There is no one rider that has been a standout during the 2019 Classics season, but Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) is a name that has been put forward by many of his rivals as one of the big threats going into Paris-Roubaix this weekend.
Kristoff took a commanding win at Gent-Wevelgem two weeks ago and held onto the favourites at the Tour of Flanders last weekend, before beating them in a sprint to take third place. Kristoff has never really found affinity with Paris-Roubaix over his nine previous appearances, but he believes that if he makes it to the velodrome in the front group then he will be a serious threat. With a headwind predicted in sections of the race, the conditions could be in his favour this time.
"I have never had a really good feeling in this race, but I know if I manage to follow then I should be good here because there aren't climbs, and on the flat, I am normally good. If I can manage to hold onto the wheels of the strongest guys, then for sure I am dangerous in the final," Kristoff told the media after finishing his recon of the Paris-Roubaix cobbles.
"For me, it is better if it is a headwind. Today [Friday], it would have been a slight headwind in the final and it would be hard to ride away but it's possible. It's better for a group when it's a headwind and, for me, I don't need to come alone.
"Ideal scenario for me is that I manage to stay in the front group, it doesn't really matter to me how big it is, but I need to be there."
Though Kristoff is understandably confident with his sprint finish, he knows that making it into the front group is easier said than done. However, he has done more work on the Roubaix cobbles this season and is pleased with how things are going.
"I have a small fear that I'll be in the group just behind the winners, like I have been before, but I felt good today in the recon. I also tested it a little bit in January," explained Kristoff. "At least, I have done a little bit more testing than before and the shape is also good. I think, if the circumstances are right and I can stay out of trouble then I'll be ok."
Paris-Roubaix has not been a happy hunting ground for Kristoff with ninth his best finish in 2013. He has had one other top 10 finish, in 2015, but his other appearances have been littered by DNFs and results in the 40s and 50s. With his powerful style, Kristoff seems well build for Roubaix, but it has never quite worked out. It is something that he has been working on this season and he told reporters at the Carrefour de l'Arbre that he had adjusted his riding position in the hope that it might reap some rewards.
"For me, it has been more difficult here," he said. "I don't really know why but I think my position on the bike is also slightly more forward so maybe you dig yourself into the cobbles a bit more. It doesn't affect you so much when you are going uphill and you are going slower than when it is full speed flat. I tried to adjust myself a little bit more backwards on the bike this year. In the tests today and in January it felt slightly better than before, so I hope it helps."
Kristoff is just one of a raft of contenders set to line-up in Compiegne and picking a winner is as hard as ever in a race that is already unpredictable. He thinks that a similar scenario to the Tour of Flanders, where most of the favourites are locked together in one group, could happen this Sunday. Though, he is not expecting an armchair ride to the finish.
"There are many guys on the same level, which we also saw in Flanders. Ok, Bettiol was in front but behind we were quite a big group compared to the other years and it can happen again here. There are many guys on more or less on the same level," he said.
"There will be attacks in the final, because there are some guys that don't sprint so well, and they won't want to arrive in a group with some sprinters."