When Team Katusha manager Viatcheslav Ekimov laid out his strategy for 2014, he indicated that his star Grand Tour contender Joaquim Rodriguez would focus on the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España and for the Tour de France, the team would go after stage wins and the green jersey, the latter with Norwegian sprinter Alexander Kristoff.
The 26-year-old Olympic bronze medalist has made great strides since joining the Russian team in 2012: in his second Giro appearance, he was in the top 10 on six different sprint stages, coming second to Mark Cavendish on stage 13. He beat Peter Sagan in a sprint to win stage 5 of this year's Tour de Suisse, and had a strong year in the Classics, finishing fourth in the Tour of Flanders, fifth in the Scheldeprijs and ninth in Paris-Roubaix.
In his first Tour de France this year, he was in the top 10 six times, narrowly missing the stage in on the chaotic opening stage to Marcel Kittel in Bastia.
Kristoff welcomed the opportunity to fight for the green jersey in next year's race. "It is really a vote of confidence when they say they will focus so hard on me in the biggest race during the season," Kristoff said to Procycling.no. "I hope I manage to meet it. I was close to stage victories this year, and it will be my main goal next year."
Although Kristoff only ended up fifth overall in the points classification, with jersey winner Peter Sagan racking up twice the number of points as him, he still has confidence he can challenge for the title, especially since most of the riders on this year's Tour team were geared toward helping Rodriguez in the overall classification.
"If the team hopes that I'll take the green jersey, it must also build a team towards that goal," Kristoff said. "Then I will have many strong riders around me. I am motivated for the points competition, and I think it is possible to win it. Sagan was quite superb this year, so I have to take more points on harder stages next year."
"What we may lack is a man with experience to manage the lead-out, riders like Bernhard Eisel or Danilo Hondo. Had we had that experience in the team, we would had been up there, but we will work with what we have," Kristoff said.
Kristoff expects to ride a calendar similar to this year's in 2014. The team has already had one training camp, and will gather in Girona, Spain next week before riders head home for the holidays.