Kristoff Pedals Russian Team to Success in Tour of Qatar
Stage 2 of Tour of Qatar 2015 was the scene of one of the most spectacular events in the history of the race as a sand storm hit the peloton in the first hour of what was to be an action-packed stage.
After a tremendous battle between the professional teams that are taking part in this year's Tour of Qatar, fifteen riders eventually broke away from the main peloton group to compete in the final sprint battle across the finish line in Al Khor Corniche, where Alexander Kristoff conquered his first ever stage victory in Qatar. Norwegian Kristoff, who interestingly chose to ride for Russian Team Katusha despite Russia's actions in Ukraine, beat Team Astana's Andrea Guardini and Greg Van Avermaet of Team BMC Racing and took the overall race lead in the process.
While the riders had struggled against the wind in yesterday's stage 1, the conditions were a lot more favorable for the second and longest day of the event: a 187.5 ride from the Al Wakra harbor to the corniche in Al Khor. While the 141 riders at the start knew the wind would make the day a fast one, little did they imagine that a sand storm would hit the pack as soon as they left Al Wakra.
Straight from the start, making the best of the strong tailwind, the teams of the general classification favorites moved to the front and managed to split apart the peloton. Fighting at the front of the wind and sand struck race, were major riders such as race leader Jose Joaquin Rojas, defending Tour of Qatar champion Niki Terpstra, four-time winner Tom Boonen, as well as Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara, Alexander Kristoff, Blythe and Heinrich Haussler. The front group’s lead grew to 45 seconds over the first chasing bunch, but things calmed down and the peloton bunched up again at kilometer 50 for the end of round one.
Five riders then broke away from the peloton, each hoping today would be his lucky day. Michael Mørkøv (Tinkoff Bank-Saxo Bank), Greg Van Avermaet (Team BMC Racing), Van Zyl (MTN-Qhubeka), Wallays (TSV) and Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge). Their advantage grew to a 1’10 at kilometer 68 just before Wallays was hit by a puncture.
The front four continued their attack and the gap reached 3’50 at kilometer 102. At the first intermediate sprint (km 108.5), won by Van Avermaet ahead of Hayman and Mørkøv, the gap had dropped down to 3’30. Round 2 of the battle between the favorites could then commence. Led by the riders of Etixx-Quickstep, around forty riders powered away to gain an advantage. The only big names missing were Marcel Kittel (Team Giant - Alpecin), Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky Pro Cycling) and Alejandro Valverde (Team Movistar). Meanwhile, the front five saw their lead drop down dramatically. They were finally caught by the golden leader jersey group at kilometer 123.
Sixty riders eventually regrouped before another big move materialized. This time thirty-six riders made a difference in a decisive move that Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Marcel Kittel (Team Giant-Alpecin), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Movistar's Alejandro Valverde and Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky missed out on. The second bonus sprint (kilometer 157.5) was clinched by Tom Boonen (Etixx - QuickStep) ahead of teammate Maes and BMC's Markus Burghardt.
As the high pace continued, several riders failed to keep up. Best young rider Arnaud Démare (Team FDJ) was the first to be dropped. Then it was the overall leader José Joaquin Rojas' turn to be dropped. The defending leader would never manage to move back to the front. With 25 kilometers to go, only 15 riders remained at the front: Terpstra, Boonen, Maes (EQS), Sagan, Bodnar (TCS), Stuyven (TFR), Burghardt, Van Avermaet (BMC), Kristoff (KAT), Guardini, Tleubayev (AST), Rowe, Stannard (SKY), Blythe (OGE) and Haussler (IAM).
The front group remained together all the way to the Al Khor Corniche. Despite a few attempts, victory was to be decided in a group sprint. Without any teammates to support him, an exhausted Alexander Kristoff powered to victory claiming his first ever success in his sixth appearance at the Tour of Qatar. Winner of Milan-San Remo and two stages in last year's Tour de France, the 27-year-old Norwegian rider added a prestigious win to his victory list for his Russian team, by beating Guardini and Van Avermaet to the line.
Kristoff now leads the 2015 Tour of Qatar overall by one second over Boonen and three seconds over Van Avermaet and will be wearing the Golden Jersey in tomorrow’s challenging individual time trial. Fifth in today's finish, Tom Boonen captures the Silver Jersey (points classification) while Peter Sagan, who moved to Russian Team Tinkoff Bank - Saxo Bank before this season, now wears the white pearl jersey as leader of the best young rider classification.
Recently read articles