Alexander Kristoff’s victory on Sunday in the spring classic cycling race Milano-Sanremo was being hyped on Monday as even bigger than Norwegian skiers’ haul of Olympic gold medals. Kristoff has only been cycling professionally since 2010.
He won a bronze medal during the Summer Olympics in London in 2012 and has claimed the Norwegian championship twice, in 2007 and 2011. Experts were claiming on Monday that his victory over the weekend, however, has made him an international star.
“Now he’s on the top shelf in international cycling,” Johan Kaggestad, TV2’s longtime Tour de France commentator, told newspaper Aftenposten. Kaggestad is a veteran coach in top athletics including cross country skiing, cycling and even football, and watched Norwegians win 26 medals at the Olympics in Sochi last month. He nonetheless thinks Kristoff’s victory is the greatest so far in 2014.
“This is bigger than winning Olympic gold in cycling, and in my opinion, than all the Norwegian gold medals in Sochi,” Kaggestad said. Cycling, he maintains, “isn’t some small winter sport,” and the 299-kilometer race from Milan to San Remo “is one of the five monuments in cycling.”
Kristoff is the first Norwegian to win it, and Kaggestad compared it to veteran cycling star Thor Hushovd’s world championship victory. Kaggestad thinks all the big cycling teams are now going to want Kristoff on board. He’s currently racing for the Russian Team Katusha and was told on Monday that he’ll lead the team at this year’s Tour de France.
On Sunday he defied harsh conditions including snow and hail and was overjoyed when it was all over. “I couldn’t believe it when I crossed the finish line,” he told reporters. “I had hoped to place among the 10 best. It’s a fantastic feeling.” He gave credit to his “helper,” Luca Paolini, who cleared the way for his sprint to the finish line. “That was really well done by Luca,” Kristoff said. “He helped me a lot.”
Kristoff, who grew up in Stavanger, has been coached by his step-father Stein Ørn. Now Kristoff is a favourite to win the other “monumental” races this spring including Paris-Rubaix and Giro di Lombardia. Other Norwegians cycling on Sunday had to break out of the race including Edvald Boasson Hagen and Thor Hushovd. Lars Petter Nordhaug ended in 13th place.