The Katusha rider claims victory and now leads the overall standings with four days of racing left

AL KHOR CORNICHE, Qatar (AFP) — Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) won the second stage of the Tour of Qatar on Monday, and also took the gold jersey as race leader, after a 187.5-kilometer ride from Al Wakra to Al Khor Corniche.

The 27-year-old from Oslo won a bunch sprint, after a high-tempo stage, as he held off Italian Andrea Guardini (Astana) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) of Belgium.

“It was a very long sprint,” Kristoff said. “I bridged up to Terpstra and Guardini who had a little gap, and with 500 meters to go I went full gas. I felt I had it under control but Guardini is a fast guy, I was only sure when I crossed the finish line. I am really happy today with this victory.”

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Echelons formed immediately from the start, due to windy conditions precipitated by a sandstorm. Although splits formed early, the field regrouped after 60 kilometers when the wind shifted to the riders’ backs.

Then, a five-man breakaway went up the road, including Michael Morkov (Tinkoff-Saxo), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Johann Van Zyl (MTN-Qhubeka), Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), and Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge). Their advantage grew to 3:50, but they were caught by the remnants of the shattered peloton with 71 kilometers to go.

The main field of 60 riders was soon pared down to 36, again due to the winds. Notables such as Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) all missed the split. In the end, about 15 riders were in contention for the win in the final sprint.

“This was maybe the hardest stage I have ever seen here in Qatar,” said Katusha sports director Torsten Schmidt. “A very strong wind, high pace, permanent echelons, and fighting for the position in the front made this stage a real struggle.”

“The windy conditions today suited me very well. In Norway I live at the coast. We even have more wind there,” Kristoff said.

The victory for Kristoff, 27, who won two stages at last year’s Tour de France and Milano-Sanremo, gave him a one-second lead over Belgian veteran Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step), in the overall standings, while Van Avermaet is three seconds adrift.

Tuesday will feature a 10.9km individual time trial around the Lusail Circuit as the race follows a six-stage route which finishes in Doha on Friday.