The Tour of Alberta competitors were into the final loop of Thursday’s second stage and Swedish rider Jonas Ahlstrand wasn’t in any hurry to catch the front-runners.
Until near the end, that is.
Ahlstrand, a member of the Giant Shimano team, turned it on with the Ross St. finish line in sight, broke away from a large pack of riders and edged Theo Bos of the Netherlands for the stage victory. The winning time was three hours, two minutes and 14 seconds.
“The speed was 80 kilometres an hour when I hit the hammer with 200 metres to go,” said the Swede. “I need to come from behind in such a sprint because you have a lot of advantage to go in the slipstream. My plan was to go to top of the (Ross St.) hill and then come from behind.”
A large number of the riders were closely bunched at the finish line of Stage 2, a 145-km jaunt which started at Innisfail, continued on to Sylvan Lake and Blackfalds, and then concluded following a trio of four-km circuits through Red Deer. Stage 1 winner Ruben Zepuntke of Germany, American rider Eric Young and Matej Mohoric of Slovakia rounded out the top five finishers.
Thomas Domoulin of the Netherlands, also with the Giant Shimano team, finished 28th but retained the yellow jersey as the general classification (GC) leader with an overall time of 6:26.3 after two stages and Monday’s prologue at Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park. Zepuntke sits second with a time of 6:23.32.
“At the end it was a perfect day, but it cost the team a lot of energy,” said Domoulin. “ I think a lot of guys suffered today. It was pretty hard in the first 100 kilometres and then it was kind of controlled after until maybe 40 km to go. It was a fast day.”
The field of 113 riders, for the most part, was bunched until five cyclists — Cameron Wurf of Austria, Kiel Reijnen, Robin Carpenter and James Stemper of the U.S., and British rider Simon Yates — broke away from the pack with roughly 40 km to go. The front-running contingent later featured as few as four and as many as seven riders and Reijnen, Yates, fellow American Ben King and Aurelien Passeron of France, who slipped well back to finish 111th, were out in front by themselves heading into Red Deer.
“It was never my intention to go in the breakaway, it wasn’t my job today,” said Reijnen of the United Health Care pro cycling team. “But after 100 km if the break doesn’t go then there’s a real chance. I was thinking about the GC, I didn’t need that many seconds to take the jersey. But there’s always a lot of other things in play so I took a risk. It didn’t work out, but I’m glad I tried.
“I think we were caught with three km to go and at that point it was just me, Simon and Ben. It didn’t get super tactical because we didn’t have time to play cat-and-mouse.”
Reijnen faded near the end to finish 43rd Thursday and sits 15th overall. He simply didn’t have a finishing kick after breaking away from the pack and admitted he harboured mixed emotions about joining the front-runners with 40 km remaining in the stage.
“If there wasn’t a break at the 100-km mark I could have stayed (with the main group),” he said. “I tried to put the finish out of my mind and focus on the GC, but I also thought that if it was a hard course at the finish — and it was hard to tell from the profile — that it wouldn’t be a full group coming across to us and I would still have a chance at the finish.
“If it wasn’t hard enough then there’s a lot of fast guys here anyway.”
Ryan Anderson of Edmonton, the top Canadian rider through two stages, finished 30th Thursday and sits fifth overall.
“The big, open roads made it hard to break away and go today,” he said. “We raced hard all day and the big roads didn’t make it any easier.”
Notes: The average speed of Stage 2 was 45.3 km/h . . . Yates was the first rider up the long, steep hill just east of Red Deer to take over in the King of the Mountain category . . . Garmin-Sharp leads the team competition with a total clocking of 19:20.11 . . . The Tour of Alberta resumes today with Stage 3 covering a route between Wetaskiwin and Edmonton. Stage 4 involves routes between Edmonton Northlands and Strathcona County and the fifth and final stage goes Sunday with an Edmonton circuit.