Go big or go home. That seems to be Alexander Kristoff’s mantra for 2015. The Katusha rider is setting himself big goals for next year, as he targets a second Milan-San Remo victory, the green jersey at the Tour de France and the rainbow jersey of the World Championships.
"I will try to win and it would be a dream come true to win the World Championships. You can't win everything though. We will try to win everything, but we will see," Kristoff told Cyclingnews at the team’s training camp in Calpe.
Kristoff has come off the back of a stellar season that saw him scoop up wins in some of the biggest races of the year, including Milan-San Remo. "Last year was an incredible season where I had 14 victories, a monument and two victories in the Tour," he said. "I know that I am now one of the best in the world, maybe not the best in the world but I can get results in some of the biggest races. It's nice to be one of the guys who can be one of the favourites in the biggest races."
Kristoff and his Katusha team arrived in Calpe on Monday for their December training camp where the year's targets will be set down. It has already been confirmed that he will start his year at the Tour of Qatar. He doesn't expect much, in fact he categorically says he won't win there, but he says that the flat-out racing is a perfect tune up to the battle that is the Classics.
The Norwegian has big ideas about what he'd like to achieve next year, and first up will be the defence of his Milan-San Remo title. The defence has been made somewhat easier by RCS deciding to scrap the Pompeiana for 2015. The switch back to the finish on the Via Roma could provide a stumbling block for him, but Kristoff is altogether happy with the new – or should that be old – route.
"That [finish] is the difficult part because maybe there are more attacks on the Poggio," he said. "It will be exciting though because anyone can win. It could come from an attack or a sprint, you never really know. It's nice also for the public to watch it on the television also. I always loved to watch San Remo because you never know what will happen in the end."
The Belgian and French cobbles of Flanders and Roubaix are also a big pull for the 27-year-old. Aside from a bad-luck stricken 2014 Roubaix - where a puncture in the Arenberg was just the beginning of his woes – Kristoff has generally performed well on the pavé. Despite being San Remo champion, it is the Flemish cobbles that have the heart of Kristoff.
"I don't know why but I think that is the race that suits me best. I actually feel better on these short climbs on the cobbles," said Kristoff. "I always liked Flanders and I always raced better there, although I can't say that now that I have won San Remo, but I think Flanders last year was my best year. I've never raced so strong before. I hope I can make a podium or win Flanders one day."
Katusha's Grand Tour schedule has been up for debate of late, with rumours spreading that Kristoff would head to Italy for the Giro, while Joaquim Rodríguez would target the Tour's GC. The team denied that this was true and Kristoff says that he will join his Spanish teammate at the Tour de France in July. Last month Kristoff told Norwegian media that he wanted to have a Tour team designed around him but he told Cyclingnews that he believes the team will be able to split their ambitions.
"It will be good for both of us because if one of us isn't good then the other can take a bit more of the pressure," he said. "As long as he has a really strong climber like Moreno so that he is not alone, I think it will be ok. For sure we will need some hybrid guy who can fight on the flat stages and the climbs but he must be a strong guy because it will be difficult for him."
Katusha will have to manage not just Kristoff's stage ambitions but a potential tilt at the green jersey. Peter Sagan has dominated the competition for the past three years but a change in the rules means that all bets could be off come July. The new points system will see stage winners rewarded much more than they have been in the past and Kristoff thinks that it could allow for a much more open competition.
"With the new rules I think it will be exciting. I don't think it will just be me or Sagan, I think [Mark] Cavendish and [Marcel] Kittel will also be there, it depends who gets the most victories," he explained. "If Kittel can win four stages then he suddenly has the green jersey. I look forward to see what the changes do to the classification in the end."
Kristoff will be joined by a Norwegian teammate for the first time since he joined the Katusha team in 2012. Under-23 World Champion Sven Erik Bystrøm signed for the Russian outfit as a stagiaire back in August and will make his full-time debut with the team and Kristoff at the Tour of Qatar. It was actually Kristoff who drew the team's attention to the 22-year-old, and his insistence was vindicated when Bystrøm claimed victory in Ponferrada.
"I told the team last year that I had a good training mate at home and he was almost as strong as me, maybe not in the sprint but for the rest. So I said that they should have him and then they signed him, and a few months later he won the World Championships. I felt quite smart that I had recommended him," he laughed.
The pair regularly train together when their at home in Norway and having a fellow countryman in the team provides a certain amount of comfort to Kristoff. Similar programmes throughout 2015 means that the two will be able to work together more, something that Kristoff is happy about.
"It's good because, ok I can sprint but I need to be pushed in the climbs, and he can do it at home in training and I must suffer to stay in the wheel and that makes me stronger. Maybe that is why I was able to get over the Poggio this year. Now I can train with him more this year because we have almost the same programme."
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