Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) is an acclaimed sprinter in his own right but worked successfully as a final lead-out man to Gaviria in mass gallops across the Emirates last week.
The former Tour of Flanders champion used his team’s ‘home’ race, and the Tour of Oman before it, as preparation for the spring classics. Kristoff had hoped to compete at Het Nieuwsblad yesterday but instead led-out Gaviria in central Dubai.
Gaviria finished second to Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) in the seventh and final stage of the UAE Tour. Australia’s Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) was third, with Kristoff fourth.
“I would prefer to have done the Opening today in Belgium, but the sponsors want to have the best riders [here] and they want good results,” he said. “It was important for the team that I come here to help Fernando for the sprints. I think it worked out quite well. The plan is also to work together in the Tour, so it was good for me to try it out before I come to the Tour.”
Kristoff won a stage and marked a stint in the leader’s jersey at the Tour of Oman where he faced key classics rivals including Greg Van Avermaet (CCC). The 31-year-old crashed out of the final stage there and entered the UAE Tour with eight stitches in his arm.
There was conjecture that he and Gaviria as heavyweights may clash in their first race together, but the two quickly showed otherwise with Kristoff leading out Gaviria for the win on Stage 2.
“I felt very good in Oman but here I didn’t feel so strong. I think I was a bit mentally tired after already been racing for one week,” Kristoff said. “Also, when you don’t race for a result you have a little bit less motivation than maybe when you race for the win yourself. I was motivated to do my best job but it’s a different mindset when you’re fighting for the win yourself.”
Kristoff and Gaviria, who transferred to UAE Team Emirates from Quick-Step this year, are set to do some of the classics together but also have their own separate race programs as protected leaders.
“When we have two good sprinters at the same [race], we have to work for one,” he said.
For Kristoff operating as a lead-out man in the UAE was a new concept, which he easily did despite mistiming the finish yesterday and opening up with 400m to go.
“We came from slightly too far back in the [final] corner. I knew I had the legs to bring it back but it’s always going to be hard to take five or six positions,” he said.
“I think it just got a little bit hard for Fernando, from the [final] corner to the finish, since I already sped up to pass a lot of guys before he was supposed to start the sprint.
“I know the situation myself, when the lead-out guy goes too hard you also suffer on the wheel. But I had to go hard to bring him to the front. Unfortunately, Bennett got his wheel, so he got the same benefits as Fernando. In the headwind he just had maybe a better position.”