Headwind blows Kristoff's chances in Tour of California stage 1 sprint

Conditions in finishing-straight get the best of the Norwegian sprinter after Katusha controls the race for most of the day

Team Katusha's bright red kits were ever present on the front of the Tour of California peloton during stage 1 on Sunday, with the team working hard to keep a seven-rider breakaway in check before eventually getting help to capture the final two survivors in the closing kilometres and set up a bunch sprint.

But all that work went for naught when team sprinter Alexander Kristoff managed just 16th place in the sprint finish that Tinkoff's Peter Sagan on ahead of Wouter Wippert (Cannondale Pro Cycling) and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo).

"The team was good and we also managed to get into the right position," Kristoff said. "But at the end - if I was stronger I could maybe pull it off, but I was not even really close at the end. I think we were a little too exposed maybe."

The crosswind that had been blowing across the finishing straight earlier in the day turned into a full-on headwind by the time the peloton stormed back into Sea World in San Diego for the finish. Kristoff said the changing conditions caught his team off guard. "We were in front and in good position," he said. "I was actually in perfect position, but with the headwind I had no chance against the guy coming from behind. I was not even close.

"With the headwind it was really hard, harder than expected from us," he said. "We knew it was a little crosswind on the finishing straight, but at the end it was very hard and I had nothing left, so I could do nothing."

Kristoff's opportunities to win a sprint stage in his first Tour of California are limited, with only the final day left as an almost guaranteed bunch gallop. But even that pan-flat Sacramento circuit could get blown apart by crosswinds.

Monday's 148.5km route from South Pasadena to Santa Clarita is a lumpy affair that will require any contenders for the stage win to get the most out of their climbing legs. Stage 3, with its summit finish on Gibraltar Road, will be a day of suffering for the fastmen.

Wednesday's finish at Laguna Seca Racetrack includes some short, steep climbs in the closing kilometres that could reduce the final group that comes to the line, but as a former winner of Milan-San Remo [2014] and Tour of Flanders [2015], Kristoff could make those finishes if he is on form.

Stage 6 is the Folsom time trial, while the stage 5 run from Lodi to South Lake Tahoe will be a long, upward slog at altitude with a 1.7km climb to the finish. The stage 7 Santa Rosa route has a sawtooth profile that could prove difficult for the larger riders.

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