Alexander Kristoff won the Tour of Flanders last weekend making it no Belgian winners for three years – the longest wait for the home nation since Fiorenzo Magni’s hatrick in the 1950s. But this race was just the latest in a series of fantastic Kristoff performances confirming just how good he is as a classics rider. Another win this afternoon has made his last five outings read perfectly as 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st.
Granted, the first three were at the lesser contested Driedaagse De Panne, but the Norwegian still saw off a handful of the best punchy riders and fast finishers. He still finished first three days straight in the week before the Tour of Flanders balancing form and rhythm against fresh legs and fatigue. And now, today, he has avoided trouble and come home first in the sprinters affair of Scheldeprijs.
When Kristoff finished his 2013 season he could have looked back on his highly competitive results with pride; one podium and a handful of top 10s at the Tour De France and, even better, three high placed finishes at San Remo (8th), Flanders (4th) and Paris-Roubaix (9th). His 2014 impressed further and it saw him claim his first monument when returning to Milan-San Remo. He also grabbed two stage wins at the Tour De France and it was these victories that deflected my attention away from his classics potential and the rider he truly his. The writings been on the wall for this kind of form ever since he joined Katusha and he has enjoyed four very successful years (his bronze at the London Olympics should not be forgotten).
This year he looked fantastic in the Tour of Qatar with his long, strong sprints bringing him three stages and within touching distance of the overall lead. In Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne he was outdone by Mark Cavendish but you couldn’t deny he looked strong. However, it was on Sunday in Flanders that he really laid down a marker. I didn’t fancy him to be strong enough for the win – wrongly dismissing his form – but then I saw his face, cool and calm as he toyed with Niki Terpstra, and now I’m a believer.
He attacked following Terpstra – which was not expected – and the pair left everybody behind with relative ease. However, this wasn’t a sprinter hanging on to a rear wheel in order to pinch it at the finish; this was a full blown Cancellara-style attack. Terpstra tried to stay cool, play games and not take all his turns on the front, but Kristoff powered on regardless ending the slim hopes of the chasers. And then, with Terpstra considering the few options he had, Kristoff did exactly what he was favourite to do; win the two man sprint. This is a rider who can attack, sprint and even endure the climbs well; he may very well win Paris-Roubaix.
Kristoff isn’t my man for the win this coming weekend, it’s too late for me to change my bets and he remains out of my Roubaix top three. But Kristoff is no longer the sprinter who came 6th four times at the 2013 Tour. He is far and away the most in-form cyclist in the World Tour.