WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) has started Gent-Wevelgem as a top favorite multiple times in recent years, only to see late attackers snatch the race from the sprinters. This Sunday, the race did go to the sprinters, but Kristoff wasn’t there to fight for the win.
The two-time monument winner was in with a chance as the peloton rolled into the last 40 kilometers of the 251-kilometer event. He says he was feeling good about his odds leading into the race finale, but when the pack split on the final climb of the Kemmelberg, Kristoff found himself on the wrong side of a gap.
“I was expecting to be there. I didn’t miss [by] much. It was maybe one car length after the Kemmelberg. But this car length got to two car lengths and then four car lengths. And then at the end, it was around a minute,” Kristoff told VeloNews after the race.
Kristoff attempted to close the gap alongside a few other riders who had just missed out on the critical split. He spent plenty of time taking pulls at the front of the small chase group, but his efforts did not bear fruit, with Quick-Step Floors pushing a hard tempo up ahead and a few other riders applying pressure to the lead group with attacks.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan ultimately sprinted to the victory, his first on European soil this season, ahead of Quick-Step Floor’s Elia Viviani. Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) rounded out the day’s podium in third place.
Kristoff finished the race just over a minute behind the leaders.
“It was a pity I didn’t have the legs just to take that one second on the downhill or the flat after the downhill,” he said. “It wasn’t only me. I was Tony Martin and Daniel Oss and some Astana, the two Danish guys were there. We lacked just a little bit of energy to come back.”
With E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem in the books, Kristoff has little to show for his efforts on the cobbles so far this year. That’s been a recurring theme for the Norwegian since a terrific 2015 classics campaign that saw him win the Tour of Flanders. In the meantime, he has still managed to rack up results in WorldTour events outside the spring, but success in Flanders has proven elusive.
Kristoff was not happy with the way Sunday played out, but he doesn’t think he has far to go to get back to classics contention ahead of next weekend’s Tour of Flanders.
“[My top form] is not far away, and I know that if I had been in the first group for sure I would have had an OK result. It’s a pity I did not make it, but I was close, and that gives a little bit of confidence,” Kristoff said. “This result was not good – I was expecting more of myself – but I know if I were maybe two positions more in front entering the Kemmelberg I would have been there. But that’s life.”
In Kristoff’s eyes, the best way to get closer to the kind of shape he needs to get back into the battle for De Ronde is to keep racing on the cobblestones. Fortunately for him, Kristoff has one more date with the pavé before Belgium’s biggest one-day race kicks off in Antwerp.
“I think with what I’ve shown this weekend I’m not the favorite for Flanders, but I will also do Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday and I hope that will get my level higher,” he said.
“I need to get better overall. I think this will help me. Today was a hard day, a long day, and I also expect a hard day on Wednesday. Hopefully, my form is coming.”