Alexander Kristoff: “Scheldeprijs proves: choosing Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert was not a step back”
Hilaire Van der Schueren hadn’t won a classic since the Amstel Gold Race in 2016, when with Enrico Gasparotto, but Biniam Girmay and Alexander Kristoff have forgotten that in one fell swoop. After the surprising sprint of the Eritrean in Gent-Wevelgem, Kristoff went one step further yesterday. “We work on every aspect of the sport and that’s how we rise above ourselves,” Kristoff said at the press conference.
It was obvious that it was not to entice prominent figures for an interview after the Scheldeprijs. First of all, the peloton had already been taken off course after the first local lap. But much worse: after dark clouds exerted a threatening influence all day, the rain still fell from the sky at the start of the final round. Result: many wet, numb riders at the finish, who wanted to get to their warm team buses as quickly as possible.
For winner Alexander Kristoff, the obligations dragged on for quite some time afterwards. After the flash interview and the podium ceremony, he spoke without murmuring to the camera crews of the other media. But when he heard afterwards that he would also be led to CC De Kaekelaer for the press conference of the written press, some persuasion from press secretary Guy Vermeiren was needed. The appointment was no more than five minutes, and the Norwegian – despite his spry stature, visibly suffering from the cold – continued to fulfill his obligations in an exemplary manner.
Crucial Gerben Thijssen
That extra attention is of course part of winning a semi-classic in cycling country par excellence and then also riding for a Belgian team. “I have nothing to complain about in that regard. We are having a fantastic season as a team. First Biniam who wins Gent-Wevelgem, now I can finish it. However the season continues, we can be very proud of this classic period. We work well together and we are focused on small details. We work on every aspect of the sport and in this way we rise above ourselves”, the Norwegian was full of praise for his team.
Even though Kristoff had to finish the final of the Scheldeprijs alone, the Norwegian did not hide the importance of his teammates in the Antwerp semi-classic. “Without the help of Gerben Thijssen I would never have been able to participate in the first fan. In this team we have a lot of riders who can position themselves well. Crucial, in my view. You may be as good, but if you are not in the right place when it tears, then you are not with it. Gerben has done that in an exemplary manner. It’s just a pity that he falls, otherwise the final would probably have been easier.”
Too much focus on Pogacar
The team spirit at Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert is clearly good. But did the strong Norwegian not initially see his move to the Walloon formation as a step back? “Of course this is a smaller team than UAE-Emirates, no one will deny that. But UAE wasn’t nearly as focused on the classics as it is here. That’s why it’s not a step back for me. At UAE, the big focus is to win the Tour with Pogacar. Everything has to make way for that. That doesn’t have much value to me, because I’m not in the category of riders who can mean a lot in that story.”
“Then I get more motivation here”, Kristoff laughed. “On the one hand, I am more valuable to the team than at UAE-Emirates, where it is teeming with great champions. On the other hand, I feel more support to be able to indulge in the races I love the most.”
Back to Norway
The way in which the Norwegian won the Scheldeprijs spoke volumes. He started with great confidence on the cobblestones of the Broekstraat, just at a time when the four BORA-hansgrohe riders and the leaders of Alpecin-Fenix were completely stuck. No one followed, allowing Kristoff to cheer with a reassuring lead on Churchilllaan. “Special, because in my previous 83 professional victories I have never managed to do that. It was always in a sprint. You experience it all much more consciously. You go into the final kilometer with a different feeling, because you know you are going to win.”
This way the people in Schoten got to see a small unique. It was already since the soaking wet sprint-à-deux between Thorwald Veneberg and Tomas Vaitkus in 2005 that there was no bunch sprint for the victory. And for a solo performance we even have to go back to Servais Knaven in 1998. “That makes it even more special, of course”, said Kristoff.
Now that the Amstel Gold Race between Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix is coming up, 34-year-old Kristoff is taking the opportunity to fly back and forth to Norway after quite a long classic campaign. “Finally home. But don’t worry: I’ll be back for Paris-Roubaix,” the Norwegian warned the opposition.