UAE Team Emirates’ Alexander Kristoff competes during the Tour of Flanders race in Belgium on Sunday. Supplied photo
Alexander Kristoff once again showed his strength in the Classics as he fought his way to a third place finish at the Tour of Flanders.
The Norwegian power house, who won the Tour of Flanders in 2015, was able to make the front chasing group of 15 world class riders as they attempted to bring back the solo breakaway man — Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) — who made an attack in the third and final pass of the Oude Kwaremont with 18kms to go and eventually won the race for a maiden career victory.
In the final few kilometres Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick Step) was able to attack off the front for second place, with Kristoff out-sprinting the bunch to take a well-deserved third place spot on the podium, behind Bettiol.
“I don’t believe it,” the Tuscan rider told Eurosport, saying he had followed instructions from Andreas Klier, the sporting director in the team car.
“I was feeling really good, Andreas Klier told me: ‘if you can go, go’,” said Bettiol. “I closed my eyes and I just went.”
Klier, he said, told him: “Keep on pushing! Keep on pushing!”
Sven Erik Bystrom and Fernando Gaviria rode in the leading group until the final 20km, before the pace and parcours became too challenging for them to remain at the front of the race. Jasper Philipsen crashed mid-race and whilst he was able to continue, he later retired and did not finish.
Kristoff said: “It could seem that the race was very tactical but, as far as I’m concerned, it was a race that was always pushed to the limit. I came to the foot of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg for the last time with very tired legs and I was a bit surprised to see that I was able to stay with the main group. It was then that I realised they were all very tired too. The situation worked better than I could have imagined and I tried to take advantage of it. The result makes me happy. I have a good shape, I have high morale after these races, I can count on a team that is racing well and I hope that these conditions will recur in a week in Paris-Roubaix.”
Kristoff’s performance delivered the third podium finish for a UAE Team Emirates in a Belgian WorldTour race in 2019. It adds to his win at Gent-Wevelgem and the second place by Fernando Gaviria at Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne.
Bettiol is the first Italian to win the 266-kilometre slog from Antwerp to Oudenarde, one of the five one-day monuments, since Alessandro Ballan in 2007.
Mathieu van der Poel finished fourth despite a nasty slow-motion crash with a little more than 60 kilometres to go.
The Dutch rider punctured and, as he braked and wrestled his bike to the side of the road, his front wheel locked and he flew over the handlebars. Despite a nasty bang to his left arm, he caught the leaders after a furious 15-kilometre pursuit.
Defending champion Niki Terpstra was less fortunate.
Dutchman Terpstra hit the tarmac with several other riders 160km from the finish and was knocked unconscious.
Terpstra stayed down for several minutes. His Direct Energie team said he had been taken to hospital and that, because he had been unconscious for more than two minutes, doctors ruled him out of the next cycling monument, Paris-Roubaix in seven days’ time.