Two-time Norwegian road race champion Alexander Kristoff won his record-tying eighth stage win at the Tour of Norway (UCI 2.HC) after sprinting to a Stage 5 victory in Drammen on Saturday.
Kristoff took the win over Stage 2 winner Álvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), Kristoffer Halvorsen (Team Ineos) and fellow record holder — and Stage 3 winner — Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Dimension Data), who has won the race three times in the past seven years.
The 2017 European champion, who has wins at Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and this year’s Gent-Wevelgem, entered the race after falling ill during Hammer Stavanger last weekend. However, poor health was not the only hurdle the 31-year-old had to overcome on the day.
“We were actually in a bit of trouble with 20km to go,” Kristoff explained to Eurosport. “The whole team got dropped in the crosswinds and had to struggle quite a lot to get back. I was a bit worried that me and my team used too much energy.
“Sven [Bystrøm] and [Roberto] Ferrari did awesome work to put me in a very good position and at the end I had enough legs to take the sprint, so I am very pleased with that,” continued the three-time Tour de France stage winner, who is in the midst of preparations for his seventh straight Tour start in July.
To take yellow is a bonus because it was depending on how Boasson Hagen did in the [intermediate] sprints.
“He tried early and I think he paid a little bit at the end. For me I timed it quite well, and I managed to win, so I am very happy and proud.”
Aside from Kristoff’s win, one of the more intriguing moments of the race came off a two-man attack on the second of two categorised climbs at the 97-kilometre mark of the 159.7km race.
Duelling 2018 UCI world road race champions, 20-year-old Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb), Under-23, and 19-year-old Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), Juniors, joined an early five-man breakaway with Luis León Sanchez (Astana Pro Team) before launching their own assault up the 11.4km Cat.1 climb (3.8% average gradient, 480 metres in elevation).
“I just wanted to join the moves today on the climb,” Hirschi told Eurosport after his near-60km breakaway effort. “I know it gets very difficult with the flatter final. At the end, I grabbed only three seconds, but if you never try, you never win. I just tried, and I hope the legs are still good tomorrow and I can try again.”
When asked if this marks the first of more showdowns to come with Evenepoel, Hirschi was wishfully optimistic.
“I really hope there are more battles for us in the future,” he said. “I am really looking forward to it.”
The Tour of Norway concludes on Sunday with a 175.1km sprint stage from Gran to Hønefoss.
Kristoff currently holds a one-second lead over Boasson Hagen on general classification, while Italian neo-pro Affini, who claimed his first ever pro win on Friday, is two seconds back in third. Halvorsen (Team Ineos) is fourth tied on time with opening stage winner Cees Bol (Team Sunweb) at nine seconds.
For full stage and race results, click here.