How to beat Kristoff

He’ll go in the breakaways, he’ll win bunch sprints, he’ll take 300km classics or morning split stages. Alexander Kristoff is a problem for everyone else how to beat him in Paris-Roubaix is the question worrying many team managers keen to salvage something from the final cobbled classic.

What a week for Kristoff: three stage wins in the three days of De Panne, there were two bunch sprint wins but he also won from a breakaway move too, a confidence booster ahead of his triumph last Sunday. His third place in the time trial stage was impressive, beaten but what if this was the real clue to his performance in De Ronde? He had the power to beat everyone over 20 minutes and when Niki Terpstra went clear over the Hotond only Kristoff could follow, hardly the mark of a sprinter trying to hang on for the win.


It’s this force that’s ominous for next Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix where rivals normally hope to “break” a sprinter over the repeated 2-3 minute cobbled efforts. Indeed Kristoff said he found Paris-Nice slow – you’ll remember the lack of crosswinds saw the peloton amble along – and as a consequence he’s still building form. He’s disarmingly direct in press conferences and relishes the status of being number one when others often try to play down their chances.

For Paris-Roubaix the goal for others is clear, Kristoff has to be isolated and then distanced. The Katusha team are strong but not the best, the team has collection of faceless workhorses like Alexander Porsev and Vyacheslav Kuznetsov, riders who are noted for the strength yet have no profile in the media. Unlike half of Etixx-Quick Step they’re unlikely to be there in the final of a race and once Kristoff is alone he’s vulnerable. Rivals will start attacking and others will expect him to chase given his new found status, he’s The Rider others will fear, the one others base their tactics on.

Just don’t tune in for the last five minutes to watch Kristoff win in Roubaix. There’s every chance he’s left for dust without any rival playing a tactical card: he finished De Ronde with metal wire in his tire and a Paris-Roubaix is a puncture fest, a little bit of “unluck” and he’s out. It’s also a race he’s struggled with, with three DNF’s, a 57th and his best is a ninth place in 2013.

Alexander Kristoff Tour de France

After the classics Kristoff becomes a problem for others, take the Tour de France. Marcel Kittel has become the king of the sprints but there’s a view that he’s at his best in the first week and the fatigue over dragging his 85kg carcass over a mountain range is so much that he fades the longer the race goes on. As Daniel Friebe as explained in The Cycling Podcast riders like Mark Cavendish have been waiting to exploit this as they feel they don’t fade as fast but Kristoff was the king of the second week sprints last July with victory in Stage 12 and Stage 15.

Longer term Kristoff seems ideal for repeated classics success. Sanremo last year, Flanders this year and what about 2015? Yet so often it’s said someone will dominate the sport for years only to fade. He’s having a great season but things can go wrong at any time. There are obvious things like an injury or crash. To counter this there’s also the notion that he wasn’t far off becoming Olympic champion, that late move from Alexander Vinokourov in 2012 saw Kristoff sprinting for third place. He won and with hindsight an obvious result and also an alarm bell for his rivals who think a hilly course is too much for him.

Success doesn’t breed success in cycling. Just ask Peter Sagan who stands as a good example of a rider who has gone from promise to disappointment. It’s still a matter of nuance than record for the Slovak as he’s bound to win big sometime. Yet he’s now on the defensive having to justify why he lost races while being paid millions, energy sapping in press conferences alone and the prompt for caution and negative feedback. Sagan might seem like he’s got the superstar lifestyle but it was only a couple of years ago that he was living home and his mother was packing rosaries into his luggage for races to bring him good fortune. Money and pressure change everything fast.

Kristoff seems a lot more grounded but it takes plenty to resist the temptations. He’s got a family life in Norway and stays all year in Stavanger. Not for him the Monaco lifestyle, he’s got a unit around him including his stepfather Stein Ørn, a cardiologist who is also his coach. Then again part of the job means fulfilling duties and meeting expectations, prepping for a race now means press conferences, photo shoots and saying the same thing eight times in eight TV interviews. Norway doesn’t have many sports stars and in times past the examples of Thor Hushovd and Edvald Boasson Hagen are instructive, Hushovd was versatile for a decade but didn’t dominate although there were other reasons for that, notably his reputation as a clean rider in a messy era.

Kristoff on the right in 2008

Boasson Hagen seemed able to win everything but hasn’t and makes a useful case study alongside Sagan. You can see Sagan tempted by the highlife but “EBH” has a quieter character, he too prefers life in Norway. Just like Kristoff he rode for the same teams, Joker and Maxbo-Bianchi, in fact they were team mates in 2007 and got promising placings here and there. Boasson Hagen looked like a raw talent, sprinting uphill to wins with a coating of puppy fat while the U-23 Kristoff looked like a ringer with the lean muscles of a old pro. Kristoff was solid with BMC Racing, his only win with BMC was the Norwegian nationals but he came close elsewhere. Monday’s L’Equipe says the team wanted him to move to southern Europe but he said no and the implication is this encouraged him to join Katusha.

Alexander Kristoff

There have been a few “is Kristoff unbeatable” questions, if Kristoff was invincible then the sport wouldn’t be worth watching.

Perhaps you would not bet against him for Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs but Paris-Roubaix though is another matter, the most risky race of the year. Even if he can keep luck on his side Kristoff is a strong pick given he’s is more than a lurking threat for the sprint, he can ride away from everyone else with 30km to go. Many team managers will be sitting down this week to analyse Kristoff’s performance last Sunday to search for weak points and some will plan their team tactics as a function of the Norwegian. Regardless of Sunday he’s bound to be a force in the Tour de France and is another name to add to the list for the World Championships. Beyond this we’ll see, Kristoff’s having a great season but history suggests replicating this success all over again is going to be harder. Others might fret about how to beat him but history suggests time and pressure will get the better of him. Want to beat Kristoff? Wait.

143 thoughts on “How to beat Kristoff”

  1. Maybe on Sunday, and given his role as a ‘sprinter’ he was less closely marked at Flanders. Now that he’s won both MSR and De Ronde, he’ll surely not be given any room to get away like that?

    His TT style is a sight to behold as he churns a huge gear that might even make Tony Martin wince.

    • I can see it. There are pros who buy sportscars and those who write books. Sagan, talented as he might be on the bike, doesn’t fall in the latter category.

      • I agree with you. I don’t see the character conclusion either. In contrast, he’s been an ever present force at nearly every race he’s at this year- much like Cancellara and his string of monument top 5s. Although many cycling news sites and blogs want to spin a failing, falling rider, I don’t think I agree. The playing field is perhaps also more complete, which has led to better competition and making it harder to win. So if anything, the number of second places is remarkably consistent and not an indicator that Sagan is falling into the Monaco champagne and cocaine scene.

    • I’ve not read of renewal so it’s up at the end of the year. A bidding war is hard given other teams aren’t so well funded and Katusha have lots of money and need the success he promises. Still I wonder if Patrick Lefevere is considering his options given Cavendish’s contract is up too.

        • Some tedious little obsessives around here

          Anyway, Sunday. Weather looks set to continue the unbroken stretch of dry and dusty conditions of the last few years. A few riders and teams looking for that final opportunity of pave redemption before the racing moves to the hilly stuff.

          EQS will get killed by the Belgian media if they don’t pull off the win. Will Stybar be able to keep his falsies in? Will he and Terpstra have ‘issues’ with each other? (tho Stybar seems a more pliant sort). Can Degenkolb pull this off? Can Kristoff?

        • I certainy hope he does not choose Sky. In my opinion Sky misused the talent of Edvald Boasson Hagen as a domestique in order to promote British cycling. They seem like a British national team in disguise using a few foreigners to pull the British team leaders, but does not give the Foreign riders the necessary support to really grow big. On the other hand Kristoff is now so big that it rules out Sky as an option.

      • He had talks with the leader of Katusha the day after San Remo and reportedly they have an agreement with them for a new contract next year but nothing official, Kristoff told media he wanted some assurance on how the team would be build around him in the years to come, i have no idea how that turned out though, as he says hes not in for the money (but who does not say that lol), i guess we’ll have to wait and see.

    • He’s out of contract end of the year. His price will have shot up obviously, but I’d imagine a major factor is what Makarov decides to do with the team re its continuation, and its funding. If Makarov continues to fund it, I cant see him letting Kristoff go easily. Especially with a waning JRod…

  2. Interesting piece.

    As for “Norway doesn’t have many sports stars …” this is not really true, as an example we are one of the most winning winter olympic nation. The problem is that our traditional national stars are stars in rather marginal sports like cross-country. Still, they are the greatest stars in the media. I think all norwegian fans of cycling thinks Kristoff, and Hushovd in his time, get to little of a status as a star and the hype he deserves, compared to the winter sports athletes.

    In regards of his feature, patently focus on the long term in the training work has taken him where he is today at a slow pace(at the cost of less result as a junior and early pro career), but also means he has not reach his potential yet. With his feets good planted on the ground I think he will be up there on top of the podium for many years to come.

    • Good point, I was thinking of the way Norwegians have taken to cycling in recent years, the big number of “Vikings” to support Hushovd in the Tour de France, the success has been something big to cheer and follow, especially in the summer with live TV whereas in another country it could be lost in the football season or by other sports.

      • You both have good points, but its kind of sketchy to label the cycling nation of Norway these days. We are certainly on the rise. Almost every big race gets loads of live viewers these days, not only Le Tour. RVV had half a million spectators on Sunday! Thats 10% of all norwegians.
        The result is growth. Look at U-23 WC, massively dominated by norwegians. The future of norwegian pro cycling is brighter than ever, and Kristoff is just the first wave from the storm Hushovds success created in norwegian cycling.

        Note that Norway also has managed to acquire three races a year. Tour of Norway, Tour des Fjords and Arctic Race. This gives a window of opportunity to shine for norwegian prospects, which they haven’t had before. The only thing left is a norwegian Continental Pro-team. Cycling is starting to grow into a really big sport in Norway…

        But however, thumbs up for the article!

      • Mr Ring I guess you are no fan of skiing so you haven’t heard of Aksel Lund Svindal: eight World Championship medals, three Olympic medals etc. Norwegian domination in winter sports is a no brainer of course, but to come back to the on-topic discussion I guess that all that harsh winter weather makes for very tough cyclists such as Kristoff.

        P.S. There is no off for Kristoff who is still capable of a strong sprint finish after 264 grueling kilometers. Chapeau!

  3. Kristoff has surprised me a little. I didn’t expect him to win De Ronde but how wrong I was. He now demands to be taken seriously. I could see him becoming a new Boonen. He seems more promising than either Degenkolb or Sagan. Maybe keeping to himself and staying in Norway is what he knows he needs to keep his focus. The example of Sagan shows how it is easy to lose it. Or Eddie Boss for that matter. Most of all he gives the impression that its 1st or nowhere for him and that recommends him to me.

    That said, I don’t see him winning what will hopefully be a relentless Paris-Roubaix. The harder they make it, the less chance Kristoff survives to the end. MSR and De Ronde this year were too gentle, I think, and this played to Kristoff’s strengths. Want to beat him? Make it hard all day so he isn’t there at the end. But he likely sticks in there longer then you think. You need the courage (and form) to keep at it. If Kristoff does win Roubaix then we have indeed found our new Boonen.

    • I see it the other way – the harder they make it, the *more* chance Kristoff survives at the end. He is just a pure hard nut.

      • Except no one rider can do it all. And he has had less success in Roubaix historically. He may step up, sure. But that’s for him to prove.

        • “Make it hard all day so he isn’t there at the end. But he likely sticks in there longer then you think.” Seems to me Sky tried this. Wiggins knew he needed to be helping in the last 30-50km, but it didn’t happen. Result was that Stybar (not on his best day) was able to cover Thomas when it mattered.

        • He hasn`t had much results in PR, true, but he did finish 9th in 2013, and last year he was looking ever so strong. He faced a puncture at Arenberg, but was on his way back up front when he was hit by a car and hence the DNF. Not saying he is THE man to beat though, Etixx has too many cards too many cards to play me thinks

    • No surprise in that win for me. He was in flying form this season and he was first of the “bunch” sprint in the everything but flat worlds last year. And the longer the race the better his chances.

      Sure, it was not a given and a well earned success. Several teams hat multiple riders left which might have run him over, but maybe not winning one of the build up races towards flanders was helpful for him to fly under the radar a bit despite his strong season showings so far.

  4. On Norway and sports stars: True, Norway has very few internationally recognised sports stars. But from a Norwegian standpoint athletes are celebrities. Its just that the persons with a high profile in Norway all compete in sports very few people in the rest of the world care about: cross country skiing, biathlon and alpine skiing. In Norway Kristoff isn’t a superstar, at least not yet – lets hope for him it stays that way.

  5. “..but Paris-Roubaix though is another matter, the most risky race of the year.”

    Does the evidence point to this? Genuine question that I haven’t researched myself..

    From my cursory glance at the winners list I think this applies to taking part rather than winning it. The drop-out rate is high for people taking part who are not contenders (domestiques) because of the toll it takes on the body and equipment as well as the usual form of the race as it splits into those who can win and those who facilitated them being there. You’re not going to bother rolling in to the finish for the sake of it over brutal cobbles in the rain.

    For contenders I’d argue it’s at least comparable to other races. Would a bet on an in-form Boonen or Cancellara in their prime years have been risky? The winners list is full of people repeating themselves: Two people won it 4 times, Seven people 3 times, 11 people 2 times.

    Whilst it’s certainly a race for and won by tough men, is it actually more risky for them or is it actually perfect for them and gives them more of a chance to shine by brutalising the weight weenies?

    Less tactics and more clubbing other riders with your quads.

  6. Probably stating the obvious here, however it seems that Kristoff is winning the races that, according to the media and the fans, Sagan is supposed to be winning, but like Sagan Kristoff may find that success breeds its own difficulties when suddenly no one will want to work with him in a break or attack and he will find himself the most marked man in the race without a super strong team to back him up. The honeymoon could soon be over and the wins could dry up.

      • I really enjoyed your “Tactix Miss Step” zinger from the previous post. Cosmo argued that Terpstra played a bad hand well in hoping Kristoff would implode but I tend to think otherwise. As with OHN, EQS had Stybar in a group just behind a move but didn’t think to use numbers or even cajole other teams into helping them drop Kristoff over the bergs because they can’t not have realised that towing him to the finish was pointless. As others have suggested, maybe Terpstra was happy to take the podium and the preeminent position in EQS’s Boonen-less classics lineup. Who knows?

        • Terpstra settled for 2nd as his best possible outcome. Its that simple.

          PS Wish I could claim Tactix Miss Step but I must admit I nicked it.

        • Stybar couldn’t eat anything but gels because of a dental problem – he wasn’t going to be a factor in the final; perhaps this was conveyed on the race radio. So the whole “Terpstra should have ridden more for the team by waiting” argument is nonsense: had he waited and allowed others to join – others who have a finishing sprint, Van Avermaet, Sagan, maybe even Degenkolb – then EQS is off the podium entirely. Terpstra has been better than Boonen since last season at least too.

          So, what did you guys think of Lotto-Soudal tactics? Bak in the early break, Greipel attacking right, left and center, and two riders in the top 10 (including 5th place for a 21-year old neo-pro). Did they get their tactics wrong because they didn’t win? Did everyone who didn’t win, ride a tactically poor race?

          • I refuse to accept that Etixx had no other tactics. Stybar was in the top ten. Vandebergh was also there until the silly crash. They settled for second rather than throw the dice.

            And as it happens a numbers of teams did ride in a tactically poor way, e.g. Sky.

          • I was a bit surprised to see Bak in the early break. I assumed he was strong enough of a rider that they would save him for later in the race. Griepel looked to me like he was just trying to find a way to stay in the front group by getting a head start on the climbs. I think I read somewhere that he said he was glad to have been able to help in that group as long as he did. I think the only thing Lotto really got wrong was their apparently misplaced faith in Vanmarcke’s fitness.

          • Well given GVA and 2015 Sagan’s penchant for finishing second in reduced sprints it might not have been a bad idea to sit up, certainly no more ill-advised than meekly towing Kristoff to the line unless Terpstra’s main thought was not victory for the team but rather a good result for him personally. I know Stybar wasn’t doing so well dentally, but he was still there at the end.

            And Lotto Soudal’s tactics are not being questioned, but there’s a difference between riding as well as they could for a totally respectable top 10 and having the potential to win and then throwing it away due to questionable tactics. This is why I brought up OHN, as this is not an isolated incident. As INRNG pointed out, EQS are held to a higher standard, but that’s because they’re the benchmark team in classics, so they have to expect more scrutiny than a team like LTS which doesn’t have such expectations both from without and within.

          • Think of it as similar to Grand Tours. Take last year’s TDF, the conversation afterwards was less that Net App Endura managed a top 10 finish, it was more about why Sky did not.

          • Gotta agree with Augie March on this one. BUT any of the win-less teams’ entire classic season could be salvaged with a win on Sunday. Saw the Hell of the North live, in-person back in 2012 but will be parked in front of the TV this time.

          • I’m quite surprised by people considering Etixx as “a force” in the final kms…
            Vandenbergh had been riding some 100km with a broken nose (guess what, it’s a significant problem), hence we could count him out even before Degenkolb threw him down; and Stybar, teeth apart (or because of them), wasn’t shining at all on the Paterberg, despite having been sitting on wheels and covering moves all the time because of Terpstra’s presence on the front… which means he possibly was no serious contender.
            Considering the quantity & quality of riders in better conditions whom EQS should have got rid of (fifteen men around), I strongly doubt they could have done any better. Not only one of them would have had to take off, but he would have had to be sure not to be followed by anyone among the likes of GVA, Sagan, Degenkolb etc. …even the low form Roelandts would have beaten them in a selected sprint!
            I agree that Terpstra was maybe fighting for his own’s sake, I’m not so sure that in this case it wasn’t coinciding with his team’s. More than bad tactics, EQS suffered because of the troubles which affected two out of four of his protected riders (Trentin, VDB), plus Stybar’s teeth.

        • I don’t think there was any tactical misstep. Neither Stybar nor Terpstra were going to be even near the podium if they got to the finish in a group with Degenkolb, Kristoff, Sagan and Van Avermaet. So they would have to try and go solo. Dropping the whole group except one is a good reason to keep going, especially with two climbs still to come that you would expect to give Terpstra a reasonable chance of dropping a heavy sprinter. But the simple fact is that Kristoff rode up the Paterberg at least as hard as anyone else, almost dropping Terpstra even.
          And those who quote Terpstra’s ‘Im happpy to be second’ as a proof he didn’t even try obviously didn’t see the actual interview (it’s in Dutch). He says this as a formality, with clear disappointment in his voice, you can almost hear him thinking ‘I have to say this or else they will think I’m arrogant’.
          Once the Paterberg was past he settled for second, there was nothing more in it. He tried to stall as much as he could but letting the two chasers catch them would have been settling for fourth.

  7. Sagan, Kristoff, Kwaitowski, Thomas are all marked now as Boonen and Cancellara have been for years. They can make the final selection, but are lucky to get away. I find complaining about their lack of results after a block of high profile wins from experienced viewers annoying.

    A less recent example was Cancellara complaining after one edition of Paris-Roubaix that even if he stopped for a coffee on the course he’d have company, or something to that effect.

    This is the team aspect of the sport and why the strongest doesn’t always win a bike race. Single-day races with varying conditions is added drama/pressure not normally seen in stage races. The winner needs quite a bit of luck.

    • I agree with your point re. these riders being marked men but only up to a limit. Certainly Sagan faced this problem last year but now he seems off re. form, or confidence, or not clicking with the team. Thomas may have been a marked man on Sunday but by his own admission didn’t have it in the end to follow the attacks of others. Kristoff should have been marked on Sunday but other teams (like BMC) seemed surprised when he went with Terpstra so early.

    • ^Well played, Drago. Sky needs to add a couple of additional bikes to the team car Sunday for Sir Wiggins to toss to the cobbles or in a ditch, should he be inspired to do so.
      Reminds me of a story a friend tells of when he was a young caddy: his petulant golfer hit a bad shot and tossed his club into a pond and then screamed at my friend to wade in and fetch it.

      I remain inconsolable that both Boonen and Cancellara will not pounding the cobbles this year.
      Maybe I will cheer for the newly under-dogged Sagan.
      Looking forward to see who gets how many rings in INRNG’s predictions.

      As regards Terpstra, he was up against it and I cannot what EQS had in mind, but I wish he at least launched one last attack 2k or so from the line. Fruitless as it might have been, it would at least have been more seemly (or just less obvious) than riding for 2nd (which still remains better than third). Easy to say from the armchair, of course.

  8. Seems the way to beat Kristoff if you have the finishing speed is the strategy Degenkolb used to great effect at MSR. Kristoff likes to wind up a long sprint, and if a fast finisher (Degenkolb, Kittel, Cav) can get on his wheel, it’s essentially a leadout. Obviously, Terpstra is not in the same class as these riders and didn’t really have a chance vs Kristoff in the Ronde sprint.

  9. I’m really looking forward to Paris-Roubaix, it feels like an open field (with no dominant multi-time winner), but with really high quality of riders to battle it out. Now reading this I am hoping Kristoff won’t just walk away with it (very happy for him to win it, but I want a contest). I wonder how he would cope with being worked over – the Ronde finish felt like a steadier TT style effort rather than a stop-go series of attacks.

  10. All thoughts above are relevant all we can count on is many things unexpected will happen this weekend. Broken bikes and broken bodies, perhaps all participants mom’s might say the rosary this Saturday night before bed just to increase their sons luck.

    Not just Sagan’s mom!

  11. If Kristoff is in a situation where nobody in the group has a teammate or he is 1v1 like at Flanders, its tough to see anyone beating him. Degenkolb maybe, but he will have to be smart and bob his head pretty quickly to beat Kristoff a second time. Especially in a harder race than MSR.

    But as Drago said, why are we debating this since we know the winner already…………Wiggo.

  12. I’ve got fifty quid that I can afford to lose and I’ve read all the above. My heart says put it on Brad, but I think it would be better spent donating to anyone riding a bicycle for charity, at least there would be a notional return for somebody. I don’t know enough to spot a Vansummeren, Backstedt or O’Grady so in the absence of Tom and Fabian I’ve got to go for a contender.
    Forty on Geraint Thomas at 9/1 and a tenner on Stannard at 30/1.

    • Why team Sky? There are so many better options for Roubaix. Physiologically standard is actually their best suited, but he’s slightly out of form. If wiggins does win, well it would have to be something pretty special…

        • I think devolder is as strong as ever this year. He didn’t win two Rondes through pure power though, and without a foil to keep an eye on things, he can’t ride away while others hesitate to tow his teammate to the front.

    • Regardless of the odds, Wiggins’ career (and his foibles) deserves to be celebrated. And, if everything goes his way, it’s not like it’s a bad bet..

      My fifty’s on Wiggo; thank you, very much, for all the years of entertainment!

  13. According to Stein Ørn, Kristoff has not reached his physical potential yet. They have since he was a little boy trained him so he will be on his best in two years.

  14. I am genuinely impressed by Kristoff. Being able to win San Remo and Flandes is astonishing, especially the way he has done it. The last one to achieve it had been Cancellara, and he won La Classicissima after a successful solo attack, which is something that hasn’t happened again since his victory. Kristoff proved last sunday to be an extremely versatile cyclist. If you can beat all your rivals in a bunch sprint in San Remo, and also win in Flandes after being the only one able to follow the crucial attack of one of the best cobbles specialists… then you’re sort of invincible. Time can put me wrong, but I think last sunday we might have seen a legend born.

    • It is very good but if he was a legend he surely would have been winning from the start, for example like Tom Boonen who was on the podium in his first Paris-Roubaix. He’s 27 now and had a few quiet years at BMC, at least in relative terms because there were no wins outside Norway but some good results. But he himself says this gradual approach has served him well, the contrast to EBH and Sagan who promised so much so soon is noticeable.

      • If I recall correctly, young Tom B on the podium after riding much of the day in the service of Hincapie, correct?
        My understanding was that he left Postal because they (Bruyneel) wanted to ease him in- perhaps a logical path, but not for the talent that Tommeke clearly was. He came out of the womb in the big ring.

      • Yes, “legend” is an excessive word. It’s just that I’d never expected to see him wining the way he did yesterday. Something really far beyond the image that I had of him as a strong and resistant sprinter able to handle the cobbles, who maybe could win Flanders but only in a bunch sprint scenario.

        • Thibaut Pinot recently released several years worth of traingin data, revealing a remarkably steady progress over the years. I think if Kristoff did the same, you would see a steady build of capacity. It has been the long term plan of Team Kristoff to develop into being able to withstand the distance of the spring classics while maintaining his fast finish. When BMC wanted him to move to southern Europe, he refused to deviate from his chosen path, even if it meant being out of a job. It’s the kind of determination that makes for a true classics contender!

      • I’m not going to throw mud at Boonen but let’s not forget that much of his career success has been achieved in a rather ‘unfortunate’ era of pro cycling dogged by rampant doping. He rode for good old US Postal in 2002 in his inaugural Paris Roubaix. George Hincapie, a lifetime doper, was team leader. I would have thought Kristoff’s gradual progression as a pro, with the bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics road race and the first sign of greatness, was a thing to be applauded. Legendary status he might not have (yet), but he has credibility is spades.

        • This great blog and most of its regular readers have refreshingly stayed away from dealing / coming up with doping ALLEGATIONS but always tried to deal with the facts. Which is completely different from looking at the sport through a pair of rose-tinted glasses, mind you.
          I would really appreciate if we could keep it that way.

          • +1000
            What is sooo funny is that MattF’s arguments could easily be reversed to hint at… whatever, really whatever. Kristoff is a doper and Boonen isn’t, both are, or neither… whatever you wanted. Conjecturing about race dynamics is fun, conjecturing without any proper basis on doping is what qualifies as (sorry) “media crap”.

  15. How to beat Kristoff? Ask John Degenkolb.
    Another option: ride Paris-Roubaix. Kristoff himself claimed in the RVV post-race interview that the flat Roubaix cobbles are much less to his liking than the cobbled climbs. That could be downplaying his chances of course but that doesn’t quite seem his style. Nevertheless, he’s on fire at the moment so he might surprise himself.

  16. Some great comments here. I wonder if the “surging” accelerations on the flat cobbles will bring Kristoff undone. In the absence of Cancellara, and since Vanmarcke seems slightly off form, perhaps look to Boom, GVA, Sagan and maybe Stybar for this type of aggression? (Although Stybar does seem more of a “following wheels” type of option with Terpstra as the long-range attacker.) Stannard has been quiet which is a real shame and I suspect Thomas is going off the boil. I’ll be staggered if Wiggins is there at the sharp end (and I just can’t envisage a scenario where he wins, despite what Boonen might be saying in Rouleur…).

  17. How to beat Kristoff? He’s riding Scheldeprijs today and was available at 7/1 last night with a certain Irish bookmaker (now beat price 4/1). Looking at the field, it’s hard to see anyone getting near him. The only doubt would be the possibility he’ll be taking it easy with P-R in mind on Sunday, but he just doesn’t strike me as the sort of guy who would soft-pedal and allow someone else to win when the prize is there for the taking…

  18. E3 showed that, when preempted by a strong breakaway, Kristoff doesn’t necessarily have the team to pull them back when everyone is looking to him to do so. However, he himself took care of this in Flanders by preempting the preemptors!

  19. This discussion reminds me about “Regression toward the mean” phenomenon.
    (look also:

    1. This could be just one (local) great peak of Kristoff career OR
    2. In last years he has got to his own level
    (OR cycling-haters-explanation: 3. he has found good “medicines”).

    And what is this “New Boonen” thing. What makes (not “made” yeat) Boonen “Boonen”.
    It’s essentially same.. what makes very good classics rider:

    Man (or woman) who can sprint. But don’t make win by just following others (team members or competitors). Is ready to work and attack when needed or when it it least expected.
    And very good stamina is needed also.

    Well… like Marianne Vos, Gilbert (in hills).

    Kristoff have shown good sprint past.
    His has shown great stamina.
    Now he has shown readiness to attack and to do work (before last 250m).

    • With Katusha’s past accounting issues, it’s possible that Kristoff has an “invisible” teammate. But still, he’s a treat to watch.

      I am surprised that few have brought into the conversation a comparison to Gilbert’s successful classics season.

      • There’s always an uncomfortable aspect of Katusha, seeing Luca Paolini being slapped on the back by Dr Mikhailov after he won in Wevelgem is an uneasy moment but that’s our problem for now.

        Good point on Gilbert and his stellar Ardennes campaign, it’s the standard to which he’s held and repeating it looks impossible.

      • Even before that stellar 2011 and the Ardennes’ hattrick, Gilbert had shown his class in the Monuments, winning a couple of them (Lombardia) and getting podia in others (notably *both* in Liege AND in Flanders in the same 2010… the year before he had been 3rd and 4th! And in 2008 he was on the podium in Sanremo). Besides, he had won a whole lot of Classics, like *a couple* of Paris-Tours, an Amstel, *a couple* of Het Volk, plus semiclassics like two Giro del Piemonte (“Gran Piemonte”), Fourmies, Samyn, Coppa Sabatini, Coppa Sabatini, GP Wallonie, Haut Var… a couple of stages in the Vuelta and one in the Giro.
        He started winning big when he was 26 (but he was winning significant races – classified as HC and PT, now WT – when 24 and had been long considered as a “chosen one”), then went on with a couple of impressive years yet before his incredible 2011.

        Really not comparable with Kristoff’s “slow build-up”: until half and a year ago, in 2013, he still was a kind of second-line stamina sprinter who won few and small.
        That said, it’s true that very often the riders who show their talent and can compete with the best when they’re still very young, find the peak of their career a little sooner, when they’re 30 or even before, then go fading with sudden and rarer and rarer flashes of class.

        Staying on the top burns you out, a rider is lucky if he can stay 4-5 years at his top level (obviously enough, if he’s a superclass he’ll still win big both before and after that).
        Cancellara wasn’t at all a force to be taken into account in Flandres before 2010. And, yes, he won Roubaix in 2006 but he was very discontinuous there until that same 2010. He has always been a top class (another “chosen one”) but he was essentially a brutal cronoman and very good finisseur, whereas his true top-strength as a cobbled classics champion surfaced a bit later – and lasted a bit longer – when compared, e.g. with Boonen.

        • I agree with the sentiment of Cancellara’s slow emergence, but to throw a fly in your ointment… cancellara was widely regarded by the chase group in PR 2007 to be the strongest in the bunch, hence their collective hesitation to chase down O’Grady. A tune that Devolder knows how to play as well (twice in a row no less).

    • Well, Marianne Vos is a little better than that (and Boonen, Kristoff, Gilbert etc.), but what you say is indeed *a part* of her more general endowments.

  20. Calling Kristoff the new Boonen is still some days early since he has not yet proofed to be as smooth on the real cobbles as Tommekke. Only people who have not ridden both compare any Belgian paddestraat with your typical pavé sector in P-R. Those are two different worlds. But if he also proofs to have that skill then Tommekke has probably found his successor.
    Given that his team does not seem to be very strong it is realistic to keep him from winning if some other teams agree that anybody else should win rather than Kristoff. That thinking was in place when Vansummeren won P-R. Cancellara faced that kind of “negative racing” during other races and publicly complained about it. I’m sure he spent a lot of time thinking about how to deal with it and in the 2013 P-R came up with the most brilliant masterpiece of racing tactic I have ever witnessed. I never read about him explaining afterwards that going back to the team car and showing signs of tiredness, letting riders attack and not showing any reaction for some minutes was actually a tactic – and if he ever will admit that then probably only after retiring from the sport. But it all worked out so beautifully for him and stopped any “negative racing”. And once the race was full on with his adversaries attacking each other and splintering up the field in many little groups he put down the ventail again and started to plow his way through the remainders of what had been a field of riders formerly unified in there attitude to stay glued to his rear wheel.
    My impression is that Kristoff is also that kind of rider. Watching him in some race finals and especially in Sunday’s RVV led to the impression that he is that kind of cold-blooded killer who apparently not only has the legs but also a remarkable cool head making him deal perfectly with what others might consider “pressure”. It’s that characteristic which might make him even more dangerous than the sometimes hyperactive Tommekke ever was.

    • Degenkolb summed it up recently saying something like ‘this year’s races will be different because most guys usually just try to be wherever Fabian is, as that is usually the right place to be…’

  21. I’ve heard rumors about an argue between Kristoff and Paolini after E3. Does anything know something about it? Anyone know what happend to Paolini in RVV.

    Kristoff sat mostly by himself the whole race, and his teammates where nowhere to see after Koppenberg

  22. Yes, my comment was part sarcasm as despite his heroics a week ago, LP was MIA at the Ronde. He did get caught behind a few crashes and had to change bikes at least once I think – but nevertheless was quiet by his standards. Lets see what plays out on Sunday.

  23. Here’s a list of Kristoff’s De panne time trials from age 22 to 27: 2010 +2.01, 2011 +1.59, 2012 +1.15, 2013 +32, 2014 +28, 2015 +18. I am a biased Norwegian, but I would say his progression is quite natural.

  24. I’d say there are two quite impressive jumps, in 2012 and in 2015. Cutting your delay by a 37% from a year to another *is* relevant, although I’d REALLY like to stress that I don’t consider this kind of data show anything at all, nor the one thing people have start hinting at, nor its contrary. A lot of factors come into play.
    What is generally uncommon is the ability to adapt fast twitch sprinting fibres to 10′-20′ efforts, people who are gifted with rare combinations which make possible high performances in both efforts usually stand out soon.
    That said, long term training can improve many things: the same Cancellara got a sharper edge in fast finishes, which with age is even more complicated than the reverse process… even if he went on losing something in other terrains (he became notably less dominant on the cobbles as such, not to speak of TT).

    • I saw that too, and the first thing I thought (and I suppose you did too): wind! That TT is on the coast and it is often crazy windy. In fact, and as some people may recall, in 2011 Niki Terpstra himself was blown off his bike by a wind gust in the De Panne TT, suffered serious injury, and put a dent in Quickstep’s Classics line-up (some might even claim that as ‘poor tactics!’ lol).

  25. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that some time will pass before “a new Tom Boonen” is born.
    That guy shares the record for number of victories in both Paris-Roubaix and Flanders, besides sharing the same record in Gand-Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke. Which means that, in terms of victories, he’s the record holder (all-times) in *all* the races which matter the most when we speak of cobbles, the only one who managed to make “the quadruple” in a same year.
    The Worlds, the Tour stages, the green jersey are just details.
    He’s probably the best rider ever on cobbles as a “global concept”. And not for lack of competence, since he had to cross swords with Cancellara, who is arguably among the all-times top five in the same specialty (and looks as if he wants to climb higher). To find an appropriate comparison, we must go back to De Vlaeminck-Merckx, more of a duel but also more limited to Roubaix, hence in an all-around perspective… (which explains why DV is so angry against Boonen & modern cycling 😉 ).

  26. Kristoff is riding super strong for now, but the “legend” moniker is pre-mature. Time will tell…. Without Spartacus and Tommeke at this year’s ronde, perhaps the dynamics were quite different than what they could’ve been for Kristoff. We will never know. Vive le velo!

  27. I don’t fancy him for PR – always a difficult race to predict anyway, but team and experience issues put him in the second rank of favourites for me. I reckon one of Degenkolb, Vanmarcke or Terpstra are the most likely. Even then I’d give Sagan, Thomas, GVA and Stybar more of a chance.

    Maybe level-pegging with Wiggins or Boom.

  28. When something is too good to be true, it is likely untrue. I would accept that one wins Tour de Flanders only 3 days after riding his time trial of a lifetime, but this is too much. How come every no name journalist asks Wiggins, Froome, Nibali the same doping questions and now everybody is silent? I hope that he is clean. I truly do. Than we have the new Cannibal. But considering cycling being cycling this is the first question devoted journalist should ask. Unless we agree that we trust all Norwegians and Russians.

    • Firstly there is something else to wia a grand tour compared with the races Kristoff perform in.

      Secondly Kristoff is Norwegian. In Norway it is a anti doping cultural rooted in the sport. It separates Norway from spain, italy and similar countries.

      For all practical purposes there have not been a doping scandal in Norway ever. The whole sport is built around an idea of being clean.

      It Kristoff doing now is a result of extremely hard training, over many years, from a very young age .

      I am absolutely sure that he is clean.

      The reason why he wins so many races is that he has a very good sprint in combination with the stength and stamina. He is not better than other in hills, and he is not faster than others. He has worked hard to develop from being a sprinter to be a classic rider. This is what you see the results of now.

      • Quote: “For all practical purposes there have not been a doping scandal in Norway ever. ”

        NOT TRUE!!! i.e cycling – steffen kjærgaard

        You need to do your lessons better…

        • It is true there is some cases. But in all cases the athletes have never been stars , or achieved notable results.

          It is also important to point out: Norwegians who have been caught has been totally banned by the Norwegian sporting community.

          Steffen Kjærgård is a good example. He was sports director for the Norwegian national team when he admitted doping. He was fired right away and has since not been aloud to do anything within sports,

          The same applies to other persons. This shows that the Norwegians have a different attitude to doping.

          In cycling former dopers come back, and being well received. Something similar could never happened in Norway .

          Bjarne Riis was allowed to continue as sporting director after admitting doping. A Norwegian sponsor had fired him the same day.

          Check out the stats if you want to: (alphabetical order). Note that there is not a single norwegian sports star on the list.

          • Quote: “It is true there is some cases. But in all cases the athletes have never been stars , or achieved notable results.”

            NOT TRUE!!!
            i.e norwegian dope jerks on world level:
            steffen kjærgaard – pro cycling (world tour/wc/olympics etc)
            eric tysse – athlete walking (world-cup/wc/olympics etc)
            knut hjeltnes – athlete discus (world-cup/wc/olympics etc)

        • BTW: “For all practical purposes” does not imply that there are no exceptions. This means that exceptions are so marginal that the general rule still stands.

          It is clear that Norway has had cases of doping, the contested either. I still think there is good evidence that the Norwegian culture is of a different character.

          Steffen Kjærgaard was an idiot. Dag Otto Lauritzen and Dag Erik Pedersen was also guaranteed doped. Kurt Asle Arvesen too. These were part of the Italian community in the sport. Kristoff, Hushovd and EBH has Norwegian values. Their not riders who have gone to Italy as youths. They have had a Norwegian bike education, based on Norwegian values ​​and training principles.

          I know people who are been training camp as a youth in Italy. When Norwegians trained the second session of the day, Italian athlets didn´t understand. “Why did they not go home and drugged up instead?”. We are talking about a vital different attitude.

          • I hope you’re just very young and not a troll, since in this last case it would be better not to feed you. What I’m going to do anyway very soon.
            I can appreciate that nor you nor those “Norwegians in Italy” know much about doping, indeed, since one of the most relevant effects of blood doping isn’t about racing… it’s about training more. Which makes that class of anecdotes sheer nonsense.
            It’s not very clear, either, how many exceptions can a rule stand before becoming just a shared lie.

          • “NOT TRUE!!!
            i.e norwegian dope jerks on world level:
            steffen kjærgaard – pro cycling (world tour/wc/olympics etc)
            eric tysse – athlete walking (world-cup/wc/olympics etc)
            knut hjeltnes – athlete discus (world-cup/wc/olympics etc)”

            Your examples supports my point .. This is not Norwegian sports stars .

          • Man, I’m answering just ’cause I’m having fun… I don’t have time to go clicking all the alphabet letter by letter, so I went to the Category page “Sportspeople in doping cases by nationality”. You’ve got 33 Wiki pages for Italy, 29 for Spain and 14 for Norway. Considering that Norway has a population of 5M, Italy of 60M and Spain of 47M, I’d expect 168 pages for Italy and 132 for Spain. Sweden has 11 pages, like Denmark.
            In the Olympics tests, three Norwegians were busted, just as many as the Italians.
            Obviously those are not statistics (we should have the whole numer of athletes), just clues, but they suggest that there’s no “special culture” about doping in Norway, or that, if it exists, it doesn’t prevent people from doping.

      • “Secondly Kristoff is Norwegian. In Norway it is a anti doping cultural rooted in the sport. It separates Norway from spain, italy and similar countries”.
        *This* is too good to be true.
        The last person I heard saying something like that was an USA friend. About USA, obviously.
        He was a junior athlete (swimming). He hoped to go to the university thanks to his sporting results. He ended up taking his degree in the army (got back home safe, luckily).
        First thing I can google out there:
        Oh, the envy of Swedish and Finnish people against Norwegian, I guess!
        I especially like this defense line:”“There was never a single case of questionable testing results.”
        That is, no Norwegian ever, ever, EVER…
        And, I’m going on memory about this, wasn’t a Norwegian custom employee recently arrested for smuggling EPO (smuggling EPO *to* Norway)?
        As I stated before, I’m against doping allegation towards Kristoff, but this kind of defence is even worse 😀

          • Well, I won’t comment much further since it would be impolite to anayse an article I’ve read through Google translator, but, on first sight (hence, I could be dead wrong), it doesn’t look like the strongest defence of all.
            The last sentence of the article would make you think the author is *slightly* biased. Moreover, the fact that he or she chooses to set, right in the conclusions, the highest possible distorsion in Hb values (the one derived from the worst scenario) as the reference data, suggests a case of bad journalism.
            It’s quite similar to what you can read on Ferrari’s website about Armstrong or doped riders’ tests.
            Anyway, I guess you possibly are quite young, and it’s fine to hold one’s dreams, for some time, since they can be way more inspiring than reality. And that’s not a bad thing, IMHO.

      • “In Norway it is a anti doping cultural rooted in the sport. It separates Norway from spain, italy and similar countries.

        For all practical purposes there have not been a doping scandal in Norway ever. The whole sport is built around an idea of being clean.”

        Pure as the driven snow?

        Yet, funnily enough, if you look in Wikipedia’s alphabetical list of doping cases in sport, the first two are Norwegians:

        There may well be some cultural differences between different societies, which results in drug use being more or less accepted in particular sporting contexts. But to claim that nobody in a particular country dopes is just daft. Certainly, the former head of Anti-Doping Norway doesn’t seem to believe the country is clean:

        None of this necessarily has anything to do with Kristoff, by the way.

  29. This is no comment on Kristoff nor any specific cyclist or athlete but blood doping was first used in Nordic skiing (ie: cross country) in the 1950’s as far as I know. Lets not get in a slanging match but lets also not claim things are purer than pure.

    FWIW, I like Kristoff’s style and when it comes to science I’m sure his cardiologist step-dad is more than useful.

  30. I have actually raced against Kristoff many times. and i can say he is not a sprinter who has become a classic rider. he is a classic rider who have a good sprint. I remember a stage in Ringerike GP where the last 30 k was more or less like the rvv profile. Kristoff had been out front all day, and went solo in the end. He held off a chasing peleton ho had to sprint for second. So he was actually abel to do this as a amatour as well. And to be fair. search for Kristoff+doping and i guess you wouldent find a singel pro with a more freespeaking aditude against doping. In the 2012 olympics he went out in national media and condemd that walker Erik Tysse was a part of the Norwegian Olympic team after he was caught for EPO. As the ONLY athlete.

    • Thanks for sharing the compelling personal experience. First person witnesses always bring in interesting points of view.
      About speaking against doping… well, I think that’s one of the thing less correlated to being on dope (or not) in the whole world.
      I just hope people would stop “defending” Kristoff, he doesn’t need it (at least while Cookson and Makarov are still friends… :-O … just joking!), but the postulations coming forward are starting to hurt.

      To hurt common sense, I mean 😉

        • Nicolay, it’s okay that you believe what you do, but it’s also okay that Miso believes what he believes. Neither of you can prove your arguments, however frustrating that may be. However passionately you think it, it doesn’t make it right, it’s just what you think, but that’s ok, stick with it.

        • The most worrying thing is that in Norway they’re publishing such an article 🙂
          I especially appreciated the McQuaid reference, yeah, that same McQuaid President of the UCI who spoke about the Mediterranean “culture of doping” and is now in disgrace for his mishandling of doping situations. They quote him as kind of an authority in the article!

          So, now you’re saying that (even if maybe there’s a doping culture in Norway’s sport – see also Leif Jenssen’s assertions)… there is not in Norwegian cycling. Not in today’s cycling, at least.
          Well, everything is possible.
          Presently, Norway just has 8 relevant (more than 100 points) cyclists in PCS historical stats. Four of them are active. The four who aren’t, all have had doping issues.
          Hope the trend has changed.
          Sorry, the fun parenthesis finishes here. Gotta work.

          • I think it’s foolish to use a weightlifter from the early 70s as proof that there’s a “doping culture” in Norway. Yes, we’ve our fair share of bad leaves(ref. Kjaergaard and Tysse), and I wouldn’t be suprised if some of our more prominent cyclists were doped during the 80s and 90s.
            With that said, I would deem the current state of cycling in Norway as very healthy. The focus on clean riding is there already from a young age, and sponsors and teams have a very strict policy regarding doping. If you are stupid enoguh to dope and get caught your career would end immediately.

            I won’t defend the quality of a tabloid newspaper such as VG, but to be fair, Pat McQuaid, however critisized and dirty he may be, was the UCI President at the time that article was written so it’s not really suprising that they would want a quote from him.

            As someone who have been following Kristoff for many years, I can’t really say that I’m suprised with his recent success. His couch Stein Orn has an unique training philosophy that they’ve been working on ever since Krisstoff was in his teeens, and that they’ve only now are starting to see results from.
            His win in MSR and the tour last year should have been a wake up call for many.

        • Blimey Nicolay. I think it’s safer to assume that many (most) of the top stars are doping regardless of which nationality they are. If there is a way around the testing and passport, many will find a way. That’s obviously not something that can be proven either way at the moment, but I’m sure if it is true then it will come out in the wash at some point.

          And until the testing is bulletproof that will always be the way (which is probably never).

  31. I might be naive, but i actually belive the peleton in general are more or less clean, but with a lot of riders surfing in the grey area of what is ethical. had you asked me 6-8 years ago i would just shake my head and say, he is on the juice, to just about anyone winning a major tour or mountain stage. it is just the way they are tiering now. i can relate to it. you can see the strain, and the efforts can’t go on forever.

  32. What is this BS discussion?

    Doping has nothing to do with nationality. The two driving factors for or against doping are money and education. At least in my opinion. The higher the monetary gain is, the higher the temptation. The better the education the higher the resistance/lower the need to dope. Just to simplify it.

    But calling Spaniards and Italians chronic dopers because of the nationality/national identity/character is as vile and wrong as calling Greeks lazy because of their economical situation. And putting yourself/your nationality morally above them is just biased.

    Now how many Spaniards are there, and how many Norwegians? 45 million to 5 million. Assumed people are more or less the same everywhere, that would also make 9 Spanish doping cases against one Norwegian. Now Spain is a country in which cycling is and has been much more popular for a long time, that shifts the bias even more towards Spain. And then the general cycling culture, where doping was a long time seen as a part of the job (Not anymore, I hope), for whatever reason. I wonder how the ratio would look like if one would compare the athletes of both countries in Nordic skiing?

    I can imagine that because of circumstances, rich country, good education system (because of wealth and low population) the temptation and ergo the tendency to dope in Norway may be lower, but that doesn’t make Spaniards or Italians dopers per se.

    Amusing irony and fact with no value. I followed to link to the incomplete list of doping cases and started at A. And the first to entries were Norwegian athletes….

    • Aye, enough with this silly discussion – theres alot of factors that go into if a person deciedes to dope, and nationality is certainly not one of those imo.

      Now to stay on topic.. if it comes down to a sprint I have hard time seeing who’s gonna beat Kristoff.. Maybe Degenkolb if he forces him to open early and comes from behind

  33. I think we should leave the discussion about nationality and cheating aside. Culture and entourage play a big role but nationality is a shaky ground to accuse or defend on.

    We’ll see what race tactics the others use against Kristoff this Sunday.

  34. Thanks, inrng. This was gettig silly after a lot of good debate.

    I had a dream. Kristoff and Degenkolb arriving at the velodrome together, having dropped everybody else (even Wiggo), and the just drag racing to the line.

    Now, one of them probably won’t be there (it’s P-R), and Dege’s got the better Roubaix palmares indeed, but still.

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