Alexander Kristoff has been verging ever closer to his first stage victory of this year's Tour de France but has yet been able to make good on his promise. The sprint competition has been as tight as ever this season with some stages decided by mere centimetres.
As the race begins its second week, his Katusha team believe that Kristoff will flourish as others begin to fatigue. "We, of course, would have liked to win a stage with Alex. All the stages for sprinters we started with those ambitions and we believe that he can win, and he's one of the favourites on these stages," Katusha's team manager Jose Azevedo told Cyclingnews.
"For Alex, the second or third week is usually better for him as people start to feel more tired. So, normally he can keep his level for the whole race and until Paris, we're going to try and win with him."
Kristoff has tasted glory at the Tour de France, winning two stages in the second week of the 2014 Tour. He had a number of close calls last year but ultimately was unable to make a breakthrough. Illness in the final week hampered him slightly. This year, Kristoff finished the most recent sprint – stage 6 to Montauban - with his best result yet of fourth, after notching up two other top 10 finishes.
"He was there some closer than others, but when you see the level of the sprinters you see that the best sprinters are here," said Azevedo. "You know that you can win, but sometimes you are not in the best position or if you brake then you can be 10th, at this level it's small details can change things. Of course, the others are also in good shape. So far, Cavendish has shown that he is faster than the others."
The opportunities for the sprinters are dwindling fast with two this week and just one, into Paris, in the final week. Wednesday's stage 11 to Montpellier is the next chance for the fast men, with another coming three days later into Villars-les-Dombes. Both are lumpy and should favour Kristoff more than some of those in the first week. Kristoff will have to be canny if he wants victory. Not only will he be up against some extremely strong sprinters, but he will also be doing it without one of his lead-out men after Michael Morkov had to call it quits on stage 8.
"We miss one rider, Morkov. On the first day he crashed, he tried to recover, and he did a big effort to finish the stages," Azevedo explained. "When he arrived in the Pyrenees, he started to feel the body recovering from the injuries, but he was empty because then he expended so much energy to survive so he paid for these efforts in the climbs.
"One day he was completely empty, and he was dropped before the Tourmalet on the flat. Now we have two riders, Jacopo and Marco. Of course, we can't do some things like when you see at 10 kilometres to organise on the front. We need to be more on the wheel rather than take the control or be on the front in the last two kilometres because we don't have a team to ride or do the lead out at 10 kilometres to go."