Second place behind Mark Cavendish in Villars-les-Dombes was Alexander Kristoff's best Tour de France result since his stage 15 win at the 2014 edition of the race in Nîmes. The Norwegian was eighth on the opening stage in Utah Beach, and has improved as the race has gone in with top-five results in Limoges, Montauban and Montpellier.
"It was close. My teammates, first Angel Vicioso, then Marco Haller and Jacopo Guarnieri did good work to bring me to the front. We did just as we'd planned, but unfortunately I had Degenkolb between me and Cavendish and that was just a little too much for me to close in the last 150 meters. I didn't find an opening to go before that point," Kristoff said of the stage finish.
Kristoff explained that in a head-to-head sprint with Cavendish, the Data Dimension rider holds an edge and he needed a more selective finale to get the better of the now 30 time stage winner.
"I felt very strong and I was coming at the end because of the head wind. If I had timed it a little bit better maybe I could have fought really close with Cav, but he’s won a lot of sprints here and you can see he's in really good shape," said Kristoff who has won seven races so far in 2016. "It's hard to beat him on a day like today. I hope we have another chance in two days in Bern. Usually if it's a stage where I can barely survive, I still come up with a good sprint, so today was a little bit too easy for me but we tried our best and we almost made it. My teammates did a really, really good job. Cavendish was just a little bit better than me. I cannot complain."
The 29-year-old, full of praise for Cavendish, added it was good to be fighting for the stage win and will look to Berne for his next opportunity on stage 16.
"I'm happy to finish second but for sure I was hoping to win," he said. "He's [Cavendish] had 30 victories here in the Tour de France so chapeau to him. It's incredible what he's done in the Tour. I did a good sprint but I know when we come to these type sprints and these guys are not tired, it's tough for me to beat them. The guys did very good work for me today. I really appreciate what they did for me. It was a good team effort. I almost had him. It was close today and my shape is good. Maybe in two days I will have another chance."
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Kristoff is missing key leadout man Michael Morkov who was forced to abandon the race after a crash on stage 1 with Jacopo Guarnieri and Marco Haller on double duty for the spring finales. With a strong headwind a feature throughout the stage and a finish which suited the better organised teams, Guarnieri explained that Cavendish was simply too good on the day and echoed Kristoff's comments that the stage 16 finish in Berne will be better suited to Katusha.
"I think we are headed in the right direction. We still have two sprints and I think in Berne is good for us, so hopefully we can all come together to the finish. I've been working for two years with Alex and we've found a good combination that works," said the Italian.
"We have to play it a little differently here because Mørkøv is missing, but I think we're doing a job we can be proud of. We have not won yet, but if you are giving 100% and you are sure about yourself, you can be happy. It's the Tour de France – it's the most challenging race we have in the year. Being here in the front of the race is important and we are on the way to getting a win."
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