Alexander Kristoff believes that he and Edvald Boasson Hagen will be able to put their differences behind them in time for the World Championships in Norway next September. Compatriots Kristoff and Boasson Hagen have not spoken since falling out at the Worlds in Qatar, where they finished sixth and seventh.
Kristoff felt that Boasson Hagen had gone against the pre-existing plan to work for him in the finale and raced for himself, something he is still sure of almost two months on. The Dimension Data rider defended his actions, saying that he had made a mistake in the lead-out. Aside from the post-race debrief, there has been no attempt to clear the air, but with a shot at a home win, Kristoff thinks that they can move past it.
"It's not like we usually talk during the off-season before. For sure, maybe we should have cleared things, we tried after the race, but it didn't really work. He felt maybe he did the best he could but I felt that he didn't do his job at all. We have agreed to disagree," said Kristoff. "For sure, we don't have enough top athletes that can win in Bergen so, of course, both myself and Edvald should do the race because we both have a chance to win. We have to figure out how to get the best out of it."
When asked who they would be working for, Kristoff quickly responded "Norway." The course is very different to the one out in Qatar, which was a clear-cut chance for the sprinters. In Bergen, the riders will tackle a hilly route that could see the bunch break up, particularly if the conditions take a turn for the worse. This, says Kristoff, gives Norway an opportunity to play different tactics – and would likely keep the two riders from clashing out on the road again.
"For sure we are different riders. I am normally faster in a sprint, and he is stronger," he said. "We should play our cards. He should have his best chance at going with the top guys in the climb and I will try to stay up front and if it comes back together then I will try to sprint for victory. I think we can make it work.
"This year, I felt it was a way better race for me but the feeling I got after the race looking at the sprint it was like he sprinted for himself. I was screaming at him for a few hundred metres before he went. I was really angry after it and when I talk about it now I'm still angry about it but it's not like I think about it much anymore only when I talk with guys like you who bring it up," he added with a laugh.
Making small changes
The result at the World Championships was one of a number of disappointments that befell Kristoff during 2016, whether it be illness during the Classics, or insufficient training ahead of the Tour de France that was the cause. He finished the season with 13 victories but none of them was at WorldTour level.
Kristoff is honest in his assessment of what went wrong and has already set out plans to carry his early season form into the summer as he targets a stage win at the Tour de France, something that eluded him this year.
"It's maybe not always my fault but in moments like these when you almost win, and then you don't win it's because you're not good enough and it happened a few times," he explained. "In the winter training, I have not changed anything at all because I knew that it was working.
"Going into the Tour, I will maybe do some small changes so that I'm ready for it. Also, to keep the sprint a little bit more maybe I will do some more strength training during the season. In the winter I do a lot of strength training, and I feel really strong and fast, and then maybe my speed goes a bit down during the season. If I do some strength training during the season then maybe I will keep the strength during the season."
Kristoff will begin his season at the Tours of Qatar and Oman, as he has done in recent years, before heading to Belgium for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. The stretch from Milan-San Remo on March 18 to Paris-Roubaix on April 8 will be the first major target for the 29-year-old. He fell ill between San Remo and Flanders, seriously hampering his chances of a solid result, although he did manage to eke out a fourth place finish at the Belgian race. He believes that those first two monuments will be where his biggest opportunities lie, and the big coup of bringing Tony Martin from Etixx-QuickStep will allow them to play it differently.
"If I can win a big monument in the start then I will be really happy. I feel like I can have the best chance in San Remo and Flanders," said Kristoff. "For sure, Tony Martin will be a vital part of the sprint train like he was in other years. Also, in the Classics, you saw this year in Paris-Roubaix how strong he was. He was in front of the split, he was pulling really hard for Tom Boonen and nobody had a chance to come back. Maybe he can do the same this year.
"We will try to work together, and he can be more offensive and go on attacks and make his own opportunities. I can then be more relaxed because we have a man up front and maybe he could go all the way."