Chaotic finish in Spruce Grove taints gutsy, rain-soaked, mud-caked ride by winner Lasse-Norman Hansen

 

 
 
 
 
Lasse Norman Hansen of Denmark celebrates winning Stage 5 of the 2015 Tour of Alberta from Edson to Spruce Grove on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015. The six-day race concludes Monday, Sept. 7, in downtown Edmonton.
 

Lasse Norman Hansen of Denmark celebrates winning Stage 5 of the 2015 Tour of Alberta from Edson to Spruce Grove on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015. The six-day race concludes Monday, Sept. 7, in downtown Edmonton.

Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal

SPRUCE GROVE, Alta. — Lasse-Norman Hansen rode alone in the lead for much of a windy, rainy, muddy Stage 5 of the Tour of Alberta and he was the only one smiling at the chaotic finish.

The Danish Olympic omnium champion, who rides for Cannondale-Garmin, stayed on course in the final section, while Sven Erik Bystrom of Team Katusha who was chasing Hansen, and the peloton, all chasing Bystrom, missed a crucial turn, even as race marshals frantically waved their arms and flags indicating they had to turn right.

That mass blunder ruined any chance any of them had of catching Hansen and their frustration was palpable as they angrily flung their arms up in the air and uttered oaths as they were herded back onto the right route by race marshals.

Laurent Didier, trailing the main peloton, stayed on course as he headed for home, but confusedly held his hands out, palms up, wondering whether he had finished, or still had more pedalling to do. He had another circuit, it turned out. Go again, fans lining the finish area urged him. So he did.

It was a messy, disappointing finish to the 206-kilometre stage that saw the 120 riders hammer along in 6 C weather that featured steady rain and a diabolical crosswind.

The Edson to Spruce Grove course, the longest stage on the six-day tour, featured 21 kilometres of dirt road reduced to muck, inches thick in places, by the relentless rain, with some puddles of indeterminate depth, in the bargain.

“Try and bear with me here a little bit, because this does get confusing,” said Jeff Corbett, vice-president of technical operations for the race, as he explained the finish. “The officials had to get a little creative, I think.

“But in the end, it’s the fairest thing for everyone.”

Hansen, the gutsiest rider among many on Sunday, won the race, his official time of four hours 23 minutes and one second recorded on his first passage across the finish line. Didier was second, the clock stopping for him on his first confused crossing of the finish, 1:30 after Hansen officially won the race.

The large, wayward, angry, mud-caked peloton all finished third, the lot of them awarded the same time as Didier.

Included in that third-place pack was overall race leader Bauke Mollema, a Dutch rider who competes for Trek Factory Racing. That meant he retained the yellow jersey. Adam Yates of Orica-GreenEdge remained in second place, 10 seconds back, and Tom-Jelte Slagter of Cannondale-Garmin still is third over all, 26 seconds behind Mollema.

Not one rider actually finished the complete race. Given the misdirection, Corbett explained, Hansen, coming around for a second go-round on the finishing circuit, would have ridden headlong into the “wrong-way group” as they doubled back to get on the circuit for the first time.

With all the messiness, Didier managed to make the correct choices, earning a second-place finish after he had been dropped on the second of three gravel road segments and had no idea who was in front of him anymore.

“Just before (the turn) I saw one car brake, but still continue. I didn’t know why,” Didier said. “Then, when I come, I see on the right side two flashes to the right.

“Then I see also this marshal, standing on the island. He was also waving, so I went to the right.”

Didier said someone also told him that when he crossed the finish line, he should stop. By then race officials, recognizing the unfolding fiasco, were trying to limit the potential carnage.

“So, when I come to the line, I looked for the people (fans), but nobody really know about this (race decision), because everybody yell at me, ‘Hey, do more laps,’ ” Didier said.

On a messy day, Hansen was the only one to put in a clean ride, as it were, mostly because he took a chance in going to the lead on the mud.

Turns out he’s a mudder, he loves the slop, was born to slop. It sure worked for him.

Hansen said, riding up front, you could see the terrain well, the only dangerous bits being the loose mud here and there. For the most part, Hansen said, it was hard-packed and easy to ride.

“I went on the break on the second-last piece of gravel,” Hansen said. “That was simply because I was freezing and I wanted to go faster.

“I was freezing the whole way and at that point, I just thought, these guys are going too slow, I’ll never get any heat in my hands again.”

He gradually built a gap of about 1:40, maintaining a healthy lead the rest of the way. He was in front by 1:30 in the final kilometre or two, when things unravelled.

“I went on the dirt because I love riding on dirt, it’s super fun,” Hansen said. “From then on, it was a solo ride, (like) any other solo ride.”

Hansen was told with about two kilometres to go that he had won the stage, before he had to cross the finish line for the second and final time.

Despite the confusion, Hansen absolutely earned the victory. He was asked whether the win felt tainted in any way.

“For sure, I would have liked to have finished the race, in a proper way.” said Hansen. “But I’m pretty sure I would have made it to the line, anyway.

“I’m satisfied. A win is a win.”

In messy conditions like Sunday’s, being the lead rider is the best place to be if you have the guts to take that on, as Didier learned the hard way. Could they even see those ominous potholes on the gravel road?

“I’m sure (Hansen) could,” Didier said, drawing laughs. “In the peloton it (riding on the dirt road) is much harder.

“In the second or third (row), at one moment, your glasses are just — I couldn’t see anything. You take it off, but then you also get it in the eyes.

“I even took my sugar (water) to clean the glasses, just to be able to ride.”

Such conditions are not at all unknown to professional riders, though. The famous Paris-Roubaix race in France rattles over dirt roads, for example. Hansen said the conditions on Sunday, funky as they were, “do not compare, in any way” to Paris-Roubaix.

Safe to say the wild finish also was not comparable to the vast majority of cycling races, either, unfortunately. Corbett apologized for that in heartfelt fashion, noting that the race officials and the riders and their support teams all move on to another professional race, another stop on the circuit, the Spruce Grove muddle a mere memory.

“For Spruce Grove, they spent a year working on this and preparing for this and doing everything they could to welcome the Tour of Alberta,” Corbett said. “At the end of the day, what happened at the end isn’t probably going to be that big a deal to these guys (riders).

“But for Spruce Grove it is disappointing and I feel sorry for them, and I apologize to Spruce Grove for what happened. They have done a fantastic job, they’ve been a wonderful host for the Tour. They worked hard over the last year planning this and their group has been very active.

“So, hats off to Spruce Grove.”

jmackinnon@edmontonjournal.com

Twitter.com/rjmackinnon

 
 
 
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Lasse Norman Hansen of Denmark celebrates winning Stage 5 of the 2015 Tour of Alberta from Edson to Spruce Grove on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015. The six-day race concludes Monday, Sept. 7, in downtown Edmonton.
 

Lasse Norman Hansen of Denmark celebrates winning Stage 5 of the 2015 Tour of Alberta from Edson to Spruce Grove on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015. The six-day race concludes Monday, Sept. 7, in downtown Edmonton.

Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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