Fourth win for Kristoff after organiser's plans to alter the course and derail a sprint finish are thwarted
Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) took his fourth win at Eschborn-Frankfurt, making him a new record holder at the German race as he takes one win more than Erik Zabel.
Kristoff proved himself the fastest man in a sprint which was never meant to happen after organisers re-wrote the course this year, increasing the total climbing to 3500 meters over the 212 kilometre route.
Early on, it looked like the course redesign might have succeeded, with multiple breaks forming during the race, and one group of seven achieving over four minutes on the peloton.
However, as the lead group changed size and shape the gap fell, eventually allowing the sprinters in the reduced peloton to do battle.
How it happened
Early in the day, a group of seven breakaway riders formed – with Floris Gerts (Floris Gerts), Daniel Teklehaimanot (Confidis), Antoine Warnier (WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect), Aaron Gate (Aqua Blue Sport), Yukiya Arashiro (Bahrain–Merida), David Tanner (Veranda’s Willems-Crelan) and Aleksejs Saramotins (Bora Hansgrohe) escaping the grips of the peloton.
By the time the break had covered 95km, to reach the 3.5km Billtalhöhe climb with its 5.7 per cent average gradient, the group had stretched the time gap to four minutes. By 120km the gap had risen to its maximum of 4-20.
With 90km to go, as the peloton began an ascent of the Mammolshain climb – which though just 1km long boasts max gradients at 23 per cent. The gap had sunk right down to 90s, with pure sprinters such as Marcel Kittel (Team Katusha-Alpecin) losing contact.
Not content to stay in the bunch, Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto–Soudal), Gregor Müehlberger (Bora Hansgrohe) and Michael Gogl (Trek-Segafredo) sprung from the front of the bunch, chasing down the leading seven to eventually make contact.
Not long after, Teklehaimanot had fallen backwards from the leading seven, but with 75km left Lambrecht, Müehlberger and Gogl had bolstered them – making nine riders out front. The gap however, was down to 35s.
Behind, Sunweb’s Michael Matthews and Simon Geschke worked hard on the front of the peloton to further sink the diminishing time difference, the penultimate ascent of the Mammolshain climb whittling down the group.
The break group began to scatter, and with 50km to go just Gogl, Lambrecht and Mühlberger were left out front with no more than 20s on the peloton.
Behind, Laurens De Plus (Quick Step Floors) made a move, attacking over the top of the Mammolshain. He formed a group of seven with Grega Bole and Arashiro (Bahrain-Merida), Nils Politt and Simon Špilak (Katusha-Alpecin) plus Emanuel Buchmann (Bora Hansgrohe), and Julien Bernard (Trek Segafredo).
As the distance to the finish line dropped, the lead of the three out front also fell, merging with Plus’ group to form a selection of eight with 38km to go – the new leaders became Buchmann, Mühlberger, Bernard, Gogl, Bole, Špilak, Plus and Lambrecht.
Not content to drag the peloton, Matthews attacked on the Mammolshainer to form a chase group, along with Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data), Pieter Weening (Roompot Nederlandse), Marco Canola (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Politt and Jan Tratnik (CCC Sprandi Polkowice).
This group didn’t last long however, and with 20km to go, the front group of eight was 1m ahead, whilst Matthews’ attempted attack was caught by the peloton.
In the final 10km, two riders almost took a wrong turn, with the lead group dropping to only four. Bernard, Bole, Buchmann and Špilak had only 15s on the peloton, and falling.
Wide roads towards the finish meant the peloton could see the riders they chased, the gap descending further to 5s at 5km to go.
Quick Step Floors came to the fore – with sprinter Fernando Gaviria near the front, along with three time winner Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Once the remainder of the break was caught, the peloton was headed up largely by sprinters, many of them with few team mates left to provide support.
As the final 500 metres arrived, Gaviria opened up his sprint, losing his lead to Bennett, whilst Kristoff timed his charge to perfection, reaching the line in the lead with Matthews beaten into second and Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) edging out third.
2 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
3 Oliver Naesen (Bel) Ag2r La Mondiale, at same time
4 Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty-Groupe Gobert, at 1s
5 Sean De Bie (Bel) Veranda’s Willems Crelan
6 Grega Bole (Slo) Bahrain-Meridaat, at same time
7 Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 2s
8 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data
9 Jan Tratnik (Slo) CCC Sprandi Polkowice
10 Juan Jose Lobato (Spa) Nippo-Vini Fantini, all same time