Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) never expected to be battling it out for victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but a mechanical problem late in the race finally put paid to any lingering chance of a high finish.
The Norwegian, who said at the start line in Gent that he would be “a bit surprised” if he went on to top the podium, saw his rear wheel lock up with around 35 kilometres to go, as the Etixx-QuickStep-led peloton was trying to reel in the race-winning group.
“Just before [the cobbled sector of] Harghoeke somebody broke my back wheel, so I had to stop because it wasn’t turning. From that point my race was over,” Kristoff told Cyclingnews.
“I knew if I had some sort of problem it would be difficult because I felt quite on the limit, but I still managed to stay in the group. When it happened it was over.”
Kristoff didn’t react to the race-winning move, made by Luke Rowe on the Taaienberg with 57 kilometres remaining, and had a relatively quiet day in the middle of the bunch until his mechanical.
The race came on the back of another remarkable start to the season for the Katusha rider, with three wins at the Tour of Qatar and two at the Tour of Oman. Despite the strong start, and despite being “not super happy” to have missed the crucial move, he insists he did not arrive in Belgium this weekend in top form – as was the case last year – and that he is just gearing up for the bigger one-day races to come.
“The legs were OK, but I’ve never felt really good here,” he acknowledged. “I was good last year before this race and I was still only 11th here.
“It comes nearly a month before the moment when you’re supposed to be in top form. Usually Paris-Nice is where I get really in shape and I hope it’s like that again this year.”
Kristoff will line up tomorrow at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the more sprinter-friendly affair where he was second behind Mark Cavendish last year. After a relatively quiet day in the middle of the bunch, he was more optimistic about his chances.
“We’ll see tomorrow. I saved some energy today, so hopefully tomorrow will be better. It’s better suited for me, so I hope I can do well.”