• Alexander Kristoff continues his winning ways at the Tour of Oman (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was a toast of the spring classics last season but won’t acknowledge a changing of the guard there just yet with Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara set to return to the scene.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
5 Mar 2016 - 7:56 AM  UPDATED 5 Mar 2016 - 8:10 AM

The 28-year-old made his name further synonymous with the collection of races in 2015, falling one place short of a Milan-San Remo title defence from which he recovered to win the Tour of Flanders.

Both performances were in the absence of long-time sparring partners Boonen and Cancellara, which Kristoff observed when asked if he and contemporaries like John Degenkolb had finally succeeded the pair.

“Last year they were injured so we will see this year how strong they are and hopefully I will manage to be good again and fight for the victories in the classics,” the Norwegian said.

“I hope I will also be there this year and that I can compete against Cancellara and Boonen and not be dropped!”

Kristoff will start Paris-Nice on Sunday during which he can refine his form for the classics. His results this season, five victories across the Tours of Qatar and Oman, as well as second place at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne last weekend, speak for his form ahead of the March 6-13 race, which will immediately precede a title shot at Milan-San Remo (March 19).

The returned presence of Boonen and soon-to-retire Cancellara may change the dynamic of the classics this year, so too the absence of the injured Degenkolb, who won La Primavera in 2015.

“For me it would be better if Degenkolb was there. OK, I can maybe lose a sprint but then we have more teams, at least two teams, to work for the same thing. I don’t necessarily see it’s the best development for me that he is injured,” Kristoff said.

Speed is a key strength of the versatile sprinter whose victories this season have come with the assistance of a well-drilled Katusha train able to quickly respond to changing circumstance in field gallops.

His lead-out may be less influential in the Tour of Flanders (April 3) than Milan-San Remo but has proved reliable and valuable all the same.

“We train on different set-ups and styles to what would be best if this or this happened,” Kristoff said. “It helps a lot and I feel confident on the wheel of these guys.

“Compared to the classics rivals I am fastest I think than most of them. If I come down in the same group usually I should beat them,” he continued. “My strength is I can sprint but I can also really suffer for a long time, so I can stay in groups, like in the classics … that’s what I’m best at.”

The father of two has found a home at Katusha where he has developed into a classics contender, balancing training with a private life of kindergarten runs and house renovations.

“I’m happy here and I have developed very well from 2012, when I came here, until now. Every year step by step I become a little bit better,” he said of the Russian squad.

“I can stay at home in Norway, even if it’s shit weather they know I will arrive in good shape, so they give me freedom and I try and pay that back.”

Kristoff is building a name for himself in the classics he once didn’t have a taste for and still, despite them being an important central focus, does not want to be wholly defined by.

“When I was younger I was not strong, no, I was always dropped. I thought maybe this is not for me but then I developed, I got a little bit stronger and suddenly I was there in the finals,” he said.

“Now I know in the future maybe if I get slower [as a sprinter] I will still have the classics where I can perform. It’s good to have this in the [back pocket].”

Kristoff started cycling, in large part due to his stepfather, when he was nine and it wasn’t just classics specialists, rather sprinters that he then idolised.

“I remember really well [Mario] Cipollini, [Alessandro] Petacchi and then also [Thor] Hushovd, since he was Norwegian,” he said. “A little bit later, when I was a junior, maybe Boonen was the big idol. Now I don’t really have idols but I think still many riders are good, like [Peter] Sagan and Degenkolb.”

Kristoff readily admits he may not be able to beat pure sprinters like Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel, both who he is set to race against at Paris-Nice, in a flat drag race. However, he has an edge on riders of their ilk when the terrain or the conditions begin to undulate.

That, Kristoff is hopeful, will play into his hands later in the season when he looks to stage success at the Tour de France as well as the UCI Road World Championships in Doha, Qatar where he won the test event last month. The break between the Tour and the World titles is enough he believes to rebuild and rediscover motivation at the end of a long season he is now constantly expected to perform throughout.

“I don’t really have a check list but I hope I can get more victories - big victories - especially in the classics, the Tour and the World Championships,” Kristoff said of long-term career aspirations.

“It will be perfect if I manage to win this in my career.”

Paris-Nice will be broadcast live on SBS2 and streamed online at Cycling Central from Sunday 6 March - 13 March (check your local guides):

Sunday 6 March: 2330 – 0100 AEDT
Monday 7 March: 0115 – 0300 AEDT
Tuesday 8 March 0150 – 0325 AEDT
Wednesday 9 March: 0150 – 0325 AEDT
Thursday 10 March: 0115 – 0250 AEDT
Friday 11 March: 0115 – 0250 AEDT
Saturday 12 March: 0125 – 0310 AEDT
Sunday 13 March: 2340 – 0110 AEDT