Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) leaned over his handlebars 100 metres after the finish line in Valence, breathing in mouthfuls of air as he tried to recover from his sprint effort and the pain of the tough stage, with sweat dripping from his brow after another hard day of racing at the Tour de France in the heat of southern France.
Despite the disappointment of being beaten by Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) yet again, with John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) also going past him to take second, the Kristoff patiently answered questions from the Norwegian media, who wanted to know every detail of the sprint, what went wrong and why.
After speaking in Norwegian, Kristoff also gave his version of things in English, sportingly admitting that Greipel had fully deserved to win.
“Today Greipel and Degenkolb were just stronger. He beat me fair and square,” Kristoff said.
Despite the hard racing across the hilly, sunburnt Ardeche region of central France, Kristoff’s Katusha team worked hard for much of the stage in pursuit of the dangerous break of the day. The peloton came back together in the final 20km and then Austrian national champion Marco Haller and Jacopo Guarnieri lead out the sprint. However, they hit the front a little early and had to recalibrate their effort into a cross-side wind, making Kristoff susceptible to strong kicks from the other sprinters in sight of the line.
“It was a bit of a headwind at the end and the sprint got a little bit too slow for what I like,” Kristoff explained. “We were at the front a little early and the speed dropped just a bit and I came into the last corner in second position. I was planning to go at the 250-metre point but Greipel went at the same time. He was just stronger and when he started his sprint I could not really answer. I had good top speed but I just wasn’t fast enough. Greipel had a really good jump and I always struggle a bit when I have to answer that. When the speeds drop off at the end and then I have to pick it back up, I always have trouble with that kind of acceleration.”
Kristoff avoided passing any blame to his teammates, pointing the finger at himself.
“I wanted to win the sprint and the team did a great job for me. It’s a pity I could not deliver,” he said.
Like all the sprinters in the tired Tour de France peloton, Kristoff is just hoping to get through the mountain stages in the Alps and then try to win one last sprint in Paris. However, he acknowledged he would have to find that extra kick to beat Greipel if he wants to win.
“There is only one chance left for the sprinters on the Champs Élysées but if Greipel continues to sprint like this, it will be difficult to beat him,” Kristoff conceded.