Four days removed from placing second in the European Championships to Italian Matteo Trentin, cyclo-cross specialist Mathieu van der Poel is stood atop the opening stage podium after claiming victory at the start of the 2018 Arctic Race of Norway (UCI 2.HC) on the Norwegian border town of Kirkenes after racing 184 kilometres from Vadsø on Thursday.
The 23-year-old Corendon-Circus rider toppled Russian Sergei Chernetski (Astana), Belgium Benjamin Declercq (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and five other riders in a select sprint field that escaped a crash inside the final 150 metres. With the win, the recently crowned Dutch road race champion takes four-second lead over Chernetski and six over Declercq with three stages remaining.
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“It feels good, it was a pretty hard day,” the 2015 cyclo-cross world champion said after winning a stage dominated by an early multi-rider break. “I was in the back when the big group went away. I didn’t expect it because the wind was coming from behind, so I didn’t expect a big group like that getting out.
“The pace was incredibly high all day, especially with the wind it wasn’t easy,” van der Poel continued. “Even in the bunch it was hard. Then on the local laps, you had to stay in front and the last was very, very important. I was in good position."
The race continues on Friday from Tana to get to Kjøllefjord (195km), and will offer a perfect day for breakaway specialists and climbers over five climbs spanning nearly 20km with average slopes of 6 percent.
“We were here for a stage win and that is already done,” said van der Poel, who has victories since the start of his road calendar in June, including his second Ronde van Limburg (1.1) title and both a stage win and the overall victory at Boucles de la Mayenne (2.1). “I think we did a pretty great job today so we will see what the next days will bring.”
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