Norwegian cyclist Alexander Kristoff felt so bad on Sunday’s Tour de France stage 15, he almost asked his team mates to stop riding for him. He managed to stay with the peloton which, in a thrilling finish, caught up with breakaway riders Jack Bauer and Martin Elmiger 50 meters ahead of the finish, before Kristoff won the sprint to the line.
“It’s delicious, incredibly delicious,” the 27-year-old Katusha team rider told TV2 after the 222 kilometer leg to Nîmes. “It feels about the same as the last time I won. It is insanely delicious. I knew that I could have a chance today, but I really felt completely rotten during the race. I wanted to tell Spilak (Kristoff’s support rider) that he should stop pulling.”
Bauer of team Garmin Sharp and Elmiger of IAM Cycling had broken away from the pack early in the stage, keeping an average lead of about six minutes. The cyclists battled through wind and pouring rain before the peloton finally caught the breakaway riders with the finish line in sight. It became a sprint to the end with Kristoff narrowly winning ahead of Heinrich Haussler, Peter Sagan and André Greipel.
“It was close, really close,” said Kristoff. “The break was strong, and with roundabouts at the end, it was difficult. It proves that I can beat them when I’m having a good day, and they maybe are a little tired.” He thanked his partner Maren and son Leo, who followed the race from home.
The win put Kristoff among the ranks of Norway’s cycling elite. Only two other Norwegians have won two or more Tour de France stages: Edvald Boasson Hagen with two wins, and Thor Hushovd with 10. “It was awesome, what he did in this stage,” Hagen told news bureau NTB. “Everyone was involved this time. He is strong. I would think he feels good now, and it’s a great feeling to lie down and sleep after such a day.”
Trainer and stepfather Stein Ørn said he was incredibly proud and impressed that Kristoff had kept his legs and his head, resisting the temptation to chase down German rider Tony Martin who was in between the breakaway riders and the rest of the field. “People are tired so far into the race, and Alexander’s endurance came into its own,” Ørn said. “He showed his physical capacity. He is in the form of his life. In addition he made some tactical decisions which were totally extraordinary.”
“With the first victory he pulled the plug, and showed what he can do,” Ørn went on. “Now he’s repeating it. The end was absolutely thrilling. To get that was impressive. He could have sprinted up to Martin, but he held back and held back. Alexander crushed Greipel in the sprint, he just gave up.”
It was a bitter loss for New Zealander Bauer who had broken away from Elmiger with 100 meters to go, only to be caught by the sprinters with 25 meters left. He was in tears as he finished 10th. “It’s just bitter, bitter disappointment,” he said, reported the Tour de France website. “It’s a childhood dream to win a stage of the Tour and for a domestique, like myself, I’m normally working for others. This was my first chance to be up the road and with the chance in the wind and the weather, me and Martin realised we had a chance for the win.”
“It’s not always that sport, and especially cycling, is fair,” said Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s cycling expert Dag Erik Pedersen. “I think we all cried a little with Jack Bauer today. I had indulged him a victory and he had expected it. It is a touching and deeply saddening story. That he was nearing the finish line and had spent his whole day on this. His big chance to win a stage went up in smoke with 100 meters left. It is the perfect nightmare.”
The riders enjoyed a rest day on Monday, before the first Pyrenees stage to Bagneres-de-Luchon on Tuesday.