It was the Norwegian’s second victory of the season – having picked up a stage win at the Tour of Oman in February – and he did so in a stylish fashion. Strong winds throughout the race had pulled apart the peloton, and with just 5km to go, a breakaway group of four riders threatened to take the spoils.
But a reduced chasing group caught them with less than a kilometre to go and a bunched sprint became inevitable. As the riders powered their way into the final 200m, Kristoff held the perfect position alongside some of cycling’s most decorated sprinters.
But with teammate Fernando Gaviria also in the mix, 31-year-old Kristoff launched his final attack with 100m to go; leaving the lead group in his wake and crossing the line a metre ahead of his nearest rival.
Kristoff said: “I remained at the front of the group with Gaviria. At 10 kilometres out, we spoke and agreed that I would make this sprint and try to win. In the sprint, I was the strongest and that’s even if I was a little bit tired but all the riders at the front of the group raced hard and fast from the start.
“I pulled out a big win that carries a lot of weight in the spring classics. The team has improved a lot and I’m benefiting from the work that I’ve done with my trainers and with training rides a little shorter but more intense, and the results are starting to show.
“The change is paying off. I’m also content because I feel my condition is improving and it’s a good signal ahead of the Tour of Flanders.”
The victory gives UAE Team Emirates its first big classic one-day race win and their eleventh victory of the season.
Fernando Gaviria and Alexander Kristoff will spearhead UAE Team Emirates’ charge for glory at Gent-Wevelgem (March 31), with the pair looking to pick up one-day race honours in Belgium.
Gaviria has looked in fine fettle since joining the Emirati formation for the 2019 UCI WorldTour season, and secured a podium finish in his most recent outing at Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne.
Meanwhile, Kristoff continues to be a driving force for the team as one of their most experienced and accomplished riders. Joining the sprint duo will be Simone Consonni, Marco Marcato, Ivo Oliveira, Norwegian national champion Vegard Stake Laengen and compatriot Sven Erik Bystrom.
Considered as a Belgian classic for the sprinters, Gent-Wevelgem will see riders embark on a tough 251.5km route through the Flanders Fields. While the distance provides its own test, it’s the riding and weather conditions which can have a bigger impact on how this race is played out.
With ten steep climbs across cobbled and unpaved roads, riders face a difficult day at the saddle – particularly in the final 30km where the wind has the potential to play a significant factor in the outcome of the race.
But should riders have luck on their side, a thrilling sprint finish could be in store to end another epic day of racing in Belgium.
It was double delight for UAE Team Emirates on Wednesday as Fernando Gaviria and Dan Martin both secured top three finishes in their respective races.
Gaviria, competing in the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne in Belgium, was first up, battling hard in a sprint finish to take home second place behind eventual race winner, Dylan Groenewegen, of Jumbo-Visma.
It was the Colombian’s seventh podium finish for UAE Team Emirates, in what is turning out to be a fantastic debut season for the sprinter.
Second up was Martin. The Irishman was competing on Stage 3 of the Volta a Catalunya and was unfortunate not to take top spot, in what was a thrilling climb to the finish.
With just 200m to go, it looked like Martin was in with a shot at the stage victory, but going round the final bend Adam Yates, of Mitchelton-Scott, was able to come around Martin and take the win, with Team Sky’s Egan Bernal tight on his wheel.
Martin’s third place finish in the stage allowed him to jump 14 places in the overall General Classification (GC) standings where he now sits in fourth place just 37” behind the green jersey.
Commenting on his finish, Gaviria said: “I’m sorry because I wanted to win. The sprint was complicated with a few curves and narrow roads. At seven kilometres from the finish, there was a crash that caused us to lose (Tom) Bohli and we used energy to return to the front part of the group.
“In the final kilometres, (Roberto) Ferrari worked amazingly well to take me into position for the last kilometre. Then I did my sprint, but Groenewegen was on my wheel and was able to pass me.”
Commenting on his result in Spain, Martin said: “The pace on the final climb was high, we were going quickly up until the start of the climb, so the work of my team-mates was even more important. They kept me in a great position.
“I had good feelings, I tried to go at my pace and it allowed me to return to the front in the last kilometres. When I returned, I tried to play my cards in the sprint, keeping sure that I was at the front in the last two curves, above all in the last turn at 200 metres to the line.
“Unfortunately, this curve was a little narrower than I expected and I had to take the inside line, I had to slow down and this favoured Yates, and he had fresher legs. Third place is great. I would’ve preferred to win. I’ll try again tomorrow.”