Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) heads into the Tour de France full of optimism as he searches for his first stage win since 2014, but the experienced sprinter is well aware of the difficult task in front of him. The pure sprinters have descended on the Vendée for the start of the race en masse, while the profiles of the first nine stages are fraught with potential pitfalls
Not that the latter will be a major concern to Kristoff, who should excel through the crosswinds of the Vendée and Brittany. The sprinter's skill-set should also keep him in contention for stage 9, when the race hits the cobbles of Roubaix, although the eight stages before then – minus the team time trial on stage 3 – should provide Kristoff with ample opportunities to shine.
"I think we'll see chaotic sprints because there are a lot of sprinters but they don't have big teams around them," he said on Thursday at the teams' presentation.
"The early conditions could help me, and if we have crosswinds then usually the race is hard, and that suits me more because more riders are tired at the end then. I have two dedicated riders for the finales, and Roberto Ferrari, in particular, is very experienced. I trust him, but for sure I need to use other sprinters. We'll see a lot of guys coming late and trying to take the initiative at the last moment. It's going to be difficult, but it's hard to tell yet just how difficult."
New team, same objective
Kristoff moved from Katusha-Alpecin in the winter, and landed at UAE Team Emirates at the start of the year. The current European road champion has enjoyed a relatively successful campaign thus far with four wins and fourth place at Milan-San Remo. He may not have taken a Tour de France stage since 2014, when he won in Saint-Etienne and Nîmes, but the experienced Norwegian is confident that he can at least be competitive on the days that suit him.
"I got my stage wins in the second week, and I usually sprint better in the second and third weeks, but this year most of my chances come in the first week, so I hope that I can sprint well from the start," he said.
At the Tour de Suisse in late June, Kristoff admitted that he had room for improvement, and that he needed to find form and drop weight.
"I feel that the legs are good. Maybe I still need to lose a little bit of weight, although not as much as I thought before, but every bit helps. I've been close to another stage win a few times since 2014, but have never quite made it. But I hope that I can get a new win this year. That's the main aim for me."
As for the opposition, Kristoff pinpointed the rider most likely to dominate the sprints: LottoNL-Jumbo's Dylan Groenewegen.
"He's got a lot of good riders around him who can help him. He's won a few times, and he's looking strong. He won on the Champs-Elysées last year, and so he knows what it takes.
"I also expect Quick-Step to be good, because they've been good all year," said Kristoff. "They have Fernando Gaviria and a strong team around him, and I'm sure that they'll be able to help set him up in a really good position to win.
"Groenewegen does also have a good team around him, but it's maybe not as strong as Quick-Step's. But I've been impressed with how Dylan's sprinted this season, so I think he can get some good results."