Alexander Kristoff had arguably the most successful season of his career to date, with wins in the Tour of Flanders, GP Plouay, and Scheldeprijs. Despite a disappointing Tour de France he bounced back and ended the year with 20 victories. It's not always been the easiest of years though and the positive cocaine test for his Katusha ex-teammate, Luca Paolini, hogged the headlines in July.
Cyclingnews: This has been a hugely successful season for you on your road. Now that the dust has settled, how would you summarise your 2015 campaign?
Alexander Kristoff: I won 20 races and I had a perfect Classics season. I won during the whole year, more or less, but I missed out in the Tour and didn't win a stage there. To summarise the season, it was of course really good but there were of course some areas that could have been better.
CN: Was it a struggle to hold your form for so long? I remember seeing you at the start of the season and winning so comprehensively in Qatar. You were almost unbeatable there. You were successful in Belgium, were second in Milan-San Remo and then held form all the way until Roubaix, where you were tenth. It seemed like there was no let-up.
AK: I took a break after the Classics but then I started up again with the Tour of Norway and with that being in my home country I didn't want to be bad there so I trained hard for that.
I didn't have good feelings at the end of the Tour of Suisse and when I was at the Tour de France. I wasn't in a bad shape when I was at the Tour de France but I was maybe lacking that one or two per cent when everyone is at 100%. If you're not at your top shape then you're going to struggle against the best.
CN: You won the majority of your races within the first half of the year. Fifteen of your wins came before the Tour. What do you put that down to?
AK: There was more racing in the first part, so that's a factor. I didn't race that much in the second half of the year, so maybe I could have won in the Canadian races but it's hard for me in Quebec and Montreal. I had a lot more chances in the first half of the year. I was in really good shape at the start and won Plouay towards the end of the year so I wasn't in bad shape. I could have won in Hamburg too, I was second there but it's not easy to win every year.
CN: Looking forward to 2016, what lessons can you from this season?
AK: I've come into 2016 now full of confidence, especially for the Spring because I know that the programme that I have now over the winter really works. The Classics are my main goals and at the end, as a rider, that's where I get the more value and reward. I still want more results in the rest of the year but the Classics will be the main focus. I hope again that I can win a Monument but as a sprinter you've got to win more than one race in a year so we'll try and grab some sprints at the Tour as well.
CN: Is Roubaix the Spring classic you're targeting more than the rest?
AK: Roubaix might be the one I want most since I don't have it but Flanders are Milan-San Remo maybe suit me better. I've had better feelings in that race in the past but maybe that will change. I was top-ten in Paris-Roubaix last year and that's not a bad result, so there's room for me to improve but I've been up there. A big aim in my career is to one day win Paris-Roubaix. I'll still aim for the other spring Monuments and then we'll see.
CN: Going back to the start of this year, a lot of commentators looked at the signing of Jacopo Guarnieri as one of the main reasons for your success this year. He really seemed to tighten up your leadout. Is that true and if so, what role has he played for you?
AK: He's been really important. We still had Marco Haller from before but Jacopo has helped a lot but I think that even with two guys at the Tour we had the strongest leadout. They were able to put in the front nearly every time. That honestly gives me confidence for next season because we have [Michael] Morkov coming over from Tinkoff. Next year we should be even better.
CN: On the Tour, have you had a chance to look at the stages yet, and how many will suit you?
AK: I've not really seen the profiles for the flat stages yet. I've only seen the ones for the mountain stages at the Tour so far. This year I thought that I had more chances than I actually did, with more hilly stages than I thought there would be.
CN: And how do you rate yourself in the sprints when it comes to going up against riders like Cavendish, Greipel, and Kittel if he comes back?
AK: I know that I can beat them if I'm on a good day. If the lead out is right I can do it but I know that I need everything to be right. If the others make a mistake then I can beat them, and I've done that many times before, but maybe I'm a little bit slower than them. I see them as the fastest guys in the world but I'm not that far away. With a good preparation I can beat them, but I can also beat them in the Classics and that's something that they can't do. I have maybe a few more races to play on but in a pure sprint, man-to-man I will struggle.
CN: On the team situation, what has it been like without Paolini in the team for the second half the season?
AK: He was a big loss and one of our strongest riders for the Classics. He won many big races, including Gent-Wevelgem. It was one of his top career wins and also in some special race conditions. Since I've been at Katusha I've developed and he's really helped me get results. In Milan-San Remo he was pulling me to the line, so it's a loss that we don't have him. Of course you can't have people on party drugs in the pack either. We have to stay within the rules and you can't do what's not allowed.
CN: Were you surprised when the news broke about his positive for cocaine?
AK: I was surprised but I know that he was struggling to sleep at night and to wake up in the day. He maybe abused sleeping pills to get to sleep but I was shocked that he was taking cocaine but if you look at the guy maybe he was the type of guy who could have done this. But I had no idea before. After, maybe it wasn't such a big shock. I still don't think that he took it in the race.
CN: He was on sleeping medication as well?
AK: It's normal in the pack to have sleeping tablets. If you can't sleep you might have a muscle relaxer. Sometimes if you're having pain in the legs and you can't sleep. Normally we don't take but if you can't sleep then you must take it. I think he had more problems with this than others but I don't know if he took them every day. I think he took more than other guys.
CN: Have you spoken to him since the Tour?
AK: Not really. He's not really good with English. He's not asked for the B-sample, so for sure he knows that he's done something wrong. I don't really know how the case is going. I don't know if it's settled. I've not heard that much.
CN: On racing side, how are you going to replace him because he was such an important rider for you?
AK: It will be hard to replace him because he was a legend in these races and such a strong rider. Hopefully we can manage without him and we still have the rest of the group that was here this year.
CN: Katusha have set out the aim of becoming the best team in the world. How confident are you of that happening?
AK: We're not really far away this year. If we can do the same season again then it's possible. It will be hard to do better but if we can improve a little bit then it will be enough.