The UAE Tour has been a journey of discovery for Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) as he learns the trade of lead-out man. Usually the one at the back of the train, Kristoff was put to work for Fernando Gaviria over the last week.
It has been an adjustment for the Norwegian but came with early success after Gaviria won stage 2 at the Abu Dhabi breakwater. However, the final stage has given Kristoff and the team something to keep in mind over the coming months, after Kristoff found himself out of position in the final corner.
“It’s new for me. I usually try to sprint myself. It wasn’t so different today because the finish was so close after the corner, but to start at 400 metres is a bit early,” Kristoff explained, still catching his breath after his exertions. “For sure, I would like better to sprint myself, but we have Fernando and if you put me against him in an easy race he would usually beat me every time. It always depends in a sprint how you come in so for sure if I was lucky, like last year I won a stage here, it would be possible, but we had two good sprinters at the same time and we work for one.”
It was a chaotic final sprint on the Dubai City Walk with several teams looking to take control. Lotto Soudal led the peloton around the final corner while Kristoff and Gaviria found themselves more than 10 places down the strung-out bunch. Kristoff put in a mighty turn to bring his sprinter to the front in quick order, but it may have taken too much out of Gaviria as he went up against Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) for the win.
“I think we came slightly too far back in the corner, but I knew that I had the legs to bring it back, but it was always going to be hard to take the extra positions,” said Kristoff. “Maybe, I should have done more before the corner – because actually, I did nothing before – and I think it just got a bit too hard for Fernando from the corner to the finish as I had sped up to pass a lot of guys before he was supposed to start the sprint.
“I know the situation myself when the lead-out rider goes too hard you also suffer in the wheel. I had to go hard to bring him to the front. We had good speed, unfortunately, got his wheel, so he got the same benefits like Fernando and in the headwind, he had maybe the faster legs or a better position.”
Kristoff and Gaviria will part ways for the coming weeks with the former due to ride Paris-Nice and the latter headed to Tirreno-Adriatico. They will then reunite for the Classics, starting with Milan-San Remo – a race that Kristoff has won in the past. The Classics got underway in Belgium this weekend with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Kristoff would like to have been there but says he’s happy to have had a chance to practice his leadout ahead of the Tour de France.
“I would have preferred to have done the Opening Weekend today in Belgium, but the sponsors wanted to have the best riders and for sure they wanted good results, so it was important for the team that I come here to help Fernando for the sprints. I think that it worked quite well, and the plan is also to work together in the Tour so it was good to try it out before I come to the Tour,” he said.
Kristoff has one win under his belt so far this season with victory on the opening stage of the Tour of Oman, but he’s not sure how he is going ahead of his Classics campaign after a week of playing leadout man.
“I felt very good in Oman but here I didn’t feel so strong,” said Kristoff. “I think that I was a little bit mentally tired after already being racing one week and also when you’re not racing for a result you have a little bit less motivation than maybe when you’re racing for the win yourself. For sure, I was motivated to do my best job, but it is always different in your head when you’re fighting for the win yourself.”