Ruben Zepuntke (Bissell Development Team) won stage 1 of the Tour of Alberta, sprinting out of a small lead group that formed in the final kilometers of racing.
Wednesday was Zepuntke’s first major victory this season. “This is the biggest win of my career, for sure,” said Zepuntke, 21. “The Tour of Alberta is a big race. We’re racing against some of the biggest teams in the world, so, this win is special.”
The Tour of Alberta peloton faced a cold, grey afternoon of racing, with temperatures not much warmer than 49 degrees.
“My body is not used to these conditions,” said race leader Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano). “I’ve been racing in sunny and warm conditions in Europe, so, this reminds me of the spring in The Netherlands.”
On the first of six circuits around Lethbridge, a group of 14 made a move and got a small gap.
By the time they were into the second lap, most of the riders were back to the field, aside from Matthew Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge), Robin Carpenter (Hincapie Sportswear Development), and Nathan Van Hooydonck (Bissell Development Team).
With four 23.8-kilometer laps remaining, the lead trio’s advantage was 4:40.
As the race approached its final lap, Van Hooydonck dropped from the break back to the peloton, which now featured Garmin-Sharp on the front, driving the pace.
The entire Garmin team rode on the front, bringing the break’s gap down to 2:15 with 20 kilometers left.
The duo’s advantage kept deteriorating — their advantage fell to 1:20 with 15km to go.
With eight kilometers left, the gap was 20 seconds.
The escape ended at 6km to go.
Hincapie Sportswear Development cued up the sprint for Ty Magner, but Bissell Development Team’s Daniel Eaton took to the front of the peloton into the final kilometer to provide the leadout.
It was a close photo finish, but Zepuntke edged the group, thanks to his teammates’ efforts in the finale.
“This feeling is just incredible!” Zepuntke wrote on Twitter. “Huge Thanks to all my mates and staff of @BissellDT special to @OramNewZ who brought me to the win!”
Garmin-Sharp’s Ramunas Navardauskas finished second, and Ryan Anderson (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) was third.
“With the cold weather today, I personally went through different phases. At first I was feeling very well on the first lap, then I got really cold after the second lap. My teammates rallied behind me and did a great job to bring me some clothing. I started to warm up and feel better,” Anderson said after the stage. “With regards to the finish, my teammate Eric Young and I were both to be there and see how it went, and try to build the race from there. I’ve tried to adapt to the finish the best I could. There were some good guys up there, so I am still happy with the result.”
Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) kept the overall race lead, while Zepuntke moved up to second, six seconds behind on GC. Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly-Maxxis) is now in third, 14 seconds back.
“It was horrible,” Dumoulin said of the weather conditions. “I was actually suffering, and I didn’t have my best day. I think the cold caught me a little bit, but I kept the jersey, and the team rode really, really hard. There were three really strong riders in the front, and we had some difficulty bringing them back. Luckily some other teams started helping. Then we caught them just before the last climb, and it was enough to keep the lead. So I’m really satisfied about that.”
Wednesday’s stage 2 starts in Innisfail. The stage is 145 kilometers and finishes with three circuits around Red Deer.