Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) admitted he was well beaten on stage 2 of the Critérium du Dauphiné, but he nevertheless took heart from a second place that suggested things are starting to go his way again – and in good time, with the Tour de France less than a month away.
Kristoff started the season with his customary victories in the Middle East, but he had an underwhelming spring classics campaign and, despite a victory at the Eschborn-Frankfurt, he flopped at the Tour of California last month. All the while, speculation has grown over his future and his relationship with the Katusha-Alpecin team, with reports suggesting they were unhappy with his weight. To top it off, he fell ill just a few days ahead of the start of the Dauphiné.
"At least now I managed to pass my lead-out man today," he said jokingly after crossing the line in Arlanc, referring to stage 3 at the Tour of California, where lead-out man Rick Zabel finished ahead of the Norwegian sprinter.
"In California I did not have good legs, but I had some good training afterwards, and I felt really good at home, but then I got sick two days before this race. I'm still not 100 per cent, but still good enough for second place, so it can't be that bad."
Kristoff's teammates led the way in the final kilometre, teeing Kristoff up nicely for the slightly uphill final 200 metres. Démare, however, was right alongside him, and produced an impressive surge to forge clear and take a convincing victory.
"Démare has been really strong on this type of finishes this year, and again today he was the best of us," Kristoff said. "So I must be happy I managed to take second place.
"The team did a great job. We got the lead the last kilometre, and I felt quite good, despite having had a cold. The shape is coming back. It was good before the cold but I started yesterday with sickness. Today I felt a bit better, and the result proves I cannot be that bad."
Two further sprint opportunities remain at the Dauphiné, on stages 3 and 5, both featuring flatter, more traditional finishes than Monday's drag. Kristoff twice finished second behind the Frenchman at the Etoile de Bessèges in February – himself coming out on top once – and he knows it will take a tall order to top the FDJ man and take that morale-boosting pre-Tour win.
"For sure, I've beaten Démare before this year in the flatter sprints, so I hope I can do it again," Kristoff said. "But today he looked really strong."