As André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) can both attest, the margin between victory and defeat has had a tendency to be agonisingly slim at this Tour de France, and on stage 16 Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was the latest to feel the despair of an unkind photo finish.
"Fuck, Fuck," he cried, bashing his handlebars as an announcer called out the name of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) in the aftermath of the draining sprint finish in Berne.
It was a close call in real time but one glance at the stills was enough to confirm the victor and, while the television cameras crowded around the world champion, Kristoff was left to reflect on a golden opportunity gone begging.
"I didn't see the line until it was too late," he pleaded with his soigneur, still panting from his effort. "I would have won it if I was looking up."
After getting his breath back, the Norwegian spoke to Cyclingnews and other reporters and explained his frustration, outlining how he let victory slip through his fingers.
"Normally I was first today but I saw the line a little bit too late and you can see at the finish I'm not even throwing my bike. It's a pity because normally I'd have it.
"It was a mistake from me because I was looking too long down and suddenly I look up and I was on the finish line."
The long stage to Berne was always likely to be a finely balanced affair, with cobbles and a sharp incline in the final kilometres but, despite a flurry of attacks, it came together for a sprint.
- Tour de France: Sagan wins in Berne
- Tour de France: Stage 16 finish line quotes
- Tour de France: Stage 16 highlights - Video
The difficulty of the finale put paid to the chances of the pure power sprinters like Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep), with the versatile likes of Kristoff, Sagan and Degenkolb coming to the fore. The margin for error in such circumstances is painfully tight, and in the end the efforts cost Kristoff that all-important bike throw.
"If I throw the bike I think I'd be in front," he said ruefully.
"It was very hard. For me it was a little bit too tough. I was on the limit for me so that's why I was not looking either because I was so on the limit. Suddenly I just sprinted with everything I had and I was past the line already.
"Normally I thought I should win today but I was too late throwing the bike and Sagan timed his throw perfectly."
Kristoff has had an underwhelming Tour de France so far, though he has shown signs of improving form in the last few days. Up until Saturday, his best stage result was fourth but, after finishing second behind Mark Cavendish in Villars-les-Dombes, he felt there were positives to take from his display in Berne, which he described as "a good sprint".
However, the question is - much like his bike throw - whether the top form has arrived too late.
"Now there's only one sprint left but it’s an easy one," he said regretfully, referring to the final stage in Paris, where the pure sprinters will re-emerge on the Champs Elysées.
Media type: Twitter
Media src: https://twitter.com/Kristoff87/status/755080529922449409
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