It seems the hoary old cliché about buses can be applied to sprint wins too. Alexander Kristoff was enduring a most frustrating wait for his first success with UAE Team Emirates and now two wins have come along at once. After nabbing the final stage of the Tour of Oman at the weekend, the European champion notched up another win on stage 1 of the Abu Dhabi Tour on Wednesday.
"I've been feeling good since the season started," Kristoff said at the finish in Madinat Zayed. "In Dubai, I didn't manage to win and then I got it on the last day in Oman, and now again on the first day here. I feel good, that's the most important thing, and it's also important for the team."
Kristoff was one the marquee signings made by UAE Team Emirates ahead of the 2018 season, along with Fabio Aru and Dan Martin. Of that triumvirate, the Norwegian was the man expected to hit the ground running in the home races of the team's sponsors in the United Arab Emirates. After falling short repeatedly in Dubai, Kristoff admitted that there he felt a certain obligation to land a win in Abu Dhabi.
"We are at home and it means a lot for the team to manage to get a good result and also take a little bit of pressure off my teammates – but still we want to perform in the next days also," said Kristoff, mindful that Aru and Rui Costa will look to shine on Jebel Hafeet on the final day.
Kristoff's satisfaction at his triumph here was only amplified by the manner in which it was accomplished. In Muscat on Sunday, his path to victory in the final sprint was aided by the intensity of the kilometres that preceded it, as the speed was sapped from the legs of the pure fast men. Conventional wisdom suggested that the rather more sedate tempo to stage 1 of the Abu Dhabi Tour would suit more explosive finishers than Kristoff, but he saw off Andrea Guardini (Bardiani-CSF) and Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) to claim victory.
"In the peloton it wasn't a really hard stage, and in that case, I usually don't win because there are guys faster than me with fresh legs. I struggle a bit in sprints like this," Kristoff said. "I like it more like it was in the last stage in Oman, with hard racing. But today I managed to beat everybody in a stage that usually doesn't suit me so well, so that gives me great confidence."
In truth, mind, the finishing straight of stage 1 did lend itself to Kristoff's particular brand of sprinting. On a slight drag into a headwind, he produced a powerful, progressive acceleration that took him past Ewan, who admitted that he had started his sprint a little too soon.
"A slightly uphill finish is good for me, it suited me today. Usually, I may not be the fastest guy in the peloton but I'm among the best, and today I managed to beat all the fastest guys so that's a really good feeling," said Kristoff, who used all of his nous to move into position ahead of the finale.
"I kind of lost a little bit my teammates in the finish. It was quite chaotic going into the last kilometres. I had [Roberto] Ferrari in front and I tried to get to him but I saw it would be very difficult, so then I tried to look for other options and I saw an opening on the right side. First it was with [Marcel] Kittel, then I saw Ewan looking for an early start and I managed to get his wheel. From there I just powered on all the way to the line."
Kristoff has made a habit of winning early and often in the Gulf in recent years, and Wednesday's victory helps to maintain his remarkable batting average in this part of the world. By extending his stay to three races in 2018, he will hope that it bears dividends when he reaches the Via Roma next month and the cobbled races that follow.
"I wanted to make a three-week block of racing in the Middle East because I'm usually good after a Grand Tour," Kristoff said after pulling on the red jersey of race leader. "It's part of my build up to the Classics."
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