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By his own admission, the veteran Norwegian sprinter knows his fastest days are behind him.
But that doesn’t mean the 34-year-old isn’t racing to win at Milan-San Remo and across the major spring classics. Experience also counts in these races, and if he’s an elite group at the hard end of race, Kristoff could still deliver a surprise.
“I don’t consider myself at the same level at [Wout] van Aert, and these guys are the top-line favorites,” Kristoff said. “I don’t see myself at their level at the moment. I still think I can make a good result when things come back together and I am still there.”
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Kristoff is on a one-year deal, and knows his future depends on hitting some results. So far in 2022, Kristoff won a race and hit the podium of another, results that bode well for the spring.
Could he be playing a bit of a bluff, and downplaying his chances?
“I am always a threat, and I hope to be there again this year, but I am getting older,” he said. “Maybe I am not as fast as I was 10 years ago, but I still have some legs to race.”
Chasing points and a miracle across the classics
Kristoff’s won some big races in his career, including San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem and Tour of Flanders. In 2012, he led home the bunch to claim bronze at the Olympic road race, and nearly won the world title on home roads in 2017. Only a superbly timed sprint from Peter Sagan kept him out of the stripes.
At this stage of his career, Kristoff doesn’t mind outsider status. In fact, he embraces it.
“San Remo is the next big goal. I feel I am on track, but I am not as good as I was some years ago, so to say I will try to win Flanders is maybe a bit optimistic,” he said. “I hope to be in a forward position at the finish line, and score some points, and a top-10 would be great. Higher up is better.”
Kristoff moves across to Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux after four seasons at UAE Emirates where he rode alongside the rise of Tadej Pogačar, whom he says could win Saturday. Kristoff won stage 1 in the 2020 Tour de France that Pogačar later won yellow.
“The way he is racing here, I think he can drop everyone,” Kristoff said. “From the Poggio, it’s not a long way to the finish, and the way he is climbing, he is going to be difficult to beat.”
Like many in the bunch, Kristoff got zapped by coronavirus this winter. Despite being vaccinated a total of five times — three times in Norway and twice more in the United Arab Emirates — he was diagnosed after Valenciana. Perhaps due to all his vaccines, he wasn’t seriously ill, and came back barely a week later to win his first race in new team colors at Clásica de Almería.
“I felt like I had a good start. I didn’t manage so good in Tirreno, but the team is still confidence we can perform,” he said.
He was 11th at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and ran out of gas on the final sprint Sunday at Tirreno to take sixth. Third on Wednesday at Milano-Torino confirms the speed is still there.
Kristoff’s also watched how Milan-San Remo has changed, and how more riders are capable of fending off the chasing pack to avoid a bunch sprint down the Via Roma.
“It was a bit more of a sprinter’s race before, but now the stronger guys have figured out how to drop us on the Poggio,” Kristoff said. “It also depends on the wind conditions. It’s always a very open race.”
Kristoff now enters his busy season, and will race a full schedule from Harelbeke through Roubaix, only skipping Amstel Gold Race.
Ever the realist, Kristoff knows what he needs to do Saturday.
“The key for me is to start in the front on the Poggio,” he said. “Because if I do not start in the front, I do not have a chance.”