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Admitting that he is motivated by the thoughts of trying to equal the career results of Thor Hushovd as soon as possible, Tour of Flanders winner Alexander Kristoff is hoping to hang onto his current vein of sparkling form and chase Paris-Roubaix success.
Speaking in his post-Flanders press conference, Kristoff said that recognises that he is in a very good position to try to add the second cobbled Classic to his palmares, although he stressed that he didn’t want to take anything for granted.
“I will try to win, of course,” he said about the race, before adding a qualifier. “But it is hard in Roubaix…I didn’t have such a good feeling [in the past] like in Flanders, but it is still a goal to perform.
“It is a chance, it a possibility. I always struggle more on the flat cobbles so we will see. I did it every year as a pro but I only finished three times. So I will at first aim to finish in the top ten…then we will see how high up it comes [on Sunday].”
Hailing from Oslo in Norway, the 27 year old has had a superb season thus far. His first wins came in the Tour of Qatar when he took stages two, four and five. He also won the points classification and finished third overall.
That glittering haul also included stages in the Tour of Oman and Paris-Nice, took second in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, second in Milan-San Remo and fourth in the E3 Harelbeke.
However in the past week he stepped it up again; he won the first three stages of the Three Days of De Panne and, in finishing a fine third overall in the concluding time trial, sealed the overall victory.
Going on from there to take Flanders showed just how good he is at present; watched by all, he was still able to go clear with Etixx-QuickStep’s Niki Terpstra and to fend off the chasers to take the win.
The success means he has now taken two major Classics, the 2014 Milan – San Remo and now this year’s Flanders.
Somewhat inevitably, the Norwegian press wanted to know if he is now a bigger rider than the recently-retired Thor Hushovd.
“Now I won two monuments so at least I am getting a bit closer,” said Kristoff, before adding, “but he delivered for many years.
“When you put all the results together, I think that he still is better. But if I keep going like now, maybe I will catch him during this season.”
Taking Roubaix would certainly raise his stock even further, but matching Hushovd will also require him to emulate his countryman and win the world road race championships.
Fortunately for him, the next two editions – in Richmond, Virginia, and Qatar – are both expected to suit his riding style and so he has a pair of opportunities.
What’s clear already, though, is that he has now moved on to a new level. While Milan – San Remo is a huge race, it is one that has been taken many times in the past by top sprinters. Consider the list of winners in the past decade; Alessandro Petacchi, Oscar Freire, Mark Cavendish, Matt Goss, Gerald Ciolek and John Degenkolb have all won out of groups sprinting to the line.
Flanders is different.
“I wanted to be good in the Classics and not only a sprinter,” he said on Sunday. “To manage to win Flanders is proof of that, that you are a Classic rider.”
He said it was an important point for him and showed he should have longevity in the sport.
“When you get older, you get a bit slower,” he noted. “Then maybe the sprinting will be more difficult. But for the Classics you get maybe even better, because you can handle the long distances and the hard racing sometimes better.”
Kristoff’s point is well made; there is a strong history of riders who started out as sprinters and who morphed into Classics riders over time. This evolution coincided with a decrease in their 200 metre velocity, and so he is following a well-worn path.
Those riders include Sean Kelly, Eric Vanderaeren, Johan Museeuw, Laurent Jalabert and, more recently, Tom Boonen.
While Kristoff is yet to experience any reduction in his sprinting speed, his win in Flanders suggests that becoming a specialist Classics rider is a realistic future goal.
“The first years I was struggling, I was dropped in all of these races.”
Being 27 years of age, he is nearing the age where it is believed that many athletes reach their physiological high point.
This will be partially responsible for the year on year rise in his performances, but he also said that it is the benefit of hard work.
“I raced here a lot as a young rider and I watched this race long before I had the chance to participate. My dream was just to participate, never to win, but now I also won it,” he said. “So it is a great feeling.”
He acknowledged that some had questioned his training methods in the past, believing he was doing too much, but he believes persistence has paid off.
“Every year I got a bit better and better, but it has been many years of work,” he said. “I train more or less the same since I was a junior.
“The first years I was struggling, I was dropping in all of these races. I was not even close. But every year I did more or less the same training.
“I do a lot of hours and I do a lot of intervals. I saw development every year, but it was small steps. And also in the last years, I have not made a big step, actually, but every year a small step.
“Suddenly you break through…you are at one point [level – ed], and then suddenly you are winning a lot of races.”
Kristoff would have spent Sunday evening celebrating his win with his team and would have waken up Monday morning and replayed the events of the day in his head.
The realisation that he is the 2015 Tour of Flanders champion will sink in gradually, but he’s got little chance to rest up.
On Wednesday he will line out in his next event, Scheldeprijs, and even if Roubaix is his main target he hopes to ride strongly there.
“It depends on how I am feeling,” he said, when asked for his ambitions. “For me, it is always better to try to do a result rather than just saying there because if you stay too far back, it is easy to crash also.”
After that, it will be all systems go for Roubaix. It’s a race that Hushovd never won and if Kristoff is serious about trying to clock up better results than his compatriot, hitting the line first in the famous Roubaix velodrome would be a big step towards that goal.
Ditto the points classification in the Tour de France. He was second to Peter Sagan last year, partially due to his two stage wins in the event.
With Sagan likely to have to ride for team-mate Alberto Contador in this year’s race – and also struggling to hit top form – Kristoff has his eyes fixed on the green jersey.
Before then, though, the focus is Roubaix, a cobblestone trophy and the next step in his ongoing evolution.