Norwegian powerhouse Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) had an off-day at E3 Harelbeke on Friday. In this Belgian semi-classic that’s often called the mini-Ronde van Vlaanderen, the 28-year-old rider was never able to keep up with the other big names.
Kristoff finished nearly seven minutes down on winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky). After the race he told Cyclingnews that he’s running out of time to defend last year’s win at the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
“For Roubaix there are still some days but Flanders is coming now so I must hurry up for Flanders," Kristoff told Cyclingnews. “I’m surprised in a negative way. I’m disappointed of course. I was thinking I could do better today. It was like it was so I hope I have better legs in the next races or else there will be not so many victories.”
Kristoff was unable to follow the moves on the often crucial ascent of the Taaienberg, where a star-studded group of 10 riders got away at 74 kilometres from the finish. Due to the mechanical from Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo), Kristoff received a second chance to get in the race. The Trek-Segafredo and Katusha teams co-operated and brought the gap of more than a minute back to half a minute at forty kilometres from the finish when approaching two cobbled climbs, the steep Paterberg and the long Oude Kwaremont.
“I still didn’t feel good but still we knew we had a chance when Cancellara was with us but I had no chance to keep up,” he said.
TV-images showed Kristoff was already struggling on the roads leading to the climbs and on the Oude Kwaremont he was spotted in big trouble.
“I felt really bad, not only on the climbs but in general. I felt good on the climbs in Sanremo which isn’t long ago so I don’t know what happened this week," Kristoff said.
Katusha press officer Philippe Maertens hinted that a cold might have bothered him but Kristoff ruled that out. “I had this cold before San Remo too, and there I was feeling very well so I don’t know why I felt so bad today. Today I had no legs so I was never in the race. I was always behind. I could do nothing.”
Next up for Kristoff is Ghent-Wevelgem. Last year’s epic edition was ridden in a storm and a stark contrast to the sprinter’s festival that’s often seen in Wevelgem. Kristoff, one of the fastest men in the peloton, acknowledges the characteristics of the race favour him but he wasn’t very confident on Friday afternoon.
“I don’t know if it suits me much better. I was never really good in Harelbeke or Wevelgem. Wevelgem is usually a sprint so it should suit me better.”
Last year Kristoff finished ninth in Wevelgem before winning three stages and taking the overall at the Three Days of de Panne-Koksijde and storming to the victory in the Ronde, the Tour of Flanders.