Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) returned to home soil to take his first win since the Tour of California in May, outsprinting Giant-Alpecin's John Degenkolb during the opening stage of the Arctic Tour of Norway.
The former Norwegian champion missed out on the podium's top step in July at the Tour de France, but he overcame post-Tour illness and just a week of training to reach the line first Thursday in Rognan.
"I felt quite good today," Kristoff said. "After the Tour I was sick for one week so I've only done one week of training so I wasn't sure how I would feel, but my body felt quite light. I lacked a little bit of speed in the sprint but I hope it will come and I will be ready for tomorrow."
Kristoff benefited from a touch of bad luck for Degenkolb, who appeared to have a clear line to the finish but suffered a mechanical problem with his gears as he approached the line. While Degenkolb's chain appeared to be skipping, Kristoff surged ahead to take the photo finish.
"I was hoping to win and I managed to get it but I think I was a bit lucky because at the end I lost my teammates," Kristoff said. "I came on the wheel of Degenkolb and he timed the sprint perfectly, but lucky for me he had some technical issues with his gears jumping and I managed to pass him. I think actually I would have had trouble passing him if he had a smooth sprint."
The win is Kristoff's fourth career victory at the four-year-old Arctic Tour of Norway, where he took two stages in 2014 and one last year. He finished second overall in 2014 and was 25th overall in 2015.
Thursday's win means Kristoff will wear the race leader's jersey into the second stage. He currently leads Gregory Rast (Trek-Segafredo) by three seconds and Degenkolb by four seconds.
Friday's 198km stage 2 route from Mo I Rana to Sandnessjøen looks like another day for the sprinters, but after that the race goes into the mountains for stage 3. Kristoff said he will try and hold the jersey for at least another day before the team begins supporting 2015 overall winner Rein Taaramäe for the overall.
"Normally this race is a little bit too hard for me on stage 3, and we have Rein Taaramäe here who won last year, so I think he will be better come stage 3," Kristoff said of his overall chances. "But I will try to win the stage again tomorrow and then on the last day. For stage 3 I will try to minimize my losses. If it's a head wind on the climb it's possible."
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