This spring, it seems that nearly every time Alexander pins on a race number, he wins, and that’s just what happened (again) at Scheldeprijs in Belguim on Wednesday.
The Norwegian sprinter, riding for an ascendant Katusha team, delivered his trademark long-range sprint to grind the other sprinters into the ground.
“It’s really fun when you have the shape,” Kristoff said. “You better use it because it’s not going to last forever.
“We [Katusha] started out really well with Gent-Wevelgem, and we’ve won nearly everything since.”
This time, the final sprint was contested by a small group, due to a major crash in the final kilometer. Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) was second, and Yauheni Hutarovich (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) finished third.
“We came maybe a little bit too far with two, one kilometer to go,” Kristoff said, speaking of his team. “They did a great job to bring me back to the front. The last 500 meters, I was in perfect position. I felt a little bit tired. I was not really sure, but at the end, I saw no one could come by.”
Seven riders from a panoply of teams made the early break, 31km into the 200km race. Laurens De Vreese (Astana), Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Matteo Busato (Southeast), Kenneth Van Bilsen (Cofidis), Vincent Jerome (Europcar), Huub Duyn (Roompot), and Tanner Putt (UnitedHealthcare) could never stretch the gap much farther than about 4:30.
The peloton was intent on bringing back the escape. Tinkoff-Saxo and Katusha both worked hard late in the race, and the gap neared 1:30 with 45 kilometers remaining.
With 40 kilometers left, Martin Mortensen (Cult Energy) attacked the field on a cobblestone section. Though he was soon caught, the excitement brought the break’s gap down to one minute.
Again, on the cobbles, one lap later, De Vreese attacked from the break, sensing the closing peloton, which was only 24 seconds behind, led by Katusha.
The Astana rider didn’t get a gap. But the break picked up the pace, enough so that it had a 37-second gap heading into the final lap of racing. With 10 kilometers left, the leaders clung to a 26-second gap.
De Vreese attacked again with 7.2km left, shattering the breakaway group. Only Duyn could bridge the gap.
The desperate duo was caught with 4.1km to go.
Etixx-Quick-Step then fired up its sprint train. Katusha and Sky were also present at the front.
With one kilometer left, Katusha moved up to position Kristoff.
Shortly after the red flag, Tom Van Asbroeck (LottoNL-Jumbo) bumped against Andrea Guardini (Astana), about 15 wheels back, causing a major crash in the middle of the peloton.
But at the front, the lead-out did not relent, and FDJ took the reins
As is customary, Kristoff wound up his sprint early on the approach to the line.
Though Danny van Poppel (Trek Factory Racing) tried to jump off the Norwegian’s wheel, neither he, or anyone else in the mix, could challenge Kristoff.
After winning his fifth race in less than 10 days, Kristoff was modest about his chances at Paris-Roubaix, this coming Sunday. “I hope I can keep this winning streak going, but Roubaix is different race. I’ve struggled there before, but I will try,” he said.
“It’s the last race this period for me, so I might as well give it my all, and I can rest after.”