Alexander Kristoff wins in the town which used to be the heart of the French bicycle industry – St. Etienne.
We thought you might like to see what he had to say to us four seasons ago when we first picked this year’s Primavera winner up on the VV-DWS (the VeloVeritas Distant Warning System). We knew he was going to be a “good ‘un” even then – and note the race he’d most like to win…
Alexander Kristoff interview from 2010
At 385,000 square kilometres, Norway is more than half as big again as the United Kingdom; but whilst there are around 60 million people on the islands which make up the UK, there are barely five million Norwegians.
Despite this, the Norwegians keep churning out the star cyclists, World and Olympic pursuit champion Knut Knudsen; Tour and Giro stage winner Dag Otto Lauritzen and more recently, World Elite Road race Champion Thor Hushovd – and not forgetting Sky’s, Edvald Boasson Hagen.
But there’s another young Viking on the way up – enter 23 year-old sprinter, Alexander Kristoff.
After four years during which he rode for Scandinavian teams, 2010 saw him join the big league at BMC alongside World Champion Cadel Evans VeloVeritas caught up with him just before Christmas as he prepared for the festivities – and the Tour Down Under.
You’re from Oslo, Alex?
“Yes, but at the moment I’m with my girlfriend’s family in Stavanger – that’s west of Oslo and on the coast so usually the weather isn’t so bad, snow maybe one week each year – but this year there’s a lot of snow here.
“I’ve been riding my mountain bike and turbo but I was at training camp so it’s not so bad that I have a little rest.”
Aren’t you tempted to go and live in Girona or Tuscany?
“The American guys from BMC live in Girona and maybe one day I’ll consider it; but my girlfriend is in school here in Norway and we can’t leave.”
How big is cycling in Norway?
“Skiing and football are the big sports but cycling is growing, especially after Thor’s win in the Worlds.
“Ten years ago it was really just the Tour which got good media coverage but a lot more races are covered now.”
Describe yourself as a rider.
“I’m a sprinter, I’ve always had a good finish and since I was 16 I’ve had results – maybe not like Cavendish but I’m improving and was pleased with 4th in the Cyclassic Hamburg this season.”
Your first Norwegian championship win was 2004.
“I won the junior criterium championship – I beat Boasson Hagen that day, we’re the same age.
“We were on the same team for one year at Joker but mostly we’ve been rivals.
“My goal back then was to be a pro whilst I was still U23 – and I’ve achieved that.”
And you won the Norwegian Elite road title over 220 K in 2007.
“For sure! At 19 I was the youngest to win it since 1940 – I actually won the Elite title before I won the U23 title, which I did in 2009.
“It was a sprint finish from a small group; Joker didn’t believe in me and wanted me to drop back for Boasson Hagen, but I thought that I could beat Thor – and I did!”
Joker to BMC, a big jump.
“It was like going from Junior to U23; I did the Tours of Britain and Ireland with Joker in 2009 but whilst those were the biggest races of the year for a team like that – they’re the smallest races of the year for a team like BMC.
“Up until May of this year I was thinking that ‘this is too hard for me’ – and then I got 3rd and 6th place finishes in stages of the Tour of California; that set me up.”
You were 4th in Hamburg, 3rd at Philly and 5th at Fourmies.
“I like hard one day races, Philadelphia is a long race and that seems to suit me; Hamburg was a pleasing ride because that gained me Worlds selection.
“I’m happy at BMC because they have faith in me for these races; I’m looking forward to the coming season.”
Is there one race you’d really like to win?
“Milan – Sanremo; it’s a long race but I really want to ride it and see how I do.”
You were top ten in the Scheldeprijs, Scherens, Van Steenbergen and Koolskamp – Belgium seems to agree with you?
“I’ve spent a lot of time there since I was a junior and I understand the racing.
“I like controlled racing – and the lack of climbs there suits me too.”
What does your 2011 programme look like?
“I’ll be starting at the Tour Down Under and then doing the Tours of Qatar and Oman – there will be a lot of sprinters in these three races but also a lot of opportunities for me.
“After that it’s Paris–Nice, Milan–Sanremo, Gent–Wevelgem, De Panne, the Scheldeprijs, Trentino and the Giro.”
What’s your role in the team?
“It depends on the race; I might have to work for one of the leaders, Cadel or Alessandro – but the team believes in me and I’ll get my own opportunities.”
What are you goals for 2011?
“I hope to start winning, maybe not at full Pro Tour level but I want to start accumulating UCI points for the team – repay the confidence that they have in me.
“With riders like Van Avermaet and Phinney we can look at options for how we structure a strong lead out train.”
And do you break training for Christmas day?
“I’ll be spending Christmas here in Stavanger with my girlfriend and her family – we go to each other’s parents’ year about.
“On Christmas day I’ll train, only for two hours – but I’ll make it intervals; I have to be in good shape for the Tour down Under!”
But let’s get back to the present…
We managed to get our paws on L’Équipe, again – for the day of Nibali’s second coup, on La Planche des Belles Filles.
The front page features a satisfied Nibali, a devastated Contador as well as Bardet and Pinot – at last French guys with realistic GC ambitions.
But they remind us that it’s 17 years since a Home Boy made the podium – Richard (aka Tricky Dicky) Virenque was second in 1997; in the last decade it’s Tommy Voeckler who’s given the home nation it’s best finish with fourth in 2011.
Their ‘film de L’Étape’ captures the stage well in a very few words:
* Voeckler à l’attaque.
* Martin roule toujours.
* Contador chute et abandonne.
* Kwiatkowski leader virtuel.
* Rodriguez seul aux Chevrères.
* Le panache de Nibali.
L’Équipe points out that there is now no previous winner in the Tour with Schleck, Froome and Contador all abandoneé.
If Nibali wins he joins a very exclusive club of men who have won all three Grand Tours, currently: Anquetil, Gimondi, Mercx, Hinault and Contador.
But as Cav, Froome and Bert would tell you; ‘it’s a long way to Paris.
And whilst ‘D-word stuff’ depresses us, we can’t ignore it; Jonathan-Tiernan Locke’s two year ban is the third drugs debacle to break during this Tour – ‘abnormalities were clearly identified’ but what does that mean?
What did he do/take – we need an explanation please, UCI – and also an explanation as to why these things take nearly a year to decide?
Our pleas will not fall on deaf ears; but at least we’re asking – and maybe it’s just us but we can detect no change whatsoever within the UCI except maybe the rules get even pettier.
And to close, another moan – Cyclingnews website reported on the fact that Brian Robinson was knocked from his bicycle by a motorist, thus:
“Former Tour de France rider, Brian Robinson has been hit by a car on a training ride in his native Yorkshire. The 83-year-old former Tour de France yellow jersey wearer, crashed and suspectedly broke his collarbone, his son-in-law Martyn Bolt told the BBC.”
The first British rider to wear the yellow jersey was Tom Simpson; Brian Robinson was the first to win a stage in le Tour. VV will keep you right, guys.
Stage 13 tomorrow – the Alps, and we tip Bardet…