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In a photo finish after a hard day in the rain, Zepuntke narrowly held of a fast-finishing Navarduaskas to win the first stage of the Tour of Alberta; Dumoulin rode strongly on the climbs to defend his overall lead

Photo: Sirotti












04.09.2014 @ 02:43 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Ruben Zepuntke (Bissell) underlined his great potential when he beat the WorldTour riders in a close sprint at the end of a hard, wet first stage of the Tour of Alberta. Having been perfectly led out by James Oram, he narrowly held off a very fast finishing Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp) and Ryan Anderson (Optum) in a photo finish while Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) responded to the attacks on the late climbs to defend his overall lead.


In the recent USA Pro Challenge, many noticed the name of Ruben Zepuntke as a rider to watch for the future as the young German rode strongly in the mountains and in breakaways. Today he put his name right near the top of the list of big talents when he beat the WorldTour riders in the first stage of the Tour of Alberta.


On a very wet day in Canada, a small 30-rider group arrived at the finish after a tough climb in the finale had split the peloton to pieces. Passing the flamme rouge, the Hincapie team brought Zepuntke’s teammate Daniel Eaton back and this was the signal for the German to kick into action.


His teammate James Oram passed the Hincapie riders and led Zepunkte through the final turns. Hitting the short finishing straight, he put down the hammer and seemed to be riding towards a comfortable win.


Having been out of position, Ramunas Navardauskas produced an amazing sprint and passed several rider before moving up alongside the fading German. The Lithuanian was a lot faster than everybody else but just ran out of metres and had to settle for second, with Ryan Anderson completing the podium.


After the opening prologue, the Tour of Alberta continued with a tricky 143km circuit race in Lethbridge. The stage consisted of 6 laps of a 23.5km circuit that was a challenging affair. Every lap the riders tackled a steep 15% climb whose top is located just 5km from the finish and as there was no descent after the summit, the climb was expected to create a selection in the 6-day race.


There were no overnight withdrawals as the riders took the start in rainy conditions. As expected, the pace was fast right from the gun as lots of riders were intent on using the hilly terrain to go on the attack.


At the end of the first lap, a dangerous break had formed. Tom Danielson and Ben King (both Garmin), Tom Dumoulin, Simon Geschke (both Giant), Mathew Hayman, Leigh Howard, Christian Meier, Daryl Impey (all Orica-GreenEDGE), Sergei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly), Sam Bassetti, Michael Woods (both 5-Hour), Robin Carpenter, Toms Skujins (both Hincapie) and Nathan Van Hooydonck (Bissell) had a 15-second advantage and they even managed to extend it to 30 seconds.


With most of the GC riders present, it was no surprise that a big chase was organized but the group managed to stay clear for a little while. Ultimately, most of the riders dropped back to the peloton, leaving just Hayman, Van Hooydonck and Carpenter to press on.


The trio fought hard to extend its advantage but finally, the peloton decided to take it a bit easier. When the gap had reached two minutes, Dumoulin’s Giant-Shimano team assembled on the front and but the gap continued to grow.


With 84km to go, the escapees were 3.15 ahead and as they crossed the line at the end of the second lap, they had extended their advantage to 4.40. Now the race leader’s team increased the pace and pegged the gap down to around 4 minutes where Daan Olivier, Tom Peterson and Thierry kept it stable for a long time.


Carpenter beat Hayman and Van Hooydonck in the KOM sprint on the third lap and when the front trio crossed the line to start the penultimate lap, Hayman easily beat Carpenter and Van Hooydonck in the intermediate sprint, adding to the win he had taken in the first one two laps earlier.


At this point, the gap was exactly four minutes but now Giant-Shimano got some assistance. Garmin-Sharp added Caleb Fairly and Gavin Mannion to the team of chases while UnitedHealthCare put Davide Frattini on the front. Most of the Giant rider had now blown up and for the Dutch team only Jonas Ahlstrand and Hupond were working.


The three teams rode really fast in the windy conditions which caused the peloton to split into several groups. The gap was now coming down and with 30km to go, they had brought the gap down to 3 minutes.


On the climb, Carpenter launched an attack and this was too much for Van Hooydonck who had been following wheels for most of the lap. While Carpenter beat Hayman in the KOM sprint, Van Hooydonck lost ground and at the passage of the line 5km later, he was already 1.15 behind.


Garmin ride hard up the climb to create a selection and several riders fell off the pace. Giant-Shimano with Ahlstrand and UnitedHealthCare with several riders again started to contribute after the top and as they crossed the line, they were only 2.15 behind.


Van Hooydonck was brought back just a few moments later and now the gap was melting away. As Fabian Wegmann was now also riding on the front for Garmin, the hard work by three of the bg teams had brought the gap down to 1.30 with 15km to go.


As they entered the final 10km, the front duo were only 30 seconds ahead and now the fight for position in the peloton had started. UnitedHealthCare was now in complete control as they sped down the descent towards the bottom of the climb.


Robert Förster took a huge turn for the American team in the run-in to the climb as Orica-GreenEDGE had now positioned themselves in the front end of the peloton. As soon as they hit the lower slopes, Matthew Goss took over the pacesetting for the Australian team and when Christian Meier took over, the front dup was caught.


Meier’s fast pace caused the group to split up. Next Pieter Weening took over and he made the peloton splinter. Kiel Reijen, Daniel Summerhill (UnitedHealthCare) and Tom Dumoulin were glued to his wheel but when they crested the summit, the UnitedHealthCare riders had blown up.


Weening and Dumoulin passed the top with an advantage of a few seconds over a chase group that contained around 10 riders. Navarduaskas managed to bridge the gap with a Bissell rider and Reijnen but as there was no cooperation, they were caught by the chasers.


Reijnen made an immediate attack and was joined by Ruben Zepuntke (Bissell) and Ben King (Garmin) but it came back together. King tried again with Steven Kruijskwijk (Belkin) on his wheel and when they were brought back, Zepuntke and Reijnen gave it a go.


Those two riders got a small advantage before Daniel Eaton (Bissell) and Simon Geschke bridged the gap. However, there was no cooperation and so Eaton took off.


While his chasers were caught, the American got a small gap but now the chase had got organized. Hincapie was setting a hard pace and just after the flamme rouge, he had been brought back by a 30-rider group. James Oram and Zepuntke passed the Hincapie riders and went through the final turns, setting the scene for the exciting sprint.


Dumoulin never seemed to be in trouble and easily defended his 14-second lead over Sergei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly). He now goes into the second stage which is another undulating affair. The day offer plenty of rolling terrain on windy, exposed roads and includes a single categorized climb before the riders end the stage by doing three laps of a difficult finishing circuit with a short climb just before the line.



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