Alexander Kristoff's consistency this week at the Three Days of De Panne was rewarded on Thursday, the Katusha sprinter snagging his first win of the season, and importantly building his momentum towards Sunday's Tour of Flanders.
The Norwegian had finished third behind Peter Sagan (Cannondale) on the opening stage and was fifth on stage 2. Just as he had last year, Kristoff was in the overall lead heading into the final stage time trial this afternoon, but it was not a mantle he believed that he would retain with the likes of defending champion Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) just 10 seconds in arrears.
Guided into third wheel on the final right-hand bend by German teammates Rüdiger Selig, Kristoff never looked like being challenged, despite having to begin his sprint with 300 metres to go.
"I see on my wheel they are coming but I had a little bit of kick and managed to keep them off so I'm really happy," he said.
Kristoff was eighth in Milan - San Remo and then followed that up with two top-20 results at Dwars Door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem last week, giving Katusha another genuine card to play along with Luca Paolini against the so-called "super teams" expected to dominate the Ronde.
"For Luca, Sunday is very important so he did this [De Panne] more for training," Kristoff said. "For me, also Sunday is important but I know I can make results here. Results are always important so that's why I go for the stages and hope to win and I managed to do it today so I'm very pleased."
The 25-year-old will take on the Tour of Flanders, the Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix next week, but it's the first race that the former Norwegian road champion is targeting, believing it's better suited to his abilities. Fifteenth in 2012, Kristoff believes good fortune certainly contributed to the result, regardless of similar form in the lead up.
"I was very lucky," he said. "I was dropped 20 times so I hope I can manage to stay in the first group. I know it's a very tough race and I need to be very strong and also have some luck I think to manage that.
"Roubaix is a little bit harder, all the time," Kristoff said. "In Flanders you can rest a little bit on the downhill so for my type of muscles it's a little bit better when I go maximum but then rest the maximum. I hope also to be better in Roubaix [57th] but we'll see. Both races are very hard."
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