Leknessund escapes to win Arctic Race of Norway

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Nicola Conci (Alpecin-Deceuninck) gave lone pursuit of Leknessund on the final lap of the finishing circuit in a desperate bid to deny the Norwegian overall victory, but he had to settle for second place on the stage, 16 seconds down, while Axel Zingle (Cofidis) won the sprint for third place.

The margins in the general classification were so tight that Leknessund didn't have time to raise his arms in celebration at the finish, and he endured a wait beyond the line before receiving official confirmation that he was indeed the final winner of the Arctic Race of Norway, eight seconds ahead of Hugo Houle (Israel Premier Tech) and nine ahead of Conci.

Victor Lafay (Cofidis) led the event into the final stage after his solo victory on Saturday, but Leknessund turned the race on its head when he escaped with 100km or so remaining in the company of Fabien Grellier (TotalEnergies) and Alessandro Verré (Arkéa-Samsic), building a lead of two minutes over the peloton.

Leknessund explained afterwards that his attack had not been planned and his ambitions for the move were modest.

"I felt quite bad yesterday so actually today I just agreed that we'd see how the legs felt on the local laps, but the attacks kept going and we agreed that the whole team needed to participate," said Leknessund. "After a while the legs felt better. I went away with three guys, first I was thinking it was a normal breakaway for the TV, I didn't really think it was something that could go to the line. Honestly my goal was to get one lap to myself to enjoy the crowds."

Once on the finishing circuit, Leknessund kicked clear of his erstwhile companions, while the Cofidis-controlled peloton behind began to fragment. With two laps of the 8km circuit to go, a chasing group featuring Houle, Conci, Zingle, Sven Erik Bystrom, Dries De Pooter (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Kristian Sbaragli, Jason Osborne (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Max Poole (DSM) formed, but they struggled to make any real inroads into Leknessund’s advantage.

Cheered on by the home crowds, the Trømsø native made light work of the stiff climb of Tyhold Tower Summit and he took the bell – and the three bonus seconds on offer – still holding a healthy lead of 40 seconds over the chasing group and 1:09 over the yellow jersey Lafay.

“I didn’t think I was going to stay away until the last lap or maybe even the last kilometre,” Leknessund said. “I was very tired, and I was expecting the guys to come fast from behind because the climb was steeper and harder than expected. But on the radio, they told me everyone behind was suffering and that motivated me.”
Once Leknessund maintained his rhythm on the final time up the climb, stage victory looked assured, even if Houle’s acceleration sliced some seconds off his margin. Over the other side of the climb, meanwhile, Conci’s lone raid placed his possible overall victory in doubt, but Leknessund dug deep to maintain his buffer, with the ten-second winner’s time bonus helping to shore up the race.

Leknessund caught the eye with a solo stage win in Aesch at the Tour de Suisse in June and he arrived at his home race fresh from his Tour de France debut. The 23-year-old is the second Norwegian winner of the Arctic Race after Thor Hushovd claimed the inaugural edition in 2014.

“It's my home race,” Leknessund said. “It’s a race I’ve watched since I was a kid and maybe one of the reasons I started cycling.”

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