Meet Alexander Kristoff
All photos © Tim De Waele
The list of sprinters capable of scoring stage wins at the Tour de France and wins at the spring classics is a short one, and Alexander Kristoff always ranks high on this list of elite riders. With 56 pro wins to his name including Milan-San Remo (2014), two Tour de France stages (2014), and the Tour of Flanders (2015), the powerful Norwegian is no stranger to the podium. We had a chance to meet with Kristoff at the KATUSHA-ALPECIN team camp in Calpe, Spain where we learned among other things, that this fierce competitor and team captain is also a devoted family man who craves American food and loves the simple things in life.
You’ve been on Team KATUSHA-ALPECIN for a long time, what do you like about the team?
There’s a lot. Since I came on board, I have the freedom to do the training and the program I want. For me this is important to plan my training, as I want. Like now I can leave earlier the first training camp and go back home for my own training and come back for the second one. For the team it’s not a problem. For sure now with my level it’s easier but even the first year, when I wasn’t the big star in the team, I had this freedom. It means they trust me and my choices. It’s also a good group of people, riders and staff. Everybody works hard and are nice. I don’t know anybody who I don’t like.
There are 10 new riders on the team this year, what do you think about the new additions to your lead-out train?
There are a lot of good and strong guys. We have more horsepower for the team and for the sprint to bring me easier to the final part of the sprint. Guys like Tony Martin; he’s a strong rider. He has a lot of experience and knows how to place the riders behind. We also have some other time-trialists who are young but strong too. It might be a bit difficult for them to be selected at the Tour, as it’s their first pro season, but at small races it’s really promising. We have the young U23 ITT Champion (2016 - Marco Mathis) and also the Danish ex-U23 ITT Champion (2015 - Mads Würtz Schmidt). Those guys have a big potential to also help in the sprints. I feel really confident with our group. The potential to get better is there.
Best and worst moment of the 2016 season?
The worst memory, to be second in the stage (#16) in Berne at the Tour de France. One that I should have won, if I just seat on the bike. I lost the line completely and Sagan slid his bike perfectly and I lost for a few milimeters. Even if it was a good result, it could have been something better.
Best memory, I did not really win the big races this season. It did not really go my way, for example in Plouay (WordTour GP Ouest France-Plouay in August) I won the sprint but for the third place. How many times I won sprints in the big races also at the Tour in front of Sagan and Froome and those guys. So I would say the best memory for this season, would be when I won at home at the Tour des Fjords), It’s always special to race at home. You have extra motivation. And I won the last stage in front of my teammate Michael (Morkov).
What are your goals for 2017?
First big goal is Milan-San Remo. For sure I hope I can win something before in Qatar or Oman, but if not, it’s not a big ‘crisis’. Milan-San Remo is definitely the big first goal. I want to win this race again. After this, the second big goal will be, Flanders. If I can grab a win somewhere before at the Three Days of de Panne or Gent-Wevelgem, it would be nice, but Flanders is the main one. Then I might try something different before Roubaix. For sure I’ll race Roubaix and it will be my last goal for my first part of the season. Also Tony will be there. So we will be two guys who can do something there. I also hope that can help me to have somebody around later during the race. Maybe we can do something together.
After this, I will be getting ready for the Tour de France. Try to win a stage again at the Tour. It’s two year since I won a stage at the Tour. I’d like to add some more Tour stage victories to my palmares. That’s the big goal for this summer. And then we have the World Championship at the end of the year. I think the course suits me ok. The climb is hard but not too much. For sure, it will be hard with many laps but it’s not so long. It will suit riders like me but also good for Sagan.
What is your favorite race on the calendar?
I would say Flanders. Every year I raced there I was actually performing really well. The first year I think I finished 15th but since then I was always top 5. Maybe when you are racing you don’t like it too much but after crossing the finish line, you think about it, you love it. With the crowds, the roads and the history, it’s something special.
What are your thoughts on SRAM RED eTap?
First of all it looks really nice. No wires, so it looks really clean. I’m not a mechanic so it’s nice to have a bike which always works. I never had any problems. I just have to charge the batteries and not worry about anything else. For me it’s really easy. When it works and looks like this, I cannot be more happy.
What’s your favorite Zipp wheelset?
I usually race on 404s. They are super good for fast races, but as they are not heavy, you can also race with them on hilly stages. I saw some photos… so maybe we will get the new model (referring to the 454 NSW). I’m excited to try them out. For extremely flat races like Qatar, sometimes I race with 808s. Then 303s for very hilly races. Normally I don’t go lower than 303s because in the very big climbs I don’t really care anyways as I’m not fighting for the win.
If you were an amateur, would you ride tubular or clincher wheels?
I would go for carbon clincher wheels because it’s an hassle to change tubular if you puncture. It’s more practice and I don’t think clinchers are any worse. As far as I know it’s rolling really well, it’s almost the same and it’s not puncturing more.
Can you imagine riding without a power meter as a pro?
I can imagine because I did it before. As a young rider I didn’t have any, I had heart rate monitor. It was working. But now I’m so used to power meter, I think since 2010, for the intervals and everything it’s easier and better to use power meters. With heart rate monitors things can change a lot from day to day depending how tired you are, and so on. Whereas the power you push is the same every day. And the numbers are not lying to you, they reflect the reality. It’s definitely easier for me to control the training. I cannot imagine training without anymore. Racing it’s possible, because I don’t really look at the number during racing, but training I do a lot.
What do you like about your Quarq power meter?
I think Quarq is the best solution. The crank-based power meter is the most logical. I used several power meters in my career and Quarq is one of the very best. I’m really happy how it works and how easy it is to cope with. I feel the numbers are correct. In the past I had power meter, which were showing strange numbers, some days way too high or way too low. With Quarq I never had a problem.
This year you had a chance to train on and test disc brakes. What do you think about disc brakes for road?
For rainy conditions, it’s way better than normal brakes. If everybody in the peloton would have it and it’s the same for everyone, I can see racing with disc brakes. But I saw some bad injuries last year with disc brakes in the pack so first of all we must find some solutions that it doesn’t get so dangerous. But we also have risks with chainrings, chain and so on… now with disc brakes it adds some more risks to get injured.
When I tried disc brakes I wasn’t thinking about injuries and I really got used to it super quickly. Braking in the dry, I don’t see much difference but in the wet, it’s for sure safer. You don’t need some seconds to clean the wheels, before you can start braking. With disc brakes you immediately start braking.
Can you tell us something that no one knows about you such as a favorite hobby (art, cars, music), rituals,…?
I don’t think I have any secrets. But how I am when I’m not racing. I’m a normal person. I have two kids so not a lot of time to do other things when I’m not racing or training. When I’m home after training, let’s say when I finish around 2pm, I like to pick up my kids a bit earlier from kindergarten, around 3pm and spend time with them until at least bed time, around 7:30pm. Taking time with the family is important. I don’t have any special hobbies.
Besides your riding gear, is there something you always take with you when you travel for races or camps?
I have a gaming computer that I always take with me because at home I never play with it. So when I’m away, we have a lot of time in the room, after racing or training. We have 2-3 hours to ‘get rid off” so I can play or watch series.
What is your favorite food? Favorite drink?
Actually I like a lot American food, like hamburgers and this type of stuff. When I was at Tour of California I ate at In-N-Out. That was really nice. With that I also like chocolate milk shake. A lot of calories… so I wonder how it would go after my career. Now I just manage to balance things and keep my weight steady. I don’t know when I stop riding six hours a day then I would be in trouble.
When others are talking about you, what are the three words they would use to best describe you, as a rider or as a person?
As a rider they would say that I quite strong for the Classics and the sprints. Actually you should ask the other people, they would have lot more to say. It’s hard to describe myself but I feel I’m quite honest and straightforward. And not too difficult to handle. At least I don’t think I’m difficult to deal with.
If you were not a pro rider, what would you do? What is your dream job?
Dream job! To be a professional football (soccer) player. That would be cool. It’s a bit a similar life as I have now. The good thing is that you travel less; you train always in the same place.