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Milan-San Remo: Kristoff ready to retake his title

Cyclingnews will have live coverage of Milan-San Remo from 8am GMT on Saturday, March 19.

With defending champion John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) set to miss Saturday’s Milan-San Remo while he recovers from a pre-season training crash, 2014 winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) comes into the first monument of 2016 as the last rider to have won in San Remo.

The 28-year-old Norwegian sprinter has shown top form so far this season, dominating the sprint finishes at the Tour of Qatar on his way to winning the general classification there, and then adding two more sprint wins at the Tour of Oman.

Kristoff won the field sprint at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, but a clever solo move by Trek-Segafredo’s Jasper Stuyven meant Kristoff and the others were racing for second. Last week in Paris-Nice, Kristoff narrowly missed out on adding more victories to his 2016 palmares, winning the field sprint to take second on stage 5 but twice finishing fourth in the bunch gallops.

However, Kristoff said his lack of stage wins last week in France does not cause him any concern for his chances on Saturday, in Italy.

“I didn’t win any [Paris-Nice] stages in 2014 when I won here, so maybe it’s good luck for me,” he said Friday in Milan.

“I feel my condition is good and I did everything I could. I had a good season start and I performed OK in Paris-Nice, so I did what I should.”

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Following an inauspicious start in his first attempt at Milan-San Remo in 2012, when he finished 112th, Kristoff has never finished outside the top 10 since. He was eighth in 2013, first in 2014 and second to Degenkolb last year.

“But for sure for me it depends also a lot on how the race unfolds,” he said on Friday. “The last two years when I was good there was also quite a big group coming into the final, and, for example, when Cancellara won he won solo, so then I would have no chance. So it depends on how the race goes. I know I will have a chance, but I must also be a little bit lucky.”

Kristoff appeared to be on the way to his second Milan-San Remo title last year when teammate Luca Paolini dropped him off on the Via Roma in sight of the finish. But Kristoff fell just short as he faded near the end of the sprint and Degenkolb surged past. Kristoff said on Friday that he’s learned from his mistake.

“It was quite a hard sprint, and last year I got a little bit too early on the front,” he said. “Luca did a great job, but he was a little bit too tired to bring me all the way and then I had to start early. I don’t want to start too early this year. We will see."

Milan-San Remo is unique in several ways; at nearly 300km it is by far the longest of the Classics, and the hilly nature of the final kilometres mean the race is never a done deal for the sprinters.

Nevertheless, teams will likely be looking at Kristoff’s Katusha squad to take responsibility for welding the race together and bring him to the finish. But he acknowledged on Friday that there should be plenty of teams with the same incentives to work early.

“For sure we want to contribute to the control, but with many favourites it is not just the sprinters’ teams that have to control the race,” he said. “Because for sure Cancellara, Greg [Van Avermaet], Sagan wants to win this race also, so they must also control the race or else they will not have a chance if the breakaway goes in.

“I think there will be a few teams with one guy each controlling in the start, and then for sure it will be a big fight in the climbs in the end.”

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