It has been four years since Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) won a stage of the Tour de France. He came the closest he has for some time on stage 13 to Valence on Friday, but green jersey wearer Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was just too fast and mopped up his third win of the 2018 race.
After three hard days in the Alps, the road levelled out and there was little to stop the day ending in a bunch sprint. Without a win in the Tour yet, Groupama-FDJ took control for their fast man Arnaud Demare while Kristoff surfed the wheels at the back of their train. When Demare opened the afterburners, Kristoff followed suit but was pipped to the line by Sagan.
"I felt good today. I think maybe it’s about motivation; I had a lot of motivation for today’s stage. I felt able to do a good finish, but it was not enough," said Kristoff.
"[Sagan] was really fast in the last metres. I tried to hold him behind me, but I couldn't hold him off. It was a tough finish, and that suits him quite well when it’s a little bit uphill. I thought I had it when I passed Demare, but unfortunately, he was a bit faster."
Speaking just beyond the line in Valence, Kristoff said there was nothing different he could have done to beat Sagan.
"I think that I did everything right, but Sagan was just a little bit better," Kristoff said. "I had to accept that. He’s beaten me like this many times. He’s the world champion. He’s been the best rider in the world for several years now. It’s no shame to lose against him, but I would like to beat him sometimes."
The stage 13 bunch gallop looked a little different from those in the early weeks, with all of the pure sprinters dropping out over the past few days. Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) were the first to go when they missed the time cut on Wednesday’s short effort to La Rosier. However, it was the mighty Alpe d’Huez stage that saw a mass exodus with double stage winners Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) stepping off in quick succession.
Questions over the course were brought up, but Kristoff believes it was fanciful time limits that brought the sprinters to their knees. The time cut was actually altered from 30 to 40 minutes during Thursday’s Alpe d’Huez festivities, but it proved too late for many. Kristoff made the new cut with plenty of time to spare, but only after busting a gut to make the original one. Incidentally, Kristoff finished 32:19 behind the stage winner Geraint Thomas (Team Sky).
"Maybe the course was hard as well, but the time cut was too small," Kristoff told Cyclingnews. "The course could have been like this, but we needed more percentage. It’s OK when you do these types of finishes, we’ve had them in the Giro in the past, but you have a one-hour time cut. Yesterday, we started off knowing that it should be 30 minutes, but they changed it during the race.
"It’s strange because you don’t really know the rules when you start the race when they change it during the stage. I don’t know what the commissaires were thinking yesterday. Either you change it before the start or you keep it like it is. We were working our asses off to make the 30 minutes and then suddenly we had 40 minutes. It’s a bit annoying because you can take it a bit easier. I know in the Giro when they have stages like this we have a one-hour time cut, then all of the other sprinters have a chance to make it also. Maybe more sprinters would have made it then."
Valence was the last chance for the sprinters for four stages, with the race heading back into the mountains for the foreseeable future. If Kristoff is to break his luck then, he will have to wait until the next sprint effort in Pau on stage 18.
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