UPDATED: He’d seemed unbeatable. Norwegian cycling sensation Alexander Kristoff had been having a great season, with 11 victories including the Tour of Flanders last week and then, just a few days later, the Scheldeprijs in Belgium. He also won three stage victories in the Tour of Qatar and stages in the Tour of Oman, Paris-Nice and De Panne-Koksijde, but then he ran into some trouble and now he’s taking a break in the run-up to the Tour de France.
Winning the cobblestoned Tour of Flanders had been the main goal of Kristoff’s spring season but he also had his eye on the Paris-Roubaix race over the weekend. In the meantime, he maintained full control at the end of the 200-kilometer Scheldeprijs, staying ahead of a major collision of riders just before the finish. He poured on the speed and won.
“This was really fun,” the 27-year-old from Stavanger told news bureau NTB afterwards. “I’m in good shape. It’s been a good week and some fantastic weeks lately.”
But then came the Paris-Roubaix race during the weekend, and the 27-year-old Kristoff’s luck turned. He ended up in 10th place, after winner John Degenkolb of Germany powered forward at the end. The last few kilometers were just too tough for Kristoff.
And it was all disrupted somewhat by a speeding train that was still causing problems for the riders more than a day later. Kristoff was among a clutch of riders who ignored warning bells and booms falling over train tracks that cross the road where the race was running. They all kept riding over the potentially dangerous tracks, dodging the lowered red-and-white booms.
Kristoff admitted to newspaper Aftenposten that he saw the train coming but nonetheless chose to ride over the rails. “It was far away,” he claimed. “If it had been closer, I would have stopped.”
He and the other riders, though, were being accused on Monday of violating clear rules that when a train approaches, the riders must stop. Kristoff wanted to stay in the pack, even though it could have had fatal consequences.
His own coach and stepfater, Stein Ørn, was not pleased that Kristoff joined the others in crossing the tracks. Others were blaming the organizers of the race, who should have known that a high-speed French train would be crossing the road at a critical juncture.
“It’s terrible to say it, but this sort of thing fits well into the image of this race,” said state broadcaster NRK’s cycling expert Dag Erik Pedersen. “People risk their lives, it was absolutely crazy.” Railroad firm SNCF reported the incident to police on Monday, claiming that the cyclists’ violation of the rules, captured on television before millions of viewers, was “extremely serious and irresponsible.”
As he and fellow riders faced disciplinary action, Kristoff and his manager Joona Laukka were negotiating a new contract with his club, Katusha of Russia, that may make him among the world’s best-paid cyclists. NRK reported Monday that Kristoff’s new contract may yield the equivalent of NOK 35 million (USD 4.4 million) over the next five years.
“We’ll probably be signing soon,” Laukka told NRK. “It’s going in the right direction.”
Meanwhile, Kristoff now plans to take a few week’s off from competition, according to coach Ørn. He told newspaper Dagsavisen that Kristoff won’t race again until May 1st, when he’ll defend his title at a race in Frankfurt. And then the main goal will be the Tour de France in July.