Alexander Kristoff leaned over his bike, heaving for breath as he recovered from stage two of the Tour of Oman that he narrowly lost but maintained the overall race lead.
The Norwegian the day prior had undersold himself, saying the 156.5km undulating run that featured two climbs within the last 25km before an uphill drag to the line would be too difficult.
“I thought if the wind was in a good way I had a chance to survive, I barely did actually,” Kristoff said past the finish in Al Bustan where Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin) won last year.
“I felt quite good, but the climb was hard. I got dropped but managed to come back myself on the downhill. I’m happy with the sprint and second place but unfortunately for me one guy was stronger.”
The 31-year-old won a reduced group sprint for second, three seconds in arrears of defending tour champion Alexey Lutsenko (Astana). Lutsenko had attacked on the final climb and stayed away with instruction from his sports director serving as motivation.
Kristoff leads the 10th edition of the Tour of Oman, which he has used for as many years as preparation for the spring classics, with a three second buffer on Lutsenko heading into stage three. The former Milan-San Remo champion, like the day before, downplayed his chances of featuring on the uphill finish in Qurayyat that may again lend to the puncheurs.
“Tomorrow the uphill finish will be too hard for me so I can take a little bit easy, and the day after is a chance,” he said.
Kristoff comfortably claimed the formulaic stage won bunch kick on Saturday to open his account for the season. He unusually compared his performance to that of other sprinters in his team, who already have runs on the board ahead of the inaugural UAE Tour later this month, which the squad generally has put great emphasis on.
“The UAE race for sure we have expectations, but we have many leaders there to cover the pressure. We also have [Fernando] Gaviria for the sprints. I’m actually more there as a helper,” said Kristoff.