Alexander Kristoff welcomes challenge posed by Fernando Gaviria's UAE Team Emirates move

Matt Jones - Editor 12:31 01/12/2018
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Alexander Kristoff wins the opening stage of the 2018 Abu Dhabi Tour.

Bicycles and cars essentially share the same purpose – getting you from point A to point B.

Yet they are at the same time two vastly different modes of transportation; one is more practical, the other more stylish. You tend to own a bike before upgrading to a car.

And you could forgive Alexander Kristoff for looking at UAE Team Emirates’ acquisition of the supremely talented Fernando Gaviria in similar fashion – the aging veteran being traded in for a younger, faster model.

But Kristoff doesn’t see it like this. He is only looking at the bigger picture and believes the two sprinters can work in tandem and that the addition of the speedy Colombian will accelerate UAE Team Emirates’ vision of becoming one of the most elite teams in professional cycling.

“In Gavaria we have signed one of the future stars of the sprinting arena,” Kristoff told Sport360 at a UAE Team Emirates training camp in the UAE at the end of October.

“It’s challenging in a good way. It will be good to see what he’s doing and also how I can improve.

“Fernando showed this year he is a faster sprinter than me. I’m not just a sprinter, I can do other races, he’s a more pure sprinter, but he’s also shown he can do the Classics and it’s also good for the team to have sprinters in every race so we can fight for more wins.”

Both men won stages at this year’s Tour de France. Kristoff, 31, claimed victory on the iconic, largely processional final Stage 21 stroll into Paris along the Champs-Elysees. Gaviria, seven years his junior, impressively tasted victory on Stage 1 and 4 on his Tour debut.

Last year UAE Team Emirates unveiled Kristoff, fellow 2018 Tour stage winner Dan Martin and 2015 Vuelta a Espana champion Fabio Aru as new riders. And with Gaviria now being joined by compatriot Sergio Henao – the 2017 Paris-Nice champion – from Team Sky, Kristoff sees the additions as another step in the right direction to bridging the gap to the likes of pro cycling giants like Team Sky, Movistar and Quick-Step Floors.

“You saw already this year, he won two stages in the Tour and wore the yellow jersey in his first Tour de France,” added the Norwegian.

“I think he will have a bright future ahead of him and I look forward to working with him, because now there’s maybe one guy faster than me on the team.”

Gaviria is certainly seen as one of cycling’s bright hopes. A year ago, Belgian-based Quick-Step allowed 19-time Grand Tour stage winner Marcel Kittel to leave for Katusha-Alpecin, such was their faith in the 24-year-old.

Marcel Kittel was allowed to leave Quick-Step last season because of their faith in Gaviria.

Marcel Kittel was allowed to leave Quick-Step last season because of their faith in Gaviria.

In three successful seasons at Quick-Step since turning professional, Gaviria won six Grand Tour stages including four at the 2017 Giro d’Italia – where he won the points title – and his two at this year’s Tour.

Gaviria formed a productive two-pronged sprinting attack alongside Elia Viviani – winner of this year’s Dubai Tour in his debut campaign with Quick-Step.

Now, UAE Team Emirates possess two of their own stellar sprinters and Kristoff can only see good things ahead for a team who’ve just completed their second season at the elite level.

“This year we started many races without a sprinter and then you lose good results,” said the man who spent his debut season with the team decked in white from his 2017 European road race victory.

“Normally all the top teams have two sprinters like Quick-Step, who have three or four, Viviani and Gaviria. They both had great seasons and I hope we will have the same situation next year.”

Kristoff has no idea what the plans for both men will be in 2019. But having featured at the Tour for the last six years, he is hoping his season might include a return to the Giro or even a first appearance at the Vuelta.

“We must plan what Fernando is doing then we will set up my season and fit it in with him,” he went on.

“The Tour I’ve done many years now and I’ve not done the Giro or Vuelta. I’ve never done the Vuelta and the Giro not since 2012 so maybe that will be an option and he (Gaviria) wants to focus on the Tour. But we will see what the team has in store.”

Simply put, Kristoff wants more opportunities to win races. Signing the likes of Gaviria makes that eminently more possible. So he’s all for it.

“The team, our relationships within the team are very good. You have a good group of riders going well together and we feel settled,” he said.

“Our 2018 results were not as good as we hoped considering the riders we have. We still need to work on something. We’ve also changed a lot the staff, trainers and doctors, and it feels from the few days that we met the new guys, more professional.

“And you need to work professionally with every aspect of the sport. That means nutrition, recovery, training, treatment. Small details. We missed a few details this year and I think you can see that in the results.”

UAE Team Emirates were formed out of the ashes of Lampre-Merida in December 2016 – with many of the historic Italian team’s roster remaining in place over the last two seasons.

With the crucial additions of Kristoff, Martin and Aru, they have slowly begun to form their own identity, finishing 12th of 18 teams on the UCI’s WorldTour in both 2017 and 2018.

But they have ambitions to climb higher. And Kristoff believes that will come to fruition in the next few years.

“We’re going in a good direction with the new internationals. Last season we still had a lot of the Lampre riders, which was not bad but I think we are taking another step forward, to be more professional, more modern, an international team, which is the best way forward,” he added.

“All the best teams are very international. For us we are spending a bit more step by step and I think, if not next year, but in a few years we will be one of the leading teams.”

Alexander Kristoff said his Tour de France saved his 2018 season.

Alexander Kristoff said his Tour de France saved his 2018 season.

The Oslo native is his harshest critic and despite a phenomenal win in Paris at the end of July, he described his debut campaign with his new team as “average”.

“I had five victories last year (including winning the opening stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour) and normally I’m around 10 so it was half of what I’m used to,” said Kristoff, who claims his performance on the final day in France saved his season.

“Then again I had three WorldTour wins and others had less so we also did not so many smaller races and that makes it harder to win races.

“We focus mainly on the big races so when you get a win it’s a good win. So when you consider this, I had a kind of good season.

“But I was not super happy with my performance until the Tour. Dan (Martin) won a stage (UAE Team Emirates’ maiden Tour triumph), I won a stage.

“I think in general we did a very good Tour and I kind of saved my season with the stage win at the Champs-Elysees. Without this I would not be very happy but when I got this win, that I dreamt of for so many years, then I must say I was happy.”

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