After complaining that he didn’t have the form to hang with the best on the opening Flanders-esque stage of the Three days of De Panne, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) reversed his fortunes on day two. The Norwegian not only made the crucial cut when the side-winds scythed through the peloton, but he nailed his first win this month after weeks of frustration.
Sitting down in the press room just a few hundred metres from where he raised his arms in victory, Kristoff was quick to disabuse anyone of the notion that he was back to his best. While happy to be back on the rostrum, the 2015 Tour of Flanders winner said that there was still something missing ahead of the race on Sunday.
"It’s good to come here and get the win because we have been without results in Belgium so far this season," said Kristoff. "Today is a different race to the Tour of Flanders. We only had to do the Kemmel once, and in Flanders you have to do it all the time. Even if I win here, I don’t see myself as a favourite at Flanders after the way that I rode in the last Classics.
"Hopefully, the shape is coming. I feel better, but I don’t know if it is enough. Yesterday I tried to stay with Philippe [Gilbert] but I could not, so that’s not too good. If I want to win Flanders, then I have to stay with the best, and I hope I will manage to do it on Sunday. I have some small doubts but this race has always gone well for me. I’ve always come out of it quite strong and I hope that will happen this year as well."
Just quite what is missing Kristoff cannot quite put his finger on, but it has been apparent on a few occasions this spring as he’s had to watch some of his rivals nip up the road, with no answer for their attack. He hopes that the next few days will see him close that gap.
"I don’t really know," he said when asked what he was lacking. "When I look at the files, my data is ok, but maybe it’s just the other guys are stronger. I don’t know. I am missing a couple of per cent to hang on with the best, so maybe I will get it in this race and the last few days before Flanders. I hope that I will be ready and that I can fight for it."
A win is a win, though, and while there wasn’t a long list of illustrious sprinters in Koksijde on Wednesday afternoon, Kristoff was still able to get the better of Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) in the gallop to the line. The pair went almost at the same time on opposite sides of the finishing straight, but Kristoff had the legs to take the win ahead of Kittel and Trek-Segafredo’s Edward Theuns. Having tried to hone his sprint after some disappointing results last year, particularly in the Tour de France, Kristoff was happy to get one up on the German.
"I kind of led myself out a bit. I normally need a higher speed sprint so I was a little bit afraid with the headwind that it would be a bit slow. I just sped up slightly the whole way and then I saw a few guys coming up to me, but I was able to speed up a little bit more. It was a hard sprint. In a bunch sprint where you don’t really have a lead-out it is usually man against man, and normally that suits me quite well.
"I worked on sprinting a little bit more this year because I lacked a bit in the Tour, and it’s very encouraging that I can get a result against a guy like Marcel, for instance."