ODDA, Norway (VN) — Two-time national champion Alexander Kristoff is currently right where he belongs, enjoying the adulation of thousands of adoring fans in his native Norway while starting in a pair of home-grown UCI European Tour races in the lead-up to what matters most to the 29-year-old from Stavenger — road worlds.
The 2012 Olympic bronze medalist who is most renown for winning both Milano-San Remo (2014) and the Tour of Flanders (2015), said prior to his stage 2 win at the Tour of Fjords on Thursday he has fully recovered from an illness he contracted following the Tour de France in July and hopes he can continue to build that form en route to the men’s elite road race at the Doha worlds next month.
“I feel quite good right now,” the Katusha rider said. “But it will be hard to hold this shape all the way to worlds. I am doing Eneco Tour in the middle of September, so I will build up to that and then try to hold the shape to Qatar.
“It’s still a long season and it’s a little bit risky to hold it so long, but I hope I can manage.”
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The six-time stage winner and two-time points champion at the Tour of Qatar, who finished second on general classification last year after finishing third the year before, is hoping his good fortune along the Persian Gulf will help him improve on his fourth-place finish last year in Richmond.
“I’ve gone really well the past two years in Qatar,” said Kristoff. “If the crosswinds kick up, it will open up the race.
“Then I feel like classic riders may have the advantage, so guys from Belgium or Norway can be really strong there.”
While this year’s route is predominantly flat, providing pure sprinters like Germany’s André Greipel (Lotto – Soudal) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx – Quick-Step) the best chance for success, Kristoff is confident in Norway’s numbers advantage.
“I was surprised we got nine guys for worlds,” he explained. “It was better than I expected and now we can have a strategy for the whole race.
“My goal there is to win,” Kristoff continued. “Usually it will come to a big sprint and it will be difficult against the highest level of competition, like the big names from Germany, however they only have six.
“At least they have some really hard sprinters, but now they don’t have a really good team around them, which could play into our favor.”
According to Kristoff, Doha may just give him his best chance to win the coveted rainbow jersey, even though his homeland hosts the event in 2017.
The two-time Tour de France stage winner has already had a taste of next year’s parcours — albeit a bittersweet one. Kristoff found himself surrounded by his Katusha teammates on the pointy end of the peloton, chasing down a dwindling break on the opening stage of Fjords.
However, a course error caused by a lack of signage and traffic controllers unintentionally forced the majority of the bunch to take a wrong turn — including Kristoff — and allowed a small advantageous group led by Australian Leigh Howard (IAM Cycling) to take an unexpected detour all the way to the podium.
While Howard’s win stands, UCI commissaires made the decision on the following day to neutralize the field and give all riders the same time apart from earned bonus seconds.
Kristoff’s first encounter with the final portion of the newly revised 151km course was not a successful one, however he is still quite happy with his form on the day and feels strongly a Norwegian could take the title on home soil — even if that native son is not him.
“It’s challenging,” he said of the rain-drenched circuit, which featured three arduous climbs that will be traversed seven times (down from 11) on the day.
“The climb is maybe not so hard, but it’s really technical. I don’t know how big the chance of rain will be when the time comes to race, but in Bergen it’s a pretty big chance and when it’s dry.
“Personally, I was surprised because of the level of each hill, but still with the best riders in the world expected on the start, the climb will be really tough,” Kristoff admitted.
“However, we have strong guys like Edvald Boasson Hagen, who can follow the best riders on the climbs, so for Norway it will be a good course and I am confident in our chances.”
Aaron S. Lee is a pro cycling and triathlon journalist at Eurosport and contributor to Velonews.