Rider of the week
Two weeks ago, Alexander Kristoff was left disappointed after missing on a second consecutive win in Milan-Sanremo, despite the fact that Luca Paolini came up with an excellent lead-out in the finale and he looked to be strongest sprinter. Then, at both E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem he didn’t get to fight for the victory, but made up for that a couple of days later, when he won the GC as well as three stages in De Panne, in what was one of the most impressive performances seen this year.
That display made him one of the top favorites for the Tour of Flanders, although many were wondering if can keep his rhythm and fresh legs for one of the toughest tests of the season. After playing it cool for about 240 kilometers, the 27-year-old rider made his move as soon as Niki Terpstra had attacked after the Kruisberg climb. Coming into the Dutchman’s wheel, Kristoff worked with him and did some strong pulls at the front, in order to keep the gap growing before the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.
Everyone was waiting for Terpstra to accelerate on one of these hills, but it didn’t happen, maybe because Etixx-Quick Step’s cyclist just didn’t have the legs or because he felt that his effort would net help dispatch Kristoff. Then, in the last five kilometers, when there was a gap of 28 seconds between the two of them and the chasers (Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet), the Paris-Roubaix champion decided not to help his opponent anymore, being aware that the Katusha rider will outsprint him at the finish.
Having no other option, Alexander Kristoff stayed at the front and did all the work, ensuring they will keep a gap that was becoming slimmer and slimmer. With 200 meters to go, Terpstra launched his sprint, but had no chance against a powerful Kristoff, who was calm all the way, knowing he has the upper hand. This landed him the victory and assured the Katusha leader a place in the history books, as the first ever Norwegian winner of the Tour of Flanders, after a race in which he did everything: got the corner kick, sent the ball into the box and scored a goal with his head.
Now he’ll take a rest and then prepare for Paris-Roubaix, the last Spring Monument which suits him. Although he doesn’t have a great record there, with three abandons, a 9th and a 57rd place in five starts, is difficult to bet against him for the “Hell of the North”.