It has been five years since Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) didn't finish in the top five at the Tour of Flanders. The Norwegian continued his extremely consistent run with fifth place in Sunday's race, despite being dropped by several of the favourites on the Taaienberg with 36 kilometres still to run.
Kristoff and those around him had to make good use of the 13 kilometres between the final climb of the Paterberg and the finish line in Oudenaarde. They brought back the group ahead with just a few kilometres remaining, allowing Kristoff to use his sprinting prowess to earn yet another spot in the top five. The result was tinged with a mixture of pleasure and disappointment.
"I've been in the top five for many years now and to keep that statistic is nice," Kristoff said at the finish. "I was hoping for a bit more when I was in the group in front, but when Gilbert went I couldn't follow, and on the Taaienberg when Sagan and Van Avermaet went I could not follow either, even if I was feeling quite good.
"To follow the best, I don't have that level right now but to follow the second best I can do that and then I can take the sprint, so if we could just catch a few more guys then we could have fought for the podium places, but fifth place I must be happy.”
Kristoff was one of the 14 riders that broke clear of the peloton following an upping of the pace from Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors) with over 90 kilometres to the line. Kristoff had not expected it, but he was still ready for it and it was an opportunity for him to get the jump on the likes of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing).
"I was a little bit surprised, but then I was thinking it could go far but they caught us just after the Paterberg the first time," he explained. "I had been hoping that we could get to the Kruisberg without Sagan and Van Avermaet, but then they came before the Taaienberg and I always suffer before there. They attacked and I didn't have the level to follow."
Katusha had gone in with two potential leaders, with Tony Martin also earning protected status within their eight-man line-up. However, Martin was one of 77 riders that didn't make it all the way to Oudenaarde. On balance, Katusha directeur sportif Torsten Schmidt was relatively happy with how the day had panned out for the team.
"I'm very happy with Alexander. He really fought today from the Muur to the finish line, about 100 kilometres with the group of favourites," he told Cyclingnews. "He earned his fifth place. To be fifth at Ronde van Vlaanderen is great and there was a really great fight a few kilometres from the finish line when they caught the group for place five.
"It's nice to see how they fought. With Tony, in E3 Harelbeke we were in a group with Tony and today it was Alex. I hope for next week that we will be with both riders in the group."
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