Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) rues missing out on a unique chance to add the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to his palmares. The first race of the Belgian road season rarely concludes in a bunch sprint but a late crash marred the chances of the 33-year-old Norwegian sprinter.
“I think it was my chance to win this race,” Kristoff said shortly after the race in the post-race mixed zone in Ninove.
With only 31km to go at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Deceuninck-QuickStep team held the race firmly into their hands as they featured three men in the lead group of thirteen riders, including the world champion Julian Alaphilippe and sprinter Davide Ballerini. If the Belgian team played it smart the peloton that was already half a minute down would never get back into contention. That’s when Alaphilippe accelerated on the Berendries climb and launched a solo.
Ten kilometres later not only the chase group was fading back but also Alaphilippe was losing ground. The Bora-Hansgrohe and Lotto-Soudal teams kept the pace high in the peloton and at the famous cobbled Muur climb in Geraardsbergen it was all back together.
Enter Kristoff. The heavy Norwegian tends to suffer on the short climbs. On a bad day he’s dropped by the peloton but when he’s hitting top form he can mark the moves and limit the damages, leading him to six top-5 results and the 2015 victory in the Tour of Flanders and a Gent-Wevelgem victory in 2019. The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad usually comes too soon for Kristoff and he never managed a top-10 result in eight participations.
“I felt better than I usually do in this race. I managed to stay in the group more or less so that’s good for me, better than previous years at least,” Kristoff said.
Kristoff survived the Muur and the Bosberg, the old finale of the Tour of Flanders, and from there the race was destined to finish in a bunch sprint. The Deceuninck-QuickStep team kept control of the race and set a high pace and lead-out for their sprinter Davide Ballerini. The latter recently captured two bunch sprint victories in the Tour de la Provence.
There were several fast men who hoped to ruin that blue party and Kristoff was one of them. Just before the red flag of the final kilometre TV-images showed a crash in the group with Ineos Grenadiers losing their fast man Ethan Hayter and Kristoff struggling with what looked like a puncture.
“Somebody hit my rear wheel in the crash and it was bent completely; it was touching my frame,” Kristoff explained. “I’m a bit disappointed because I would have had a good sprint. That’s racing,” Kristoff said in his typical cool style.
He rarely gets upset and also on Saturday afternoon he was looking at the bright side of life. “I’m hoping that I can manage to up the level a little bit and follow all the best guys because I was not with them when they attacked. We will see in one month. Then it’s the real deal. I look forward to that.”