It’s time to stop writing off Alexander Kristoff

Despite his staggering palmares, the Stavanger Stallion keeps flying under the radar.

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Scheldeprijs was, as has been remarked, a bit of a strange one. Not one of the most beloved Classics, this year’s edition featured grotty weather, Tim Merlier doing a thing, and Alexander Kristoff doing something much more impressive that won’t get anywhere near as much attention. 

In a way, that’s kind of fitting. For the past few years, the big Norwegian has made a habit of flying under the radar. But as Scheldeprijs proves, it’s a mistake to write off the Norwegian.

Alexander Kristoff has been a powerful presence in the professional peloton for long enough that it’s easy to forget just how impressive his palmares is: he’s just always kind of been there, making the magic happen in his unassuming way. 

A glimpse of Kristoff at Scheldeprijs.

A bit of backstory

Alexander Kristoff – although you might better know him as the Stavanger Stallion – is, really, two people. 

One: a family man, father to four sons – Leo, Liam, Louie, and Luca (yes, really). He’s no Girona or Monaco resident, unlike most of his contemporaries. Having grown up in Stavanger, on the west coast of Norway, he still lives there, in a fancy house on a hillside, surrounded by forest and luxury cars with views across a fjord. 

Two: among the most deceptively powerful forces in professional cycling, often surfing beneath the radar, with a staggeringly rich track record.

Kristoff burst onto the Norwegian domestic scene with victory in the 2007 national road championships at 19 years old, outsprinting a peak-of-his-powers Thor Hushovd. By 2010, he’d signed a two-season contract with BMC. By 2012, he’d moved to Katusha for an extended stint. 

That year he picked up a bronze medal at the London Olympics. Kristoff’s star was firmly on the rise, and by 2013 he began showing the depths of his strength in the Classics, with top 10 finishes in Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix. 

Why yes, this is a bronze medal you didn’t remember/ever realise Kristoff won at the 2012 Olympics. Cycling’s Biggest Vibe, Rigoberto Uran, won silver. Cycling’s Biggest [Redacted], Alexander Vinokourov, took home a gold medal.

A year later he’d snatched his first monument, with a wobbly-helmeted victory at Milan-San Remo – a race he’s finished in the top 10 at on six consecutive occasions. 

In 2015, he picked up his second monument, outsprinting Niki Terpstra to win Tour of Flanders. From 2014 to 2017 he was never outside the top 10 at a Worlds road race, coming closest to a rainbow jersey with second position in Bergen in 2017, the year he also won the Euro championships. 

Simultaneously, his fast finish was proving an asset in Grand Tours. In the 2014 Tour de France, he won two stages and finished second in the points classification behind Peter Sagan (younger brother of the better-known Juraj). Until last year he rode eight Tours in a row, winning four stages, including on the Champs-Élysées (2018) and in the first stage of the 2020 edition, pulling on the maillot jaune and then helping Tadej Pogačar to his first overall victory.

There’s only one word for this majestic mass of banana-coloured muscle: resplendent.

An underdog

Despite this storied past – which makes him the most successful current Norwegian cyclist, and probably second greatest of all time after Hushovd – Kristoff has a long-held underdog status. At home, he’s typically been regarded with less affection than less-prolific compatriot Edvald Boasson Hagen. On social media, he’s often been the subject of mockery for off-season weight gain. Whenever latter-day Kristoff pulls out a win – as he did at Gent-Wevelgem in 2019, or Scheldeprijs yesterday – it tends to be seen as a shock result from an athlete in the twilight of his career.

But while the wins don’t come quite as bountifully as they did during his imperial era at Katusha, Kristoff isn’t done. After jumping ship from UAE Team Emirates, the Stallion signed with the unfancied, many-sponsored Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux for 2022.

Good at bikes, terrible at hide and seek.

That team has since become an unlikely revelation of 2022, with Biniam Girmay’s popular win at Gent-Wevelgem just one highlight. Kristoff’s tasted success too – he’s won races (and obliterated iPhones) in Spain, finished 10th at Flanders, and soloed to victory in Scheldeprijs. Something’s clearly working at his new team. 

All of which bodes well for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday-week, the next season objective for the 34-year-old. 

Roubaix dreaming

More than any other race on the calendar, Paris-Roubaix is defined by luck, so a good result is never a sure thing. That said, Kristoff looks good on paper. 

For starters: he’s finished in the top 10 twice at that very race, and was as high as 14th last year. We know beyond doubt that – more generally – he’s good on cobbles: look no further than the fact that in 11 Flanders starts, he’s been in the top 10 eight times, and never finished outside the top 20.

Alexander Kristoff at the Tour of Flanders.

He’s also famously good in bad conditions – perhaps a legacy of his decision to base himself out of the rather grey, damp city of Stavanger year-round. 

He’s powerful, has a build that suits Roubaix, and this season, he’s clearly got the legs.

Can he win? There are stronger favourites, certainly, but Kristoff deserves to be in the conversation. 

An epilogue

From Kristoff’s homebase in Stavanger, when he’s not flitting around the world on professional duties, the powerhouse of Norwegian cycling has a couple of preferred training routes. From Vaulen, he usually heads south – towards Sandnes – or loops north, toward the family hytte in Randaberg.

To the north, it’s pretty flat, windswept, coastal. To the south it’s hillier. Both are useful training for a Kristoff in Classics mode. 

From the Kristoff family home you travel down south and around the fjord at Sandnes. Then you get onto a road called Daleveien, which winds along the eastern shore looking back toward Stavanger. At the end of the road is a disused psychiatric hospital that toes the line between atmospheric and creepy. A bit before you get there, though, is a climb off to the right. It rises for a kilometre and a half, averaging more than 10%. It hurts.  

You know a climb’s steep when it looks that way in a shitty old out of focus phone picture.

That sharp climb is not necessarily where you’d expect to find the imposing form of Alexander Kristoff, but it’s one of his favourite stomping grounds, and he holds the Strava KOM for the climb and descent. When he’s in good shape – the years that he’s been in the mix at Monuments or Tour stages, say – Alexander Kristoff tends to look the business on this climb, Gramstadbakke.

And sure enough, Kristoff has spent a fair bit of time on his Sandnes loop lately, riding with his neighbour and long-time teammate, Sven Erik Bystrøm.

The various sectors of Paris-Roubaix are flat and cobbled. Gramstadbakke is very steep and weirdly smooth. But for each, there’s a similar effort involved – a painful few minutes on the pedals, squeezing out every last watt, just like in Scheldeprijs.

Don’t write off Alexander Kristoff.

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