabilize the situation. The action started more than 1km from the top where Hagen attacked, going for the KOM points. As he couldn’t get rid of Fløtten, Thomson and Kirsch, the group came back together though and then it came to a standstill. Thomson then launched a long sprint but he had to settle for second behind Van Melsen, with Kirsch picking up the final point.


The tactical battle had cost a bit of time so when Kuznetsov led the peloton over the top, the gap was down to 5.13. As soon as they hit the descent, Sven Erik Bystrøm took over and he upped the pace significantly, reducing the gap to 4.30 with 140km to go.


There was no help for Bystrøm but he still managed to reduce the gap to 3.15 before he hit the final 120km. That was the signal to slow down and as Kuznetsov came to the fore to share the work with his teammate, the gap stabilized between 3.00 and 3.30.


The continental riders had more success in the first intermediate sprint where Stien beat Fløtten and Hagen before Kuznetov and Brystrøm led the peloton to the line four minutes later. Moment later, they entered the feed zone where Yury Trofimov (Tinkoff) abandoned.


Bystrøm took a breather and left it to Kuznetsov to keep the gap between 3.30 and 4.00 as they entered the final 85km. Here Kirsch who had been with the medical car a little earlier, sat up and left it to the five remaining escapees to press on.


Bystrøm again joined forces with Kuznetsov and they reeled Kirsch in before Giant-Alpecin decided that it was time to join the chase. With 73km to go, Max Walscheid started to cooperate with the two Katusha riders, with the peloton still sitting 3.40 behind the leaders.


The efforts paid off and during the next 8km, the three chasers reduced the gap to just 2.50. With the situation under control, Katusha decided to save Bystrøm for later and so the work was left to Kuznetsov and Walscheid as they hit the final 65km.


With 50km to go, the gap was down to 1.30 and here Stien easily beat Thomas in the second intermediate sprint, with Fløtten rolling across the line in third.


The gap went down to 1.10 before Kuznetsov and Walscheid eased off and as the gap again started to grow, Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) saw an opportunity to attack. No one reacted and he immediately got a big gap.


The peloton continued to ride slowly until the gap had reached 2.10 where Walscheid and Kuznetsv stabilized the situation for a few kilometres. Van Hecke was stuck 1.20 behind the leaders and after a hard fight for around 10km, he decided to wait for the peloton.


The escapees tried to give it their all in an attempt to surprise the peloton but their gap had been reduced to 1.30 when they hit the finishing circuit with 30km to go. Two kilometres later, Stien beat Fl’tten and Thomson in the final intermediate sprint at the first passage of the line. Kuznetsov and Walscheid were first from the peloton 50 seconds later.


As soon as they hit the climb, Thomson attacked and Stien and Hagen were dropped immediately. Van Melsen countered and unlike the South African he managed to ride away. Impressively, Fløtten and Hagen fought their way back but they had no response to Van Melsen in the KOM sprint. The Belgian was first across the line, followed by Fløtten and Hagen.


The peloton took it easy on the climb as Kuznetsov just set a steady pace and so Van Melten, Fløtten and Hagen managed to push the gap out to 50 seconds as they started to cooperate again. Stien was brought back as he decided to try to stay with the peloton to maintain his virtual second place overall.


Thomson made it back to the leaders with 20km to go where the gap was still 45 seconds. Meanwhile, Walscheid returned to the front and started to cooperate with Kuznetsov again.


Bora-Argon 18 took full control and reduced the gap to just 10 seconds with 15km to go. As Trek moved up next to them, Van Melsen attacked as they headed under the flamme rouge but the only effect was that Hagen was dropped.


Thomson led the front trio over the line with an advantage of less than 10 seconds before FDJ, Trek and Bora-Argon 18 led the peloton to the finish. They brought Hagen back and after Thomson had made a last attack, the front trio was caught with 12km to go.


Gregory Rast (Trek), Andreas Schillinger (Bora-Argon 18), Odd Christian Eiking and Daniel Hoelgaard (FDJ) led their respective trains as they approached the climb and it was the latter who hit the ascent first. After a bit of hesitation, Vicente Reynes (IAM) launched a strong attack and he was joined by Fabian Wegmann (Stölting) while Schillinger chased hard in the peloton.


Reynes dropped Wegmann and crested the summit with a small advantage over the German, with Schillinger leading the peloton over the top. FDJ immediately started to chase with Eiking and Hoelgaard and they brought Wegamnn back.


Reynes managed to open a 15-second advantage and dug deep to keep it stable. Meanwhile, Wanty, Trek, Joker and FDJ lined out their trains on the front of the peloton. While the French team eased off, Bora-Argon 18 also came to the fore.


With 5m to go, the gap was still 10 seconds but Reynes was losing ground as Joker were riding hard. With 4.5km to go, he was brought back just as Martin Mortensen (ONE) hit the front. Then the Trek team took over with Marco Coledan, Niccolo Bonifazio and Boy Van Poppel leading protected sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo.


Coledan kept riding on the front but couldn’t respond when Loic Vliegen (BMC) attacked just as the road started to point upwards. Björn Thurau (Wanty) joined the Belgian and while they managed to build an advantage, Coledan was still setting the pace.


Ben Swift (Sky) took over from the fading Italian and brought the escapees back with 1800m to go. Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data) then took over before Mike Teunissen took control for LottoNL-Jumbo.


Teunissen took a massive turn until Roy Curvers hit the front for Giant-Alpecin as they passed under the flamme rouge. Leigh Howard (IAM) was in second position but when the Dutchman swung off, the Australian had to slow down as it was way too early to launch the sprint.


Instead, Lukas Pöstlberger took a huge turn for Bora-Argon 18 before Boy Van Poppel did the lead-out for Nizzolo. When he stated to fade, Sep Vanmarcke sprinted to the front for LottoNL-Jumbo and then Søren Kragh again did an excellent lead-out for Degenkolb who was in third behind Nizzolo.


Degenkolb started his sprint as the first rider and immediately passed Nizzolo. However, Van Poppel was quick to come around Moreno Hofland and jump onto his wheel before narrowly coming around to win the stage. Hofland edged Nizzolo out in a photo finish for third while race leader Kristoff had to settle for sixth.


With the win, Van Poppel takes the overall lead with a 2-second advantage over Degenkolb. However, he will have little chance to defend his jersey in tomorrow’s queen stage curing which ye riders will travel 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 will climb the category 2 climb of Sjonfjellet (4.1km, 6.6%) and then they will tackle another two category 2 climb, 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 is largely flat but it all comes to an exciting conclusion on the final category 1 climb. The average gradient of the 8.9km climb is 6.4% and it’s a pretty regular ascent. The climb eases off a bit in the middle section where it averages 5.5% over three kilometres but then it gets steeper again as the final 2900m average 7%.



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