Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) took the bunch sprint for third place at the Tour of Flanders and the Norwegian believes that he is almost back to the form that saw him take victory at the race in 2015.
Third place is Kristoff's first visit to the podium since his win four years ago but he has always gone well in De Ronde with five top-five finishes from his previous seven starts. Kristoff was in a group of 16 chasers that sought but failed to bring back Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First), who had attacked inside the final 20 kilometres.
Bettiol’s gap was never that big and Kristoff began thinking this might be the year he could take his second win. However, there was discord in the chasing group and the Italian was able to hold a slim advantage until the finish line.
"I'm pretty tired. I felt that I had no legs, but I managed to sit in, which I wasn't able to do last year, because the shape is good. Now, I am almost back to where I was in 2015. I had a hope [of victory], but there was no co-operation among us that chased towards the end," Kristoff said just after the finish line.
Despite winning Gent-Wevelgem last weekend, Kristoff was cautious about how things would pan out for him at the Tour of Flanders. He had only managed 21st at the E3 BinckBank Classic, a traditional form preview for Flanders, and he had needed to go on the attack at Gent-Wevelgem to ensure he could get up the final ascent ahead of the favourites.
He had no such advantage this Sunday, but gritted his teeth and stayed in touch with the group of favourites. There was no master plan for Kristoff in the final, it was all about survival. In the end, Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Kasper Asgreen nipped off the front for second place, but Kristoff had enough to beat his rivals for the final podium spot.
"I was just trying to be smart, because I knew I could get cramps in my legs towards the end," said Kristoff. "I just tried to survive. For sure, it was tactical, but I was on the limit. I had to stay where I was.
"I was surprised that I was able to stay in the front group and I was surprised with my legs because I was very tired, but I think everybody was the same and I managed to stay with the best guys. That was better than I expected."
Like many of the riders in action this Sunday, Kristoff will enjoy a week’s break from racing ahead of Paris-Roubaix next Sunday, where he hopes to maintain his run of form.
"I have one more race in my spring campaign, which is Roubaix. That is an important race on Sunday so I hope that the condition will be there," he concluded.