With two stage wins under his belt at the Tour of Qatar already it is no wonder Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) has declared this his best ever start to a season. The Norwegian captured stage 4 of the race from Al Thakhira to Mesaieed, denying Peter Sagan (Tinkoff – Saxo) and Nikias Arndt (Giant Alpecin) on the line in a closely fought finish. Kristoff had already won in Al Khor Corniche on stage 2 and led the race for a day.
After he drew to a standstill outside the Katusha team car he thanked his lead-out before turning to the media. "This is the best start to the season I've ever had,' he said as he leant over the bars. "I feel strong and I've never felt this good in Qatar before. It's fantastic to have this feeling."
Stage 4 had been a rather drab affair compared to Kristoff's first win. Today there were no echelons, no significant splits and the peloton were buffeted by a head wind for large portions of the day.
A three-man break had escaped but with so many strong sprinters eager to start this season with a win, the chance of the break being successful was as remote as could be. Once they were swarmed by the peloton even the lead-out trains appeared sluggish, with the headwind a constant element.
However inside the final 20 kilometres the inevitable action began. MTN-Qhubeka, Tinkoff Saxo and notably Orica GreenEdge surged to the front. The Australian team were looking to catapult Adam Blythe to his first win in his new colours and it seemed possible when he forced his way onto Arndt's wheel but Kristoff had other ideas.
"Because of the headwind everyone was quite fresh and it was an easy day with a controllable breakaway," he said once he had gathered himself.
"In the last ten kilometres everyone was fresh and I ended up losing my lead-out many times but in the end they managed to put me in a good position and I was just able to hold them off."
It appeared as though the Katusha man may have opened his sprint too early, a point he readily agreed with. However, he added that he was merely trying to anticipate the accelerations, a tactic that has paid off for him handsomely once more.
"Maybe I went a little bit early but I felt like I had to go otherwise someone would jump from behind so I started easy and then went harder. At the end I was so tired and Sagan was coming fast but I was just able to hold him off. I could see him on the left and I wasn't sure that I won it."
Finally, Kristoff was asked if his form should worry his Classics rivals, given his already impressive start to the campaign:
"The Classics are a different story to here but I'm going better than last year so if I do the Classics better than last year then they can also be worried."