Kristoff takes win number three at Tour of Qatar

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Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) won another close sprint finish over Tinkoff-Saxo's Peter Sagan on Thursday at the Tour of Qatar. Photo: AFP PHOTO | LIONEL BONAVENTURE

MADINAT AL-SHAMAL, Qatar (AFP) — Norway’s Alexander Kristoff was on the mark for the third time in the Tour of Qatar Thursday, claiming the fifth stage.

The Katusha rider, who had previously won stages 2 and 4, prevailed in a sprint at the end of the 153-kilometer ride from Al Zubarah Fort to Madinat Al Shamal.

“Honestly, today I was quite tired,” Kristoff said. “Every stage here in Qatar is pretty hard, so after four stages, it was not easy at all. But we managed to stay in front all day. We concentrated on our goal, and it worked well. At the end our team did a great effort in the last five kilometers to bring me in the best possible position for the sprint.”

Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) crossed the line in second, with Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) of Germany third.

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The Etixx-Quick-Step team broke the peloton into several echelons early in another windy day in the desert. About 40 riders made the front group, including race leader Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick-Step), points competition leader Kristoff, Luke Rowe (Team Sky), as well as Sagan, and Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step).

Several notables were left stranded in the chasing group, including Tinkoff-Saxo’s Maciej Bodnar, who is second-place overall and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing). Fortunately for them, the gap never went over 35 seconds. Eventually, after 62 kilometers, the peloton bunched up again.

Just a few kilometers later, five men broke away: Ben Hermans (BMC Racing), Marco Haller (Katusha), Dmitriy Gruzdev (Astana), Jelle Wallays (Topsport-Vlaanderen Baloise), and Matthew Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge). This leading quintet enjoyed a 50-second advantage after 80 kilometers of racing. At the first intermediate sprint (87km), won by Hayman ahead of Wallays and Gruzdev, the pack was 1:38 adrift. The gap reached a maximum 2:35 at 102 kilometers before the chase intensified.

At the second bonus sprint (126km), also claimed by Hayman, the peloton closed in, 38 seconds behind. The front five were caught with just over one lap to go of the final circuit. In the final 10 kilometers, Tinkoff-Saxo went to the front and 10 men powered away, including Kristoff and Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff-Saxo). They had a slim 15 lead advantage but were caught before the finale.

In the end, Kristoff mastered another bunch gallop in Qatar, adding a third stage win to his trophy case.

“I turned up here without any real ambitions, but three stage wins is really great and well above my expectations,” Kristoff said. “My team put me in the perfect position, all I had to do was finish the job off. But I was extremely tired and could barely keep up the sprint to the line.”

Dutch rider Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick-Step) had a scare in the final lap, missing the 10-rider move that threatened to go to the line, but he retained the overall lead after the bunch regrouped, six seconds clear of Bodnar and 11 seconds up on Kristoff. Sagan is back into the lead of the young rider’s classification.

“I was so close to taking the jersey,” Bodnar said. “We had Terpstra caught with just a few kilometers to go, as we had a lot of crosswind, and the pace was really high. It’s a pity that the gap was closed just before the finish, but that’s how it is sometimes.”

Kristoff has a chance to snatch the overall win in Qatar if he takes the final stage and is able to pick off time bonuses in the two intermediate sprints. The sprints offer three-, two-, and one-second GC time bonuses to first through third places, respectively, and the stage winner gets a 10-second time bonus. Second place on the stage gets a six-second bonus, and third receives a four-second bonus. He could also pull past Terpstra with wins in both intermediate sprints and second place at the finish, assuming that the current leader does not accrue any bonus time.