After Milan-San Remo victory, Kristoff takes aim at Gent-Wevelgem

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) warmed up for Gent-Wevelgem in Harelbeke on Friday, although not by riding 200 kilometres over cobbles and hills.

The Norwegian opted not to clash with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) at E3 Harelbeke but the race organisers, eager to have the Milan-San Remo winner on show, made him a late addition to their associated sprint challenge.

The challenge, which saw groups of four riders battle it out in a knock-out series of one-kilometre races in the finish area, was designed to keep the masses in Harelbeke’s Markt entertained as they awaited Boonen, Cancellara et al. As so often the case in such events, the star attraction Kristoff duly won the challenge.

Kristoff has been in Belgium since Monday evening and he will remain here until Paris-Roubaix.

“I won’t see my family until then, it’s like a Grand Tour,” he explained.

While he enjoyed his cameo in Harelbeke, his thoughts were already on the more serious business in hand on Sunday.

“It was my choice to skip E3 Harelbeke,” Kristoff told reporters.

“At Harelbeke it’s normally a small group at the finish so to make a good result there I have to really be at 100 percent, whereas at Gent-Wevelgem it’s normally a bigger group and more of a chance to be in front. Maybe next year I will try to do both.

“I hope to be there to fight for the win on Sunday. I don’t expect to win but then I didn’t expect to win at San Remo either, so I hope I can do a good result.”

No surprise Milan-San Remo winner

For a supposedly surprise winner of Milan-San Remo -although a cursory glance at his back catalogue of results shows that it was far from a shock, Kristoff has reacted calmly to his triumph. External expectations may have risen dramatically but he is keenly aware that his own strengths and weaknesses remain unchanged.

“I’m used to having pressure from my team and now there’s maybe pressure from outside but I don’t really think about that,” he said.

“I’m still the same man from before San Remo. Nothing has changed. In San Remo I did a good sprint but it’s not like I’m suddenly the strongest guy in the peloton.”

Kristoff will also line up at the Three Days of De Panne next week in preparation for the Tour of Flanders. He finished fourth in Oudenaarde last year, but he was pragmatic about his chances in De Ronde this time around.

“I think it could be a little bit too hard for me to win,” he said. “Last year I was fourth in Flanders but I was actually one of the last guys in the big group over the Paterberg. There were almost 20 guys who were better than me, but in the results I was good because I have a fast sprint. Of course in the final sprint, I can do something, but I have to make it there first and that’s always my problem.”

Special San Remo celebrations

Kristoff could smile, too, when he was asked to detail his celebrations in the week since his victory on the Lungomare Italo Calvino. He spent much of the day after the race stranded at Frankfurt Airport as he made his way north for the cobbled campaign. “I was actually stuck in Frankfurt for five hours, because there had been a strike in Milan of the ground personnel,” he said ruefully.

It seems the celebrations were limited to a fleeting two hours after the race, when Kristoff and his teammates were guests aboard Russian Cycling Federation president and team backer Igor Makarov’s yacht, which was moored in San Remo.

“We had some vodka shots with Makarov. There was a party there for two hours before we had to leave for Milan,” Kristoff said. “It was in San Remo, because he had one of his yachts there. It was nice. He said it was the smallest one but it was big enough for me.”

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