Two weeks into his February 'Grand Tour', Alexander Kristoff and his UAE Team Emirates squad finally got their timing right on the final stage of the Tour of Oman. Kristoff has been close to victory several times since he began his year at the Dubai Tour but he had not taken a top-three result before Sunday's stage to the Matrah Corniche.
The Norwegian said that poor positioning and timing from the team and himself had played a big part in putting him out of contention in the sprints over the past two weeks. Having won on the waterfront to the south of Muscat before, he knew exactly what was needed to nail the stage win.
"I've been up in the mix but I haven't really been able to fight for the win in the last sprints. The legs have been good but I haven't really been able to get into position," he said at the finish.
"I've not been happy with that but we had some issues with the team coming to the front at the right moment. This morning we had a good meeting because I have already won here three times before so I knew exactly how I wanted it.
"I explained to the guys which moment they needed to move and they did it really well. The guys did it exactly how we planned, and I even had Rui Costa in the lead-out there in the final and he did a perfect job. I don't think that he's done that many lead-outs in his life, but when he did, it was a good one. The other guys did an amazing job today and I'm happy how we rode as a team today."
February Grand Tour
The Tour of Oman is nothing new on Kristoff's calendar. He is one of only two riders to have ridden every edition and is the record holder for number of stage wins at the race. The six-day event, however, is part of a bigger change to his programme that has him racing all three Middle Eastern races throughout February. This means that he will miss the Classics opening weekend at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne with his European debut at Paris-Nice this season.
Kristoff believes that he is climbing better but cannot say for sure if this new plan is the right one.
"At least I'm getting some nice days in the sun and for my D vitamins it is very good," he joked.
"Dubai was not such hard racing because it is so flat but in Oman, it's much harder with the climbs. I think that this block of racing has been good for me and we will see how the Classics go. If I'm not performing there then maybe it wasn't so good.
"I feel quite good. I think that I am going a bit better on the climbs so that could be useful in the Classics. Although, the sprints have not been as good as they were in other years. At least today I showed that I could still sprint so I'm very pleased with that."
This long block of stage racing gives Kristoff plenty of time to bed in with his new team after switching to UAE Team Emirates from Katusha-Alpecin over the winter. He appears to have slotted in well thus far and he believes that they have a strong line-up for the Classics, even though the depth of riders might not yet be there.
"I'm very happy in my team. They took really good care of me and they didn't give me any stress even if I haven't performed as well as I'd hoped in the first days. At least now they've seen that in the climbs I'm not too far away and they see me training also and I'm in quite good shape. They want results and I'm happy today that I was able to deliver," said Kristoff.
"We have quite a good squad. Maybe the depth is not too big and if someone is injured or ill then we will lack a bit of horsepower. But, the main squad is good and as long as they stay healthy then it will be a good team."