Battered, blistered and covered in mud, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) rolled to a halt inside the Roubaix velodrome in front of the pack of waiting Norwegian media. He may have been one of only two riders from his nation competing in the Paris-Roubaix but the number of journalists certainly made up for it.
Kristoff was the undeniable favourite in the build-up to Paris-Roubaix, after taking six victories in just over a week. Kristoff did win the sprint, however, it was only for 10th place and not the top step on the podium. After a commanding couple of weeks it showed that Kristoff was still human and while he would have clearly liked to be taking the plaudits on the podium, he would be going home happy and with a suitcase full of silverware.
“It would have been great to win here but we had a great classics campaign and I think that maybe we had the best classics campaign of all the classics teams,” said Kristoff, still panting from his efforts in the velodrome. “Degenkolb is a great rider and he showed that today. He’s a strong rider and he deserved the victory, chapeau to him. I wasn’t strong enough today to follow those guys.”
Despite being labelled as the man to beat prior to the race, Kristoff played it down pointing out that he had never finished in the front group at Paris-Roubaix before. The Norwegian fared better than he did last year, avoiding any serious incident and keeping his nose relatively clean. There were a few worrying moments when he missed the split in the crosswinds between sectors 14 and 13. He made it back on and was in the key group when the moves started happening but there was nothing he could do about it.
“I didn’t really follow so many attacks because I was on the limit there at the end. I don’t like the flat cobbles as much as those on the climbs so I knew it would be a difficult day for me. Still in the end I felt I did a pretty good race but still I was missing something to be among the best,” he said. “I am pleased with the day. I would have liked it with some teammates at the end, but do not know if it would have made any difference.
“Regardless of what the media was saying that I would win, in my mind I always felt it would be a surprise if I won here today. In my previous years at Roubaix I was never too close but today I felt I was not too far away.”
There was some controversy for Kristoff as he was among the riders that rode under the barriers at a level crossing, as it unexpectedly descended on the peloton. A large number of riders made it through before the rest were finally stopped with a train passing through moments later. The riders that did make it through sat up and waited - under the instruction of the commissaires - for their fellow riders to make it back to the bunch.
“It was a bit on the limit and I was a bit far behind, so I crawled under the boom. I checked that it was clear, and the train was still a good distance away,” Kristoff said of the incident. While riding through barriers like that is banned under the UCI regulations, the commissaires decided not to punish any of the riders that rode through saying that it was not possible to identify many of the riders in the group.
After a hugely successful and busy classics campaign, Kristoff will now take a full week off the bike before he begins his preparation for the Tour de France in July.