IAM Cycling's Leigh Howard dodged and weaved the traffic in Bergen to claim the opening stage of the Tour des Fjords after the peloton took a wrong turn but there was little celebration from the Australian and discontent in the bunch with how the day finished.
"I am very happy to have won this stage, but sorry to have won under these odd circumstances," Howard said of his second win in IAM Cycling colours for 2016.
The Bergen parcours served as a test for the 2017 World Championships but with the peloton receiving the wrong directions of the 20km section that will be used next year, Howard, Jesper Asselman (Roompot - Oranje Peloton) and August Jensen (Team Coop-Øster Hus) were the only riders in contention for the victory. The wet weather ensured it was already a difficult day in the saddle before the confusion in the finale.
While Howard's victory equalled IAM Cycling's most successful season in the peloton with 18 in 2014, Roger Kluge added some cherries to the top of the cake as he won 500kg of salmon at the last king of the mountains. While Howard leads the race overall, he is keen to take another win in better circumstances.
"Frankly, I don’t want to lounge on this success today. I just have to highlight the incredible work that Roger Kluge did in the final. I was extremely happy to have him with me. And now we have to demonstrate the strength of the team for the rest of the event through till Sunday," Howard added.
While Howard was measured in his comments post-stage, Team Coop-Øster Hus sports director Olav Benjaminsen explained that he did not expect such a scenario at a high level race.
"It often happens but usually in smaller races. There are great challenges in organizing a big race in a big city like Bergen. Obviously it failed. They will analyze it as this was not good. They could certainly do better than today," Benjaminsen told procycling.no
Alexander Kristoff was also forthright in his criticism of how the stage played out, explaining that the decision undid all the hard work from his Katusha team for a sprint finish.
"The team did a very good job. We had control of everything on the final lap," Kristoff said. "I won the intermediate sprint and there was no breakaway in front of us. We came to a tunnel and the motorbike in front of us went straight, then he stopped because he had gone the wrong way. We turned around and I thought there would be a re-start, because we had been taken the wrong way through the tunnel and we were all together so it would be easy to do. But some went through the tunnel and took a short cut to the right and immediately had 30-seconds on us. The race was not neutralized even though the rest of us went back to go the right way. They kept the advantage all the way to the finish line."
Racing on home roads in Norway, Kristoff added that he couldn't understand the decisions made by the commissaires.
"To me this is a disappointed situation. I cannot believe we did not re-start all together, because that's how we were when the mistake was made. There were no signs, no cars, no one showing us which way to go," he added. "We had no clue whether we should go straight or to the right. Most of the guys on the team looked very strong and I felt strong myself on the climb. We tried to bring the guys back at the end, but it was too much. We can be happy how the team raced but we cannot be happy the way the race ended."
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