Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) is catching up with himself. A year ago, the Norwegian enjoyed a sparkling start to the season, clocking up five victories in the month of February alone, and he brought his running tally for 2017 to three when he claimed his second stage win of the Tour of Oman at the Ministry of Tourism Friday.
In some respects, Kristoff has already surpassed himself. On the same finale a year ago, he was dropped on the haul up Bousher Al Amerat, and though he battled gamely on the descent, he wasn’t in the shake-up for the sprint, won by his fellow countryman Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data).
“I was very close on this stage last year also. If you look at the result, I was 20 seconds behind but alone, so I knew it was not impossible and if I had some guys around me, I knew I could come back maybe,” Kristoff said afterwards, though he gently rejected the idea that he fared all that much better on the final climb this time around.
Like many of the fast men, Kristoff was again distanced amid the welter of attacks on Bousher Al Amerat, but on this occasion, he had a phalanx of red jerseys on hand to help guide him back up to the leading group. Rein Taaramae, Reto Hollenstein and Marco Haller all rode to close the gap on his behalf, helped by a delegation of Sonny Colbrelli’s Bahrain-Merida team, and Kristoff returned to the front just shy of the flamme rouge.
“The plan all day was to try to manage on the climb as best as possible, and then try to come back in the last five kilometres because the road was flat. The tactic from us was for the whole team to stay around me,” Kristoff said. “At the end, if it’s a big group ahead they won’t always work too well together. They might look at each other and that way we had a chance to come back. Everything worked out perfectly for us, because we also had a headwind on the hardest part of the climb today. A lot of factors went our way.”
Kristoff navigated his way through the 45-strong leading group and hitched himself to the train formed by Greg Van Avermaet’s BMC teammates. He delivered a powerful sprint to claim a rather unexpected triumph ahead of Colbrelli and Van Avermaet. “It was the first and last stage that we picked out before the race as the opportunities, so to get this one is a bonus,” he said.
Towards the Classics
With Belgium’s Opening Weekend just seven days away, the conversation inevitably turned to the state of Kristoff’s form ahead of the spring Classics, though he warned against comparing his condition from one year to the next by basing the analysis on results alone. “It’s always difficult to compare. If you see this stage last year, I was more or less the same distance behind at the top of the climb so the condition is more or less the same,” he said. “This year I had some teammates around me while last year I was alone. It was just a better team effort today and that made the difference.” Kristoff downplayed his prospects of landing a victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad next weekend, pointing out that he has never fared particularly well in the first race of the Flemish season. His best performance was his 11th place of 2015, and he suggested that new signings Baptiste Planckaert and Tony Martin might lead the Katusha challenge.
“In Omloop I’m never good,” he grinned. “We have Baptiste, who has this as a main target. Ok, if I’m there at the end, he can do a lead-out for me, but until that point, he can do what he wants.” Kristoff’s spring will, of course, be judged on how he fares at Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, and to that end, every day in the Tour of Oman has a significance beyond the result. “It’s good for me to get some climbing in. Ok, in the classics they are shorter, but I need to suffer on these climbs and it’s good to go deep here and try get the shape higher,” Kristoff said. “And I also get some Vitamin D from the sun, so that’s also nice.”