By Owen Rogers
When Alexander Kristoff sprinted to stage six victory at the Tour of Oman yesterday it was to notch up his fifth win of the season. This statistic is even more impressive when one considers yesterday was just his 11th race day of 2016. A strike rate nearing 50 per cent is impressive in any sport.
The Norwegian has begun 2016 in much the same manner he did last year, when he seemed unstoppable, especially in the spring. Last year he had 15 victories by the end of May, including the Tour of Flanders and the General Classification at the Three Days of De Panne, where he won three of the four stages.
The Spring Classics season has brought 28-year-old Kristoff incredible success in the last two years and, with the four stages he has won in the Middle Eastern races this month he could be heading for more of the same.
“I have five victories already, so that gives me confidence,” he said. “Last year I was really good this part of the season and this year I have started the same. But the Classics are a bit different. They are harder and longer, but many of the same guys are there, so if I can beat them here I can beat them here,” he explained with no hint of arrogance.
His first race this year did not go as planned, however: “I was a little bit worried about my sprint shape at the first stage,” he said of his defeat to Mark Cavendish in the first stage at the Tour of Qatar. “I was really slow but I improved after the second [stage], so I think it was that I did not have speed in my legs for the first race of the season.”
There is still work to do if he is to realise his major ambitions for this spring, defence of his Tour of Flanders crown and Milan-San Remo, which he won in 2014. He was comprehensively dropped on the climbs which comprised the final 40 kilometres of Saturday’s stage five to the Omani Ministry of Tourism, and it is climbing where he will concentrate his training over the next few weeks.
However, other than Cavendish, who has been preparing for the track, none of the world’s top sprinters were present in either Qatar or Oman, so how does Kristoff think he will fare against the cream of the sprinting crop later in the year?
“In the really flat sprints, Kittel is seriously focussed and it would be difficult to pass him,” Kristoff admits. “You see how he sprints and nobody was really close, so it’ll be exciting to see how I am against him. I am expecting to lose if it’s an easy race, but in the harder stages I think I can drop him.”
Watch: My toughest day - Alexander Kristoff
The success of the last two years has caused Kristoff to raise his sights significantly, and while he is happy with his form, this is no time to rest on his laurels.
“This race [Tour of Oman] is not a small race, it is Hors Category, so it is good to win here. But a few years ago if I did nothing for the rest of the year I would have been happy, but now, after these two years I want a little bit more in the big races.”
Considering his talents, Kristoff is a humble, unassuming man, though it is clear he is hugely ambitious. That desire, coupled with the from he has shown to date, indicate we could be seeing an awful lot of Alexander Kristoff over the next few months.
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