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PARIS, France (VN) — You can’t blame Alexander Kristoff for having doubts.
In recent years the big Norwegian has become the almost man of WorldTour sprints. Check Kristoff’s results page on Procyclingstats.com, and count up all of the second- and third-place finishes from the past three seasons. There’s a lot.
Kristoff has seen those results too. In recent years, he began to wonder whether he would ever win a Tour de France stage again. He had his doubts.
So when Kristoff won Sunday’s stage on the Champs Elysees, the doubts seemed to melt, at least for a moment. Known for his stern, serious demeanor, Kristoff beamed as he greeted fans at his UAE-Team Emirates team bus.
“I won two [Tour de France] times in the same year  and then I had second and third place finishes, but I never won,” Kristoff told VeloNews. “To finally get a victory is huge, and a relief, because I was fearing I would only get the two victories.”
Prior to Sunday Kristoff racked up multiple close calls at this year’s Tour de France. Even after the race’s top sprinters left the race—Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel were time cut, and Fernando Gaviria, Andrei Greipel, and Dylan Groenewegen dropped out—Kristoff could not win. Peter Sagan and Arnaud Demare seemed to have the fastest kick and relegated Kristoff to second and third.
The successive losses wore on the Norweigian. He was visibly upset after losing a close sprint to Sagan during the 13th stage into Valence.
So how did Kristoff keep the faith that he might win?
“When you’re top three, you know that if you’re a bit lucky, you can win,” he said. “It’s just to wait for somebody to make a mistake. Now, some guys did make a mistake in the mountains and didn’t manage to finish. I knew I was among the fastest, I just had to do the right things.”
Indeed, Kristoff’s most right thing was likely avoiding crashes in the Pyrenees. A crash on stage 17 sapped Sagan of his traditional fast kick for the final two sprints. The three-time world champion lost stage 18 into Pau after failing to truly contest the kick. On Sunday Sagan had his Bora-Hansgrohe team ride the front in the waning kilometers to set him up for the win. In the kick to the line, Sagan was well off the pace.
That opened the door for Kristoff.
“To come here and finally succeed is special, especially when it’s on the Champs,” he said.
Kristoff said he won’t let the victory inflate his ego. He knows that his victory has roots in the historic attrition of sprinters during this year’s race.
Making it to the finish line, however, is an important skill required to win on cycling’s most famous road.
“I still think Groenewegen, Greipel, Gaviria, there are a few faster guys than me,” he said. “I know that when the race is hard, or guys are tired, I still usually have a good sprint. I can beat them at the end of a three-week race. I am still fast.”