Hansen lands most unusual victory in Tour of Alberta

Rain and near-freezing temperatures add to confusing Spruce Grove finish

Lasse-Norman Hansen (Cannondale-Garmin) won the fifth stage at the Tour of Alberta in Spruce Grove in the most unusual and confusing way. The Danish rider was rounding the last of two finishing circuits with a one-minute lead and roughly two kilometres to go when a race official drove up beside him and told him that he had won.

Hansen had no idea that his chaser Sven Erik Bystrøm (Katusha) had missed a right-hand turn onto McLeod Avenue, which led to the entry of the finishing circuits, or that the entire peloton behind had missed the same turn. The turn in question was not blocked off and Bystrøm noted on the Katusha team's website that he had followed the motorbikes straight off course, though the team did not file a protest.

Race officials decided to give Hansen the victory and his time was based on his first passage across the finish line, at the end of the first circuit, even though he completed the two full circuits.

Laurent Didier (Trek Factory Racing), who had been dropped from the main field with two kilometres before the circuits after working all day for overall leader Bauke Mollema, made the proper right-hand turn onto McLeod Avenue and entered the finishing circuits in second place on the road behind Hansen. He completed one full lap of the circuit and then was told to stop by race officials, who then awarded him with second place on the podium.

“There were three or four cars that passed me and just before I came to the turn, I saw one car break but then still continue,” Didier told reporters in the post-race press conference. “I didn’t know why but when I arrived I saw a flash for the right and I saw a marshal standing on the island, and he was also waving right, so I went to the right.

“I was dropped in the gravel, so I had no idea who was in the front. I came to the one-kilometre mark and the commissaire came to me and said that I had to go to the line and stop. When I got to the line… nobody really knew about all this because everyone was yelling at me, ‘hey, you need to do more laps.’”

The main field that went the wrong direction, including Bystrøm, rode back to the finish line without completing either of the two finish circuits and received the same time as Didier.

Anyone behind the large group that went the wrong direction was given the actual time for their first passage across the finish line. In addition, no sprint points or time bonuses were awarded for the finish.

“The officials had to get a little creative but in the end I think it is what is fairest for everyone,” said the event’s technical director Jeff Corbett.

Hansen admitted that the win was unusual, but it didn’t take away from his triumph as he rolled to the finish line, throwing his arms in the air in a victory salute.

“I’m very confident that I would have won,” Hansen said in the post-race press conference. “I would have liked to have finished the race in a proper way, and I’m pretty sure I would have made it to the line anyway but I’m satisfied – a win is a win.”

Despite the confusing sequence of events that ultimately led to Hansen’s victory, he was certainly the deserving stage winner, having spent nearly the entire day off the front. And the riders at the post-race press conference; Mollema, Hansen and Didier, didn’t seem too concerned about the events that had transpired, after all, Hansen got the win, Mollema remains in the overall race lead, and Didier landed a podium place based on Bystrøm’s and the main field’s error.

Understandably, they were more concerned with getting themselves warmed up… particularly after spending nearly 200km racing in undesirable conditions that included rain, near-freezing temperatures, and sloppy sectors of dirt roads that had turned to rutted mud.

The Tour of Alberta will conclude on Monday with the sixth and final stage, a 124km, 11-lap circuit race in Edmonton.

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