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Aug 15, 2015 – Ben Hermans of BMC Racing Team claimed the queen stage of the Arctic Race of Norway as he went past Astana’s Rein Taaramäe in the last 200 meters of the uphill stretch in Målselv. Holding on to the rhythm of the climbers as much as he could, local hero Edvald Boasson Hagen kept his chance of winning the overall classification as he’s only 24 seconds down on the new leader with one day to go while blue jersey holder Alexander Kristoff has switched his focus on the points classification he still leads.
ASO/Kåre Dehlie Thorstad
125 riders took the start of stage 3 in Finnsnes before paying a visit to the beautiful Senja island. Six riders rode away from the gun: Herman Dahl and Fridtjof Røinås (Sparebanken Sør), Marius Hafsås (FixIT.no), Håvard Blikra (Coop-Øster Hus), Jon Breivold (Frøy-Bianchi) and Chris Williams (Novo Nordisk). There was no reaction from the bunch, so the difference was superior to six minutes after only 20km of racing. Blikra won the first intermediate sprint at Slettemøen (km 14) ahead of Røinås and Hafsås. The same three riders crested the first categorized hill Krokelvvatnet (km 40) in the same order. A maximum time gap of 6.30 was recorded after 50km were covered. Astana, the first team involved in setting the pace of the pack, received the help of BMC and IAM Cycling. As he outsprinted Røinås again atop Mefjordbotneidet (km 79.5), Blikra virtually became the King of the Mountains ahead of the highly expected uphill finish in Målselv.
Diabetic cyclist Chris Williams sent a nice message to the millions of followers of the Novo Nordisk team as he claimed the second hot spot sprint at Grunnvåg (km 101.5). Astana and IAM Cycling stabilized the gap between the six leaders and the peloton around 3.30. BMC returned to work and the deficit was down to two minutes with 30km to go. Continental team Joker was next to move to the front. Blikra who had scored enough points to take over from his team-mate August Jensen in the lead of the KOM competition was the last man to surrender 8km before the end. Several teams showed their ambitions in the lead up to the 3.7km long final climb: Joker, Lampre-Merida, Astana, BMC, IAM and Katusha.
Taaramäe attacked just inside the last two kilometres after passing a head wind section. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) and Mathias Frank (IAM) remained pretty close to him. The Estonian rode away again with 1.5km to go but he stayed under the threat of Frank and a BMC trio formed of Ben Hermans, Silvan Dillier and Dylan Teuns. Hermans paced himself at perfection to deprive Taaramäe of the victory in the last 200 metres. Race ambassador Thor Hushovd had named his former BMC team-mate as the hot favorite for the Arctic Race of Norway along with Taaramäe. The Belgian handled the pressure really well. He can eye the final victory as he leads the overall classification by 7 seconds over Taaramäe and 24 seconds over Boasson Hagen who can keep his ambitions alive in the conclusive stage expected to be a very spectacular one in Narvik.
Stage 3 winner and new race leader Ben Hermans declared: “I think I was always one metres behind Taaramäe in the climb. I knew there was head wind with 1.5km to go. I could have come across earlier but then I would have exploded so I stayed in the wheels of my team-mates, then in the last kilometre it was always tail wind so I went full gas, thinking that I might blow with 500 metres to go but I had to do it if I wanted to win. Eventually, I didn’t explode. It was a really good move. I had to dig really deep. It’s amazing to win a mountain top finish, especially knowing that the victory awards ten seconds bonus and the leader’s jersey. It’s really incredible. Now I can win this race. I just need to save my legs tomorrow. I have a strong team. We still have to compete but I think it’s possible to retain the jersey. My rivals have to drop me before the finish and it won’t be easy. For them to take all time bonus is next to impossible.”