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NASEEM PARK, Oman (VN) — Three in the Tour of Qatar last week and one in the Tour of Oman on Thursday – Norwegian Alexander Kristoff is winning his way to his first big goal of the season, Milano-Sanremo.
Team Katusha’s sprinter won the third stage of the Tour of Oman this afternoon on a small road west of the capital city of Muscat. Sure, the big sprint stars, such as Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx–Quick-Step), were not present, but these desert roads serve as tune-ups for the big classics, which start with Italy’s Milano-Sanremo, March 19, exactly one month away.
“Of course everyone knows some of the best sprinters are not here. That puts the pressure on us and makes our job even more difficult because everyone waits for us to lead the race,” Kristoff’s lead-out man Michael Morkov told VeloNews.
“We take a lot of confidence out of these races. We are boosting our morale here because it’s good to arrive to the bigger races with some victories in the pocket.”
Kristoff should be confident because Morkov and Jurgen Van den Broeck came to the Russian team only this year, and both men helped in the lead-out this afternoon. And he kept cool under fire when he lost his Italian lead-out ace, Jacopo Guarnieri, due to a puncture with five kilometers remaining. Marco Haller picked up the slack and worked a double shift until Morkov took over to lead Kristoff to the final 300 meters.
The same thinking-on-your-feet dynamic will be required in Milano-Sanremo. A sprinter rarely arrives off the Poggio climb with many helpers to lead him to the line, 2.3 kilometers later.
“We mixed it up today, but we worked a lot on this in training so we can mix it up,” Kristoff said after podium duties and speaking with television reporters both in English and Norwegian. “It gives me confidence to see the team working so well. Then I trust them even more, even if I had no doubts in my teammates. To see that everything is working, it gives you even more trust.”
Such a confidence boost could worry his rivals because Kristoff already wore the king’s crown in 2015 with his wins in the Three Days of De Panne, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Scheldeprijs. The Ronde (Tour of Flanders) counted as monument victory number two after he won a small bunch sprint in Sanremo the year prior.
“He going to gain a lot of self-confidence from these races, which is always important,” fellow Norwegian and Tour of Oman race leader Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) said. “Anytime you win, it’s good for yourself, the team, and … everyone.”
It is also good for the bookies, who rate Kristoff on SkyBet as the likely man to win Sanremo. Kristoff is going off at 450 to win, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) at 500, and Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) at 1000.
Kristoff beat Cavendish and other sprinters three times to win in Qatar last week. After Oman, where he already won once, he will travel home to Stavanger, Norway, ahead of his first European races, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, February 27 and 28. Though some consider Omloop to be a mini Flanders, Kristoff explained that it is not important for him. His big goals are the monuments, starting with Milano-Sanremo. After today, another monument victory feels that much more possible within camp Katusha.