For the 105th edition of the Tour de France, the Grand Départ is scheduled for July seventh in Noirmoutier-en-l’Îlle. This first stage is likely to have a bunch sprint finish in Fontenay-le-Comte, perfect for the likes of Marcel Kittel, André Greipel, Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish and Alexander Kristoff.
When I caught up with Kristoff in his home town Stavanger during the Hammer Series, he told me he was excited for his favourite Grand Tour.
“I’m really looking forward to this year’s edition of the Tour de France.
“Everyone dreams of winning a stage there, but I’m optimistic. It’s my goal for the season,” he said.
“I have my eyes on a few stages already. The first one is definitely one for the sprinters,” he continued.
The Norwegian Classics expert, 30, already has two stage wins from the prestigious tour from several years back, in 2014.
Despite last season’s win in the European road race Championship, Kristoff’s past couple of years have to a certain degree been characterized by ‘almosts’ when it comes to the major events.
Nothing is more representative of this than his photo finish loss to Sagan in the World Championship road race in October.
“Silver in the World Championship was a big let down for me.
“It was a perfect race by me and the Norwegian team and I felt good. But Sagan was too strong in the end,” he explained.
The disappointing silver medal came after a difficult final season with Katusha-Alpecin. He was famously criticised by the team for being ‘too heavy,’ despite his weight being the same as in previous years. He is still 181 cm and weighs 78 kilos.
He described the comment as ‘strange.’
Few were therefore surprised when he announced his move to a new team for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He joined the UAE Team Emirates after six years with Katusha.
Fortunately, he was able to keep his stepfather, Stein Ørn, on as a coach.
One of his main lead-out men, Sven Erik Bystrøm, also made the move.
Team Emirates has brought in reinforcements in Fabio Aru and Dan Martin as well.
“It’s nice with a change after so many years,” he said.
For sprinters, it is essential to have strong lead-out men to shelter and pull them as close to the finish line as possible so they can preserve what little juice is left in their legs for those last, deciding meters.
Team Emirates’ scheduling has meant that Kristoff had to fight alone for position in the finals of some of the spring races, such as the Tour of California.
For the Spring Classics though, the former Lampre-Merida team was built around the sprint leader.
In Milano-Sanremo he finished fourth, while he won the Eschborn-Frankfurt and GP Du Canton d’Argovie.
“The team will for sure be in place to support and help me in the finals that suit me this summer. We all want the team to win!” he said.
Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons