Stage 15 of the 2014 Tour de France produced a thrilled Norwegian and a bitterly disappointed New Zealander. This race can be a cruel mistress.
While Kiwi Jack Bauer was being consoled by his Garmin-Sharp teammates, having been caught only a few metres from the finish line after a day-long breakaway with IAM's Martin Elmiger, Norway's Alexander Kristoff was receiving more than a few pats on the back from everyone in his Katusha squad, having taken his second stage win at this year's race.
"It's a pity for the two breakaway guys," said Kristoff, gamely. "They were really strong, and all respect to them for what they did today. It must have been really hard for them to have been caught."
First Elmiger, and then Bauer, were swamped by the fast-finishing bunch, but it was Kristoff who emerged victorious from the chaos in a rain-soaked Nîmes to beat Elmiger's teammate, Australian Heinrich Haussler, and green-jersey holder Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
"I was concerned that the breakaway would be able to stay away all the way to the finish, as there were a lot of roundabouts in the final few kilometres, which made it difficult for anyone to organise a good chase, giving the break the advantage," explained Kristoff. "But there were some strong pulls on the front at the end by the Giant-Shimano team, and, although it turned out that I had the best legs, I still wasn't sure that I was going to be able to win until 100 metres from the finish."
Kristoff – who took the biggest victory of his career when he won the Milan-San Remo one-day Classic in March – admitted that he hadn't really expected to beat Giant-Shimano's Marcel Kittel and Lotto-Belisol sprinter André Greipel, but that perhaps he had come away from the two previous stages in the Alps feeling a little fresher than some of his rivals.
"Not that I felt that great today, either! At one point, I almost asked Simon [Spilak], who was pulling on the front for us, to stop because I wasn't feeling super," revealed Kristoff, "but then I thought that I would try for the win anyway, and it all came good in the end, so I'm happy. It's great to take a second stage win, as I hadn't really expected my Tour to go this well.
"But I've been performing well all season; it's been the best season ever for me," he continued. "I now hope that my good form continues for the rest of the year, and that I can build on this in the future. I hope I have some good years ahead of me, and will keep working to see how far I can go.
"There are also still two more days on which I'll have the opportunity to win a stage again [stage 19 on Friday and the final stage in Paris on Sunday], so hopefully I can still get one more. If I could win in Paris, it would be the perfect Tour."