After two second places and a third and six attempts, Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) finally got his dream win on the Champs-Élysées at the end of stage 21 at the Tour de France. After a less than impressive start with his new team, the Norwegian says that the final stage success has saved his season.
Kristoff was out of position heading towards the Place de la Concorde but was delivered near to the front by teammate Roberto Ferrari as the pack chased down an attack from Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors). Turning onto the Champs-Élysées, Kristoff had no more men left and tacked onto the wheel of John Degenkolb, who had Jasper Stuyven on the front. Degenkolb launched his sprint with 200 metres to go and Kristoff was quick to get around him, winning the stage by a clear margin.
"It's a great win. I'm super happy to win on the Champs-Élysées, it has been a dream since I was a young sprinter," Kristoff said after the stage. "To finally achieve it was a special feeling to be sure. It's four years since I won at the Tour, and the Norwegian press is always asking when I'm going to win again, and to finally manage to achieve it is a very nice feeling.
"I was not really happy with my spring, and for sure to win a stage of the Tour more or less saves my season. The spring was a bit challenging, I’ve only had four victories up until now and this was my fifth. It's less than I usually have at this time of the year but to win at the Tour de France makes my season more or less a success now so I'm very glad to win today. I've got some important races coming up but I will just try to enjoy this.
"The next stop for me is the European Championships. Today was the last race I'll do in the jersey, if I don't win it again. It was a nice way to honour the jersey that I had for one year, to win the last race in it."
This year's sprint finale on the Champs-Élysées was a bit different to other years with none of the pure sprinters making it to Paris after they either missed the time cut or abandoned in the Alps during the second week. Kristoff made it through but called stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez the toughest he's ever done at the Grand Boucle. He also suggested that some sprinters may not have been fully prepared for the effort by choosing easier race programmes ahead of the Tour.
"In the Alps it was especially challenging, particularly the stage where we had to do 5,000 metres of climbing," Kristoff explained. "I think it was the hardest stage I've had in the Tour, and I've been doing it since 2013. In the Giro, I've done similar stages but for sure it was challenging. Before, the sprinters used to do the Tour de Suisse and the Dauphine but in recent years they've done easier races so maybe not all sprinters were prepared for such hard stages."
Kristoff's last victory at the Tour de France came in 2014 when he took stages in Saint Etienne and Risoul before finishing runner-up to Marcel Kittel in Paris. There have been some close calls since then such as the stage 16 finish in Bern when he didn’t dive for the line, thinking that it was further down the road. He was beaten by Peter Sagan on that day and it was Sagan that outdid him in another closely run affair during this season’s race. There were times that Kristoff thought he wouldn’t be able to add to his tally, but after four years of trying, he claimed his third.
"For sure, I've been thinking that I would only ever win two stages. I was happy, to win two stages is better than nothing for sure, but I’ve been working very hard to take my third win. It took four years but finally I got one again," he said.
"It's very special to win on the last day of the Tour on the Champs-Élysées, there is so much history on this stage. It's more or less the World Championships for the sprinters every year. It is one of my greatest victories. I have San Remo and Flanders in the Classics, but for stage victories, this is definitely the best victory I have."