SANREMO, Italy (VN) — Very few insiders tipped Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) to win Sunday’s Milano-Sanremo on the cloudy and wet seafront in Sanremo. Bookmakers gave better odds to André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), and even 2009 winner Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) than to the 26-year-old Norwegian in Italy’s big one-day classic.
“Of course it’s a surprise since I didn’t win any big classics before this, but I was always up there,” Kristoff said in the winner’s press conference.
He listed his 2013 classics results: eighth in Sanremo, fourth in Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), and ninth in Paris-Roubaix. He also won the bunch sprint for the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics behind Alexander Vinokourov and Rigoberto Urán.
“It’s not so big a surprise, even if a victory is a lot bigger than a top 10,” Kristoff said. “The team kept telling me I could win. I believed them but to do it is actually something different.”
The rider from Oslo became the first Norwegian to win Milano-Sanremo in its 105 editions. Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) has come close, finishing third in 2005 and 2009. Retired cyclist Knud Knudsen, also a Norwegian, placed third in 1979.
“He’s a good mate of mine, and it’s nice that he won,” said Norway’s Lars Petter Nordhaug of Belkin. “It’s not a surprise that he won. I saw him on the Cipressa, and he was looking strong. You could see Katusha taking control of the race and they believed in him. Races like this are perfect for him.”
Added Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quick Step: “He’s a very good bike rider. He’s always there. He’s a deserved winner. He’s a decent bike rider. It’s nice to see him get a big win.”
This season, Kristoff won a stage in the Tour of Oman ahead of Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEdge) and Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma), but that failed to mark him as a Sanremo favorite. Katusha believed in him, however.
The Russian team had Aleksandr Kuschynski, Pavel Brutt, and Luca Paolini help its Norwegian sprinter. Paolini, who stands out with his beard, hauled him over the Poggio and dropped him off with 1 kilometer remaining. Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) and Cavendish kicked, but Kristoff got the best of them. Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) picked up second and Ben Swift (Sky) grabbed third.
“I tried to follow and to stay in the pack. I didn’t think about the others. I just wanted to survive the Poggio,” Kristoff said. “I was far back. Luca had to wait a while to bring me back. He did a great job. I felt good but I don’t know about the others, normally Greipel and Cavendish are faster. I was happy to beat them, that was a big moment for me.”
Kristoff raced with BMC in 2010 and 2011 and when Hushovd joined, he left for Katusha. After Joaquím Rodríguez won the Giro di Lombardia the last two years, Kristoff gave Katusha its third monument win.
“Alex’s victory is no surprise. He’s been reaching the highest levels of the classics, and he’s very good in the cold and rain,” Katusha general manager Viatcheslav Ekimov said. “We are so happy with this victory. We always wanted to win a spring classic. It’s a beautiful victory for us. We hope to carry this success into Belgium for the northern classics.”
The win will only strengthen Kristoff’s position on the team ahead of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
“I already have a good position in the team so it won’t change much, but of course this is a huge victory,” Kristoff explained. “Sanremo really puts you on the map and it’ll always stay with me in my career. It’s important. It’s almost unbelievable.”