Lone Norwegian ready for ‘Le Tour’

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UPDATED: Norway has had quite a few of its top cyclists riding in the prestigious if grueling Tour de France in recent years, but this summer Alexander Kristoff is on his own. He was ready to roll as “Le Tour” got underway on Saturday, and doesn’t mind representing Norway alone amidst all the other cyclists from all over the world.

Norwegian cyclist Alexander Kristoff has been training in England this week as he gears up to ride in the Tour de France for Russian team Katusha. He'll be the only Norwegian in the race this year. PHOTO: Cornelius Poppe / NTB Scanpix

Norwegian cyclist Alexander Kristoff has been training in England this week as he gears up to ride in the Tour de France for Russian team Katusha. He’ll be the only Norwegian in the race this year. PHOTO: Cornelius Poppe / NTB Scanpix

“That’s not something I’m thinking about,” he told news bureau NTB while literally gearing up for the race from his hotel outside Leeds in England. The Tour de France was starting across the channel over the weekend, making the rounds to York, Cambridge and London before hitting French soil on Tuesday.

The first stage was not without drama when even top sprinter Mark Cavendish was involved in a mass collision that Kristoff narrowly avoided. “I was lucky,” he told newspaper Aftenposten when the first day of the race was over. He ended up “only seventh” in the race, displeased that he didn’t snatch a coveted leader’s jersey on the first day of the Tour de France, which was also his birthday.

Injury, illness and pending retirement knocked Norwegian cycling stars like Thor Hushovd and Edvald Boasson Hagen out of the Tour de France this year, while Lars Petter Nordhaug didn’t make the cut for his team. But Kristoff, who cycles for the Russian team Katusha, says he rarely cycles with the Norwegians anyway and they’re not “on the same team” in competition. “I don’t really have much contact with them,” said Kristoff, who hails from Stavanger on Norway’s west coast. “It would have been cooler if we have a few more Norwegians (in the Tour de France), but that probably means more for all the Norwegians watching the race on TV than it does for me.”

The popularity of the Tour de France in Norway has exploded in recent years, not least because of Hushovd’s nine victories since 2002 in various stages of the famous race, and Hagen’s two stage victories in 2011. The first Norwegian to ever claim a victory in Le Tour was Dag Otto Lauritzen in 1987, followed by Hushovd’s performances and Kurt Asle Arvesen’s victory in the 11th stage of the Tour in 2008.

Kristoff, who won the Milano-Sanremo race in Italy earlier this season, told NTB that it may even be to his advantage that “Thor and Edvald aren’t along, because it’s those types of sprinters who have chances to win in the same laps as me. Looking at it that way, there will be fewer to battle against.”

When the 3,656-kilometer Tour de France is over, Kristoff will have some other things to think about, like getting married in October. “That will be a fine way to end the season,” Kristoff said. He’s otherwise been busy since joining Katusha in 2012, the same year he won a bronze medal at the Summer Olympics in London. Kristoff has also won Norwegian championships, various stages of the Tour of Norway and Tour des Fjords and won the green jersey as best sprinter when making his Tour de France debut last year.

Kristoff celebrated his 27th birthday on the very day this year’s Tour de France took off, on Saturday July 5. That still may be a good omen, even before his Katusha team cycles for him during the relatively flat portions of the race in France. He told NTB he was feeling better earlier this week after a “downperiod” in the Tour de Suisse and the Norwegian championships at Eidsvoll last weekend when he had a stuffy nose.

“I think I’m in the shape I should be at this point,” Kristoff said. “I’ve had some good training days (in England this week) and for me there will be many chances this first week. That’s when I figure I’ll be in the best shape of all.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund