Alexander Kristoff humbly played down comparisons with compatriot Thor Hushovd after making history by becoming the first Norwegian to win the Tour of Flanders.
It was Kristoff’s second victory in a ‘Monument’ race following success at Milan San-Remo last year and he is rapidly making a name for himself as both a sprinter and a Classics specialist.
It was his third straight top five finish in Flanders while he won Milan-San Remo last year, was second this year and eighth in 2013.
He also won two stages at last year’s Tour de France and took bronze in the Olympic road race in 2012.
But he says he has a long way to go to overtake Hushovd, who in 2010 was the first ever Scandinavian to win the World Championships road race.
“Now I have won two ‘Monuments’ so I’m getting closer, but he delivered for many years,” said Kristoff, who rides for Russian outfit Katusha.
“If I keep putting results together, maybe I will get closer.”
Hushovd retired at the end of last year at 36 years of age having set a number of records for a Scandinavian cyclist: He was the first winner of the World Championships in 2010 and won a record number of Grand Tour stages — 14, including 10 at the Tour de France.
He was also the first Norwegian to wear the Tour’s fabled yellow jersey in 2006, wearing it again in 2010.
Hushovd, though, was a specialist sprinter, as well as a handy time-triallist, and never won a Monument race.
The closest he came was a second place finish at Paris-Roubaix in 2010, although he finished third the previous year and was twice third at Milan-San Remo — ironically his greatest successes coming in the same two races that favour Kristoff.
Hushovd did win the Gent-Wevelgem cobbled classic in 2006 and the semi-classic Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2009.
But Kristoff, 27, wants to concentrate more on the Classics, believing that will help him extend his ability to win big races.
“I wanted to be good in the Classics and not only a sprinter,” he said.
“To win Flanders is proof that I’m good in the Classics. This is where I can make results. As you get older, you get slower and maybe sprinting will be more difficult, but at the Classics maybe I’ll get better because you can handle long distances better.”
The key to success in a race like Flanders, which is 264km long and tackles 19 short but brutal and often cobbled climbs, is to go on the attack, according to Kristoff.
“In Flanders you must have an attacking mind because usually it is a small group coming into the finish,” he said.
“I saw this in the last years and I was already set for this.”
Next up comes Paris-Roubaix on Sunday but Kristoff says he doesn’t have the same feeling for the third of the Monuments — the other two being Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy — as he does the first two.
“I struggle more on the flat cobbles. I’ve only finished it three times but I’ll try to finish in the top 10,” he said.
Factfile of Tour of Flanders winner Alexander Kristoff:
Full name: Alexander Kristoff
Date of birth: July 5, 1987
Place of birth: Oslo, Norway
Teams: Maxbo-Bianchi (2007), Joker-Bianchi (2008-2009), BMC (2010-2011), Katusha (2012-)
Grand Tours: Tour de France (two stages in 2014)
One-day Classics: Milan-San Remo (2014), Tour of Flanders (2015)
Stage races: Three Days of De Panne (2015)
One-day races: Norwegian Championships (2007, 2011), Olympic Games (bronze in 2012)
– Agence France-Presse