Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) won the bunch sprint to the line at the Tour of Flanders, but the result for the Norwegian would only be fourth place. Set back by illness, the defending champion has struggled in the past week so took some pride and confidence from it, despite missing out on the podium.
Kristoff had to dig deep to make it into the large chasing group, which was the third one on the road, and it took him several minutes before he was able to say anything at the finish. With his arms on his handlebars and a small can of coca cola clutched in his hand, he caught his breath as a group of Norwegian journalists, and Cyclingnews, stood a respectful distance away until he finally looked up, ready to talk.
“I’m pretty happy, the team worked really well and put me in a good position but in the end, it was the legs,” he said in English, after fielding questions from his native press. “I knew that it would be hard to follow guys like Sagan and Cancellara in the climbs, and I was right. I could not anticipate their moves, and I was a little bit dropped on the Kwaremont. Me and Luke Rowe managed to bridge across on the Paterberg, so I could sprint for a good result, and I took the sprint for fourth place, so I’m pretty satisfied.”
This time last year, Kristoff was riding a wave of success but the build-up to his title defence has not been that easy. The first signs that there was something wrong was Paris-Nice, but it was highlighted more so when he was dropped at E3 Harelbeke last Friday. Kristoff was then forced to miss Gent-Wevelgem because of illness.
Kristoff had one last chance to close the gap to his rivals by racing at the Three days of De Panne. He took an impressive victory on day one, but he later struggled in the sprints in the subsequent stages and would eventually lose his overall race lead to Lieuwe Westra in the final time trial. There were some signs of improvement in his form, but Kristoff knew that he faced a tough task at Flanders.
“I knew it would be hard to be among the best in the climbs. I felt not super actually in the last days, even in De Panne I was suffering even if I had some good results, the level was a little bit lower than here, so I knew it was going to be hard,” said Kristoff. “I think that it cannot be too bad when you finish fourth you are in ok shape.”
Kristoff will move on to his next title defence at Scheldeprijs before the final race of the cobbled Classics, Paris-Roubaix. Kristoff’s record at Paris-Roubaix does not match up to what he has done at the Tour of Flanders in previous years. In comparison to the victory of last year and three more top five finishes, Kristoff’s best performance at Paris-Roubaix is ninth. Even in his pomp last year, he could only manage 10th, but he has higher hopes this time around.
“Hopefully, it can get a little bit better for next week and maybe I can get the podium in Roubaix, that’s the goal,” he said. “I think there’s a chance for sure but I never really liked Roubaix as much as I liked Flanders so I always have a little bit of a worse feeling in Roubaix, but hopefully that will change this year.”
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