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YOUR THURSDAY RACE BRIEFING: DRAMA AROUND THE WORLD

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February 2, 2017 – Grand tour favorites miss out in Australia; a sandstorm and punch-up in Dubai; and a time trialist beats the climbers in Spain. Those were among the surprise headlines from today’s UCI-sanctioned races from around the world. The opening road stage of the Herald Sun Tour in Victoria, Australia, saw a summit finish won by Orica-Scott’s Damien Howson as Chris Froome and Esteban Chaves both conceded more than a minute. Stage 3 of the Dubai Tour was battered by a sandstorm and resulted in Astana’s Andrey Grivko being kicked off the race after he punched race leader Marcel Kittel in the face. And Tony Martin scored a solo victory in the opening, hilly road stage of the Tour of Valencia—while his Katusha-Alpecin teammate won a sprint win at the Étoile de Bessèges in France.

PELOTON / Image: ANSA

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Tactical battle at Herald Sun Tour
When the winning break formed 20km from the end of the opening stage at Australia’s Herald Sun Tour, both Froome and Chaves were represented up front by their teammates Kenny Elissonde (Team Sky) and Howson (Orica-Scott). Howson was strong enough to drop the other breakaway riders, while Elissonde said: “I was given a license to go out and maybe get the win, but I blew up right at the end.” Behind the four leaders, Chaves out-sprinted Froome for fifth place on the summit finish at Falls Creek.

Herald Sun Tour
Stage 1 – Wangaratta to Falls Creek 174.2km
1. Damien Howson (AUS/Orica-Scott) 4hr 33min 54sec
2. Jai Hindley (AUS/Australian National Team) at 32sec
3. Kenny Elissonde (FRA/Sky) at 47sec

General Classification
1. Howson 4hr 36min 32sec
2. Hindley, at 38sec
3. Elissonde at 53sec

Grivko kicked off Dubai Tour After Kittel Attacked

As Trek-Segafredo’s John Degenkolb fended off swirling winds to claim the stage 3 of the Dubai Tour, race leader Kittel was left with a bloodied face after Grivko attacked him midway through the 200km stage through the desert. “I was struck by Andrey Grivko of the Astana team,” the German recounted in a statement released by organizers. “That’s why I had blood on the my face…but I didn’t fall.”

In a Twitter statement, the Kazakh team wrote: “The Astana team apologizes to Marcel Kittel and to the Quick-Step team for the behavior of its rider Andrey Grivko during the third stage in the Tour of Dubai.”

Kittel finished in 11th place in the eventual mass sprint taken by Trek-Segafredo’s Degenkolb. Kittel added: “My team had prepared well for the sprint but I wasn’t in an ideal position, with my mind perhaps on other things.” 

Despite the drama Kittel, the defending Dubai champion, remained at the top of the general classification after clinching the first two of five stages. Meanwhile, Degenkolb—now third overall—stole the racing limelight on Thursday, powering to the win just ahead of Reinhard Janse van Rensburg of South Africa and Italy’s Sonny Colbrelli. Degenkolb coped best with the tricky conditions, which saw strong winds kicking up the desert sand, causing several riders to tumble off their bikes over what was the longest stage of the race.

Friday’s fourth and penultimate stage has been shortened because of the continued risk of sandstorms. It will start and finish in Hatta, with the 109km course ending on a climb up the Hatta Dam—where Degenkolb won the stage two years ago.

Martin Caps Solo Break in Valencia

Germany’s Tony Martin claimed victory on the second stage of the Tour of Valencia thanks to a daring solo attack. The four-time world time trial champion made a break on the final descent of the 180.6km stage from Alicante to Denia. He built up enough of a lead to utilize his power once the road evened out to the finish line to beat out Dutchman Pim Ligthart (Rompoot) and Slovenia's Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) in 4hrs 44min 35sec.

Martin shrugged off two early crashes in wet conditions early on in the stage to register a first win for his new team Katusha-Alpecin. “The team supported me 100 percent on a stage that was kind of crazy with a lot of crashes and a lot of rain. I crashed two times myself,” said Martin. “But I had a plan in my mind and in wet conditions not so many riders can go with me. I took some risks, but everything worked out to the plan. I usually win only in the time trial so it’s special to win in this road race.”

Greg Van Avermaet, whose BMC Racing team won Wednesday’s opening team time trial, took the overall lead after finishing 19 seconds behind Martin. Vuelta a España champion Nairo Quintana finished 12 seconds off the pace in seventh for Movistar and moved into the top 10, 54 seconds back. 

However, defending champion Wouter Poels and his Team Sky teammates had a disappointing day with the Dutchman finishing 57 seconds behind Martin.

Friday’s third stage sees the riders tackle a 163km course from Canals to Ribarroja del Turia.

Kristoff Scores in France

After just missing out to Frenchman Arnaud Démare on Wednesday, Kristoff scored his first win of the season on stage 2 of the Étoile de Bessèges in southern France. The Norwegian said on his Katusha-Alpecin team website: “Yesterday I was second and I had a really good sprint so I was motivated to try to beat Démare. It was a harder race today with a smaller group and our team did such a good job with many riders in the front. At the end I wanted to win to make this team effort count and I’m very happy to get the win in the second race of the year.”

Kristoff is currently leading on the general classification by four seconds over Démare.