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The former Dutchman escapes on his own and is later swallowed up by 4 riders to form a very strong group of classics specialists that holds off the peloton; Terpstra emerges as the strongest in the headwind sprint

Photo: OPQS / Tim De Waele

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JURGEN ROELANDTS

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MICHAEL SCHÄR

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NIKI TERPSTRA

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TOUR OF QATAR

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09.02.2014 @ 14:48 Posted by Frederik Palle Pedersen

Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) proved that he is already in excellent conditions for the classics when he emerged as the strongest in a very windy first stage of the Tour of Qatar. Having originally been in a solo escape, he was later joined by 4 of the best classics riders in the world to form a break royale that held off the peloton by 7 seconds before the former Dutch champion showed impressive strength on the finishing straight to become the first leader of the 6-day race.

 

Niki Terpstra proved that it may be a good idea to keep a close eye on him in the cobbled classics as he proved in today's first stage of the Tour of Qatar that he is ready for the challenges  ahead. The Dutchman proved amazing strength when he left behind much faster rivals in the sprint of the 5-rider group that held off the peloton in the strong Qatari headwind.

 

Terpstra showed his intentions right from the start of the stage when he won the first intermediate sprint and went on a solo attack. That also secured him the win in the second intermediate sprint before he was swallowed up by a very strong 4-rider chase group.

 

His teammate Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol), Michael Schär (BMC) and Martin Elmiger (IAM) joined forces with the former Dutch champion to form an impressive breakaway that contained some of the strongest classics riders in the word. Knowing the depth of the breakaway, the peloton never allowed them more than a 30-second advantage but despite the combined efforts of FDJ, Sky, Orica-GreenEDGE, Belkin and Tinkoff-Saxo, they were unable to close the gap despite always having the break within sight.

 

All 5 riders committed themselves completely to the work and with 5km to go, most of the teams cracked in the peloton. Van Keirsbulck sacrificed himself completely for his teammate and even managed to return for one final big turn inside the final kilometre at a time where the tactical battle has finally begun.

 

Terpstra, however, didn't have any reason to fear any kind of tactics as he was clearly the strongest rider in the break. When Elmiger made the first attack, he was quick to respond. Sensing that Elmiger was fading dramatically, he jumped with 200m to go and at the line he had a 1-second gap over Roelandts who beat Schär in the sprint for 2nd while Elmiger faded back into 4th.

 

Tom Boonen completed a fabulous day for Omega Pharma-Quick Step when he won the bunch sprint for 6th, 7 seconds after Terpstra had crossed the line. Having picked up 16 bonus seconds on the stage, Terpstra now finds himself with a comfortable 9-second lead over Roelandts while all the pre-race favourites are 23 seconds adrift.

 

Terpstra faces his first jersey defence in tomorow's second stage which is again likely to be a very windy affair. Things could split up in the crosswinds and all riders with overall ambitions will need to stay attentive throughout the day in the Qatari desert.

 

A windy day

The Tour of Qatar kicked off with a 135.5km stage from Al Wakra to Dukhan Beach and as it is usual in Qatar, the route was completely flat. However, the wind that often wreaks havoc on the peloton in the desert was rather strong and there was a sense of nervousness when the race kicked off.

 

As expected, the stage was off to aggressive start, with the peloton splitting up a number of times. Terpstra showed his intentions right from the beginning when he attacked on his own and he won the first intermediate sprint at the 20km mark to score the first 3 bonus seconds. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) beat Sam Bennett (NetApp-Endura) in the battle for the remaining seconds on the line.

 

Things split in the wind

The pace was fierce and at one point a 22-rider group had separated itself from the peloton. It seemed that the race would develop into a battle of attrition but when the peloton made a turn that saw the wind become more of a headwind, things slowed down.

 

While most of the peloton came back together after the hard start, Terpstra again set off on his own. Roelandts, Elmiger, Van Keirsbulck and Schär formed a chase group while the peloton always knew that they could not allow those 5 riders too much leeway and so never allowed the gap to grow too much.

 

5 riders work together

Terpstra managed to stay clear on his own until the second intermediate sprint 28km from the finish while Roelandts beat Schär in the battle for the remaining seconds. A few moments later, Terpstra decided to slow down to wait for his chasers and a very strong front quintet was now formed.

 

In the peloton, FDJ and Orica-GreenEDGE led the chase, hoping to set up a sprint finish for Arnaud Demare and Aidis Kruopis respectively. Especially the Australian team committed a lot of riders to the effort but the gap was rather stable at around 20 seconds for most of the time.

 

Mangel and Lancaster lead the chase

Laurent Mangel (FDJ) and Brett Lancaster (Orica-GreenEDGE) were two of the riders who dug very deep into the headwind but they appeared to be losing the battle. With 15km to go, the advantage had grown to 30 seconds, prompting Sky to add Gabriel Rasch and Danny Pate to the team of chasers.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo also put Karsten Kroon on the front while Belkin asked Maarten Tjallingii to lend a hand. The combined effort of five teams was enough to bring the gap down to 15 seconds where it stabilized for some time.

 

The break wins the battle

However, the cooperation in the front group was still excellent and with 7km to go, most of the chasers cracked. While most of them disappeared from the front, the gap quickly went up to 30 seconds and it appeared that the escapees would stay away to the finish.

 

With 5km to go, only Luke Rowe (Sky) and Graeme Brown and Robert Wagner (Belkin) were left to do the work and the break had won the battle. Van Keirsbulck has sacrificed himself completely for his teammate and he was dropped with around 4km to go.

 

Van Keirsbulck saves the break

The front group kept working together until the flamme rouge where they finally started looking at each other. They now started to lose time at a rapid pace but were saved by Van Keirsbulck who managed to return, going straight to the front to bring back the momentum to the break.

 

Elmiger saw his chance to launch an attack but Terpstra was quick to respond. The duo opened a gap on their fellow escapees but Terpstra quickly sensed that Elmiger was fading. With 200m to go, he launched his own attack and showed immense strength when he powered into the headwind to take a convincing win.

 

Roelandts managed to hold off Schär and a fading Elmiger while Van Keirsbulck narrowly took 5th ahead of Boonen who won the sprint in the peloton which splintered too pieces on the finishing straight after what had been a very hard day in the Qatari wind.

 

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