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Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)
Professional team the missing link between races and riders
The second edition of the Arctic Race of Norway was another huge success, with the impact of extraordinary images of northern Norway on TV networks, in 180 different countries, and the touching farewell of Thor Hushovd in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Tromsø.
Prior to the last stage, 18 year old Ole Petter Skogstad from Innland – the same region as Edvald Boasson Hagen – won the "Arctic Heroes of Tomorrow" as eighty juniors from each region of Norway but also Russia, the UK and Finland gathered for the event. They were watched carefully by former pro Joona Laukka, who occasionally coaches young Finnish riders from Fincycling.com - along with Garmin-Sharp's head DS Charly Wegelius, IAM Cycling's DS Kjell Carlström and Jussi Veikkanen, who rides for FDJ.fr.
Laukka is the agent for Samuel Sanchez (BMC), Jean-Christophe Péraud, Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale), Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis) and a few Scandinavians like Alexander Kristoff, Sven-Erik Bystrøm (Katusha), Vegard Breen (Lotto-Belisol), Jonas Ahlstrand, the Ludvigsson brothers (Giant-Shimano) and Veikkanen. "Unfortunately, Swedish cycling is not as good as ten years ago", Laukka told Cyclingnews in Tromsø.
"We're working on the development of talents in Finland, but Norway is picking up really. There are 16,000 licensed cyclists, seven continental teams and three HC or category 1 stage races (the Tour of Norway, the Tour des Fjords and the Arctic Race of Norway). It counts in the cycling world now. Two neo pros have already signed their contract [Bystrøm with Katusha, Sondre Holst Enger with IAM Cycling]. Norway will have one of the strongest teams at the Tour de l'Avenir starting this week."
Odd Christian Eiking, Oskar Svendsen, Bystrøm, Sindre Lunke, Fridtjof Røinas and Kristoffer Skjerping are the new names to become familiar with. With Hushovd retiring and Kristoff taking over at the right time, while Boasson Hagen is having a difficult last season with Team Sky, Norwegian cycling still appeared fragile two months ago when there was the risk of none of their riders lining up at the Tour de France. Luckily, Kristoff recovered on time from an Achilles injury and went on to win two stages.
"What's missing really is a Norwegian or a Scandinavian Pro Conti team," Laukka noted. "Some promoters of the Arctic Race of Norway are working on it. Cycling is ready for a team with about ten competitive Scandinavians and six riders from other countries but I'm not sure if the sponsors are ready. Economy is good in that part of Europe. There are sponsors for events. During my trip to the Arctic Race, I also had a meeting with the Norwegian federation regarding the continental teams. Not all of them have the standard of continental teams in France with a minimum salary for riders, etc. Young cyclists believe they turn pro but it's not the reality. It has to be regulated."