BERN, Switzerland (CT) – It’s a cruel reality of bike racing that a stage of more than 200km can be decided by mere centimetres. That the difference between success and defeat can be less than 0.00001% of a race’s total distance. And for the loser, the pain of defeat is only compounded when that loss is the result of a small error at exactly the wrong time.
On stage 16 of the 2016 Tour de France, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) fell short of his first stage victory in this year’s race by a mere tyre’s width. In Kristoff’s own words, the win should have been his and would have been were it not for a mistimed final lunge for the line.
“At the end I felt I had him [Peter Sagan] behind me — I felt I had him,” Kristoff said after the stage. “But then he just managed to jump past me in the last 50 metres.
“It was a pity because I normally would have it but it was a mistake from me — I was looking too long down and suddenly I looked up and I was on the finish line. So that was a mistake.”
The still image at the finish (see below) shows Kristoff and eventual stage winner Sagan (Tinkoff) in markedly different poses. Where Sagan has his bike well out in front of him, desperately throwing it towards the finish, Kristoff is standing over his frame and hasn’t yet lunged for the line.
— Philippe Maertens (@philmaertens) July 18, 2016
Sagan had been convinced he had lost.
“I was sure I’m second,” Sagan said. “I even don’t wait for the result because I was second. And then they [race officials] just come and I had a very nice surprise.”
After being told he’d won his third stage of the race, and after watching the replay of the finish, the Slovakian was able to offer his own analysis of the final metres.
“I lose a lot of times like this — [by] a very small piece of tyre,” Sagan said, indicating a gap of a centimetre or two. “Today I was lucky and Alexander just made his jump on the line very late and I jumped before.”
When Kristoff crossed the line he was only part way through his bike throw — a process in two parts.
“First of all you have to pull the bike back, and after that you [throw to] the front,” Sagan said. “In that moment, on the line, he was pulling [his] bicycle in back. My bicycle was in front in that moment but after the finish he was first again.”
— Le Tour de France (@LeTour) July 18, 2016
While Kristof said he’d simply kept his head down too long, his sports director Vladimir Ekimov told CyclingTips that there might have been more to the story.
“As far as I heard, he didn’t see the line, because it was a little bit washed away,” Ekimov said. “He [threw] the bike but it was either too late or not in time.”
It’s been something of a frustrating Tour de France for Katusha thus far, particularly in comparison to the past couple editions. In 2014, Kristoff won two stages. A year later Joaquim Rodriguez did the same. In 2016, the team is yet to hit the winners’ list, having managed two second-place finishes and several other top 10s.
There’ll be several other opportunities for the team in the five stages remaining — for Rodriguez in the mountains and Kristoff in Paris — but the team will be ruing a missed opportunity. And all by such a slim margin.