Just under 40 kilometres before the end of the Tour of Flanders, Norwegian powerhouse Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) was in the hurt box and out of contention for a podium result in the race he won back in 2015. Eventual winner Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) was up the road with world champion Julian Alaphilippe (Elegant-QuickStep) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
Other riders with high ambitions knew that it would become very hard to get these top guns back. A few kilometres later, Alaphilippe rode into a motorbike from the race jury and crashed out of the race. It was bad news for the world champion but Kristoff ended up being the sole rider from the chase group who would join Van der Poel and Van Aert on the podium in Oudenaarde, Belgium.
“If I could’ve signed before the race for a third place, I would’ve done it. Van der Poel, Van Aert and Alaphilippe showed that they were on another level. Nobody else was able to follow. Luckily for me, but unfortunate for QuickStep and Alaphilippe, there still was a podium spot. I barely managed to take it so I’m happy,” Kristoff said, with a big smile on his face.
“The race was different compared to other editions but not too much. The supporters were missed but due to the circumstances, we have to be happy the race was held. Hopefully, we will get it under control in the whole world and we can come back to normal life but maybe it’ll take another year, who knows.”
After a Tour de France in which he won the opening stage and wore the yellow jersey, Kristoff set his sights on the cobbled Classics. In Gent-Wevelgem, he missed the cut on the Kemmelberg,and in the Scheldeprijs, he led out young teammate Jasper Philipsen in the bunch sprint. Paris-Roubaix was cancelled and so the Tour of Flanders was his only major goal left on the calendar. In the hill zone, it became clear that Kristoff wouldn’t race for the victory.
“On the Koppenberg, I was in the second group. Also on the Steenbeekdries I was suffering and on the end there was the attack, on the final section leading into the Taaienberg. I was on my limit, struggling and without a chance to follow. I’m always struggling at that point in the race, every race, but I was not in a position to follow the first guys,” Kristoff said.
Shortly after the Taaieneberg he saw Alaphilippe laying on the ground. “I don’t know what happened with Alaphilippe because he was already in a small group with three riders. Maybe he was not focused enough, looking back or something. That can happen. It’s always possible to crash. In a group of three it’s usually easier to stay on the wheels than in the pack,” Kristoff said.
With Alaphilippe gone, Kristoff faced the task to remain in the chase group that would sprint for third place, knowing that the non-sprinters would try to break away.
"One moment the podium was gone and suddenly I was back in the game. I wasn’t focusing on the podium too much because I knew there would be attacks. Those attacks came but in the end the podium was still possible. I managed to do it, despite QuickStep riders attacking all the time in the last kilometres. I did a really long sprint to close down Asgreen, and sprinted on to have a chance for a podium spot. It was like 500 metres in the wind but I had to go that early because otherwise it would’ve been fourth place.”
On Wednesday, Kristoff heads to Bruges to take the start in the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne. A race that could well end in a bunch sprint. “Now I do De Panne and then it’s over for me. I look forward to the off-season. This was the last big goal and to get the podium is something I have to be happy with,” Kristoff said, before putting things in perspective when asked about his off-season plans.
“It’s not going to be very long because soon the new season begins,” Kristoff laughed. And off he went.
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