Alexander Kristoff barely needed any prompting when he stepped off the UAE Team Emirates bus at the end of Paris-Roubaix. Having won Gent-Wevelgem and finished third in the Tour of Flanders, he lined up for 'The Hell of the North' as one of the favourites but a costly tyre choice effectively ended his race before it really began. Far from angry - more disappointed - the Norwegian admitted that his mistake in equipment scuppered his chances of competing for the win.
Kristoff chose to stick with Vittoria Corsa Graphene 2.0 25mm tubeless tyres in conjunction with Campagnolo Bora WTO tubeless-ready wheels that he had raced on throughout the spring. However, on the brutal cobbles of Paris-Roubaix the Norwegian felt that the combination had let him down and that he had made a mistake in selecting them.
The Gent-Wevelgem winner suffered three punctures before finally switching to normal tyres but by then his race was done. He would eventually come home in 56th position, over 14 minutes down on winner Philippe Gilbert.
"I took a big risk on the tubeless wheels that I’ve been using the last weeks," Kristoff told Cyclingnews.
"In Belgium it was working fine, and in recon, but in this race here you’re in the pack and you don’t really see where there are holes. I punctured twice before the Arenberg Forest and from there I never came back. I had three flats all together and then I changed to a bike with normal tyres.
"I knew that it was a big risk but these wheels are really good. I had success the last few weeks on them and I felt good today, until I punctured. We’d just not try it again next year."
UAE Team Emirates suffered throughout. They lost Fernando Gaviria the evening before the race due to illness and several of their remaining riders were hampered by bad luck and crashes. In the end, Kristoff would be their only rider to reach the velodrome, and it would be a disappointing result after the successes the team had enjoyed in recent weeks.
"It’s been a disaster of a day and not what we expected," Alan Peiper told the media at the line.
"One thing just happened after the other and it was just one of those days. We lost Gaviria overnight to illness, Tom Bohli had a crash, Sven Erik Bystrom lost a contact lens, Alex had punctures and it was just one thing after the other. In the end we did what we could and we chased forever. Hats off to Alex for even finishing. He kept battling on but losing time, but that shows the champion he is just to come in even if you’re 10 minutes behind."
Peiper could not be too hard on himself or his team. In a matter of months he has revitalised a Classics team and managed to bring Kristoff and Gaviria together in a working partnership that played a key part in the win at Gent-Wevelgem. The squad are now a consistent presence in the Classics, and the emergence of young talent bodes well for the future. That said, Peiper was honest to admit that his riders in Roubaix lacked the rub of the green.
“When Alex punctured we already had three riders behind. One had lost his contact lens, Bohli crashed. After that first puncture Alex came back to the front group but then he punctured again and that’s what took him out of the group. Then we had two guys to help, along with Jasper Philipsen who we picked up along the way. They were riding with three but it wasn’t putting a dent into the gap. There were a lot of guys in our group not riding at all," he said.
"That’s just how the sport goes and we just need to face up to it. It’s very disappointing. We expected more than this. It’s the ultimate opposite from two weeks ago."