Usually not able to beat the pure sprinters in a flat sprint, Alexander Kristoff took his second stage win in less than a week when he held off the likes of André Greipel and Marcel Kittel in Nimes. The Norwegian writes the success down to being fresher than his rivals at the end of two weeks of hard racing.
A furious chase to the finish line provided plenty of excitement on Sunday with Team Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff managing to out-sprint the field and claim his second stage win in four days. The Norwegian fast man brought the field to the line and denied a victory from the break within meters of the finish line.
"It was close, really close," he said. "The break was strong and at the end it was difficult to bring them back. Luckily we caught them on the line and I’m really happy. This is more than I could expect in this Tour de France.
"The team was great. In the middle of the race Simon [Spilak] worked in front to control the break and in the final Gatis [Smukulis] pulled the group hard. Then Luca [Paolini] took over to help me get the best position."
Kristoff led the charge to shut down the effort of Jack Bauer within touching distance of the finish line, denying the first ever stage win for a New Zealand rider. Joining Kristoff in the top three were Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) and green jersey wearer Peter Sagan of Cannondale.
"The break was super today," he said. "During the stage I was sure we would catch them but in the last kilometers I was really unsure about it. Those guys did a great race, big respect for them. When we entered the final km I saw the break was still very far and I realized we would catch them with only 200 meters to go.
"All the best sprinters - Greipel, Sagan and Kittel - were still in front and it was a hard sprint. I had a good position and I gave my best to win. Maybe I had more energy than others after mountains. I did not feel well during the stage because I was tired from the mountains, but I decided to fight until the end.
"This is a perfect race so far for me and I’m glad to bring one more victory to my team Katusha. They support me and trust in me.
"After I won [stage 12] the other day, Thor Hushovd sent me a text message saying ‘nine to go' [Hushovd has won ten stages of the Tour de France in total], so now it's eight to go! It's a lot and maybe too much. I didn't expect to win two stages in the same Grand Tour so I can't see any further.
"It's still hard to compare stage wins at the Tour and Milan-San Remo but it would be great to win in Paris as well. Normally I'm not the fastest sprinter on the flat against André Greipel and Marcel Kittel but I'm lighter than them. Possibly that turned to my advantage today. I didn't see them being tired during the stage but the fact that I beat them make me think that they're tired after climbing in the Alps.
"I also didn't feel super but I had to try anyway. [Team-mate] Luca [Paolini] did a great job, also Gatis [Smukulis] in pulling the peloton. Maybe with [Alexander] Porsev, had he still been at the Tour, it would have been easier but today, it depended more or less on the legs in the finale. Luckily, I had the best ones.
"Omega Pharma-Quick Step was very active in the finale. They were attacking a lot. It broke up the trains a bit. That also turned to my advantage but that was close at the end. I didn't have the situation under control. I was just happy to see the two breakaway riders caught. They made a huge effort. I feel sorry for them. What they did was impressive.
"Shall I win in Paris too, it would make it a perfect Tour. I've been performing all year long but my form hasn't been stable really. My wins in Oman and in Frankfurt after my post-classics break were due to a bit of luck. I've had good classics and now the Tour de France is going beyond expectations for me. I hope it'll continue like that.
"We'll draw conclusions at the end of the season and I'll build the rest of my career on these successes. My coach says I'll keep improving. I'm not sure how much I can still improve. I'm only 27 so I have a few good years ahead. I'll work hard to get a bit better but don't expect me to win the Tour de France overall."
Joaquim Rodriguez after today’s stage still holds the polka dot jersey of the best climber of the Tour de France.
"That was definitely not a stage for me: flat, windy, wet, etc. I've finished behind because there has been a crash and I got caught behind," he said. "I haven't much to say. I'm happy this stage is over and I'm looking forward to the rest day and the Pyrenees."
Tomorrow is the second rest day at the Tour de France.
Tuesday’s stage 16 begins in Carcassonne and gets right to the business of climbing in the Pyrenees. After 237km, the longest day in the Tour will end in Bagnères-de-Luchon after the HC climb to Port de Balès tops out with 20km to go and plunges the field into the finish area.
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