SPRUCE GROVE, Alberta (VN) — Lasse-Norman Hansen (Cannondale-Garmin) was awarded the victory Sunday as the rainy, windy and periodically muddy stage 5 of the Tour of Alberta ended in chaos.
Hansen rode either in a lead group of six or alone at the front of the field for most of the 126.8-mile road race from Edson, the race’s longest stage. He held about a one-minute lead over solo chaser Sven Erik Bystrom (Katusha) as the riders approached Spruce Grove and its two concluding circuits. The main field was about 20 seconds behind Bystrom.
And then, with about six miles left, Bystrom rode off course. Although course marshals correctly directed him to take a right turn, he continued straight ahead, and the main field followed.
Bystrom and the field stopped after a few seconds via a race motorcycle’s intervention, then reversed direction in unison, unsure what had happened.
With Hansen still on course, officials canceled the finish circuits and the main field pedaled slowly across the finish line from the wrong direction. Hansen continued to ride until, with about a mile left on the circuit, he was told he’d won and raised his arms in the traditional winner’s gesture.
“For sure, I would have liked to have finished the race in the proper way,” said Hansen, who claimed his first win in more than two and a half years. “I am pretty sure I would have made it to the line anyway. Yes, I am satisfied, a win is a win as you say. I am confident I would have stayed away.”
Laurent Didier (Trek Factory Racing), who also remained on course, took second. His teammate Bauke Mollema, riding surrounded by teammates, finished at the front of the main field, which was all given the same time.
No time bonuses were awarded and Mollema maintained his six-second race lead over Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge). Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale-Garmin), the winner of stages 3 and 4, is third overall, 22 seconds behind, with one stage left, Monday’s 77-mile circuit race in Edmonton.
Stage 5 was originally scheduled to include about 38 miles of dirt. Race organizers announced in the pre-race press conference a reduction to about 11 miles of dirt because of poor conditions.
It was the fourth stage affected by inclement weather. The start in Edson was a few degrees warmer than on stage 4, with temperatures in the lows 40s. Rain often pelted the riders on the long, flat and slightly downhill stage, often hit by strong crosswinds.
Hansen preferred to tackle the mess alone. He escaped from an early lead group of six and held a 90-second advantage with 15 miles left.
“I went from the break on the second-to-last section of the gravel simply because I was freezing and I wanted to go faster,” said Hansen, who began the stage in 23rd place and trailing by 2:31. “I was freezing the whole way and I thought, ‘These guys are going too slow. I will never get any heat in my hands again.’ I tried to go a little harder and the first time I looked back, I had a little gap.”
With an increasing crosswind, Hansen held his lead over a group that included Logan Owen (Axeon), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Fred Rodriguez (Jelly Belly-Maxxis). Bystrom and Andzs Flaksis (Hincapie) launched their own solo chases, and while Flaksis quickly fell back into the peloton, Bystrom continued his lone — and eventually lost — pursuit.
Monday’s finale is a mystery to the race leader, but he’s not concerned — not about the course, anyway.
”I am not familiar with the course, but it’s 11 laps, so after one lap I will know what it’s like,” said Mollema. “I spoke to some riders who rode the stage last year. I know a little. It will be fast. With the bonification and time bonuses you never know. We will have to watch for Yates because six seconds isn’t much. It’s a hard course, so we have to be focused.”