With all eyes on the Tour of Qatar we look at what the stage win for Alexander Kristoff might say about his chances in Flanders
It is a massive shame that the sport of cycling did quite so much to taint itself in the way it did. Not only did so many get caught up in the world of performance enhancing drugs, but when it was revealed that they had, very few people were actually surprised. Certainly no one likes a cheat and they were roundly and properly condemned and punished, but there was definitely something in the air when you heard the charges that tempered one’s anger, after all, who could ride all that way so fast without drugs?
Lance Armstrong, notably the Armstrong who didn’t play the trumpet and wasn’t the first man on the moon but did take a lot of performance enhancing drugs on his way to 7 Tour De France titles, some of which he won after battling and to the degree one can, beating, cancer, has said that in the same position again he might repeat his self-doping regime. This recent admission in at TV interview says much about the sport.
Skills Don’t Desert Kristoff In Qatar
• Stage Two victory for the Norwegian
• Finishes dusty day in overall lead
• Will he flounder in Flanders?
Of course in the Tour De France riders must travel 3,664km over 21 stages in 22 days. That’s an average of around 175km each stage, and doing that day-in-day out at a competitive level puts a great strain on the body, and it is a short slip between helping with the pain and making sure the pain is held in abeyance longer. Armstrong might be the poster-boy for cheating in sport (perhaps replacing Ben Johnson who held the position before) but his individual will to win was probably not the only factor in his doping.
Cycling has had to adapt to some harsh realities as the harsh glare of the modern media has been turned on it in a less than cordial manner, the doping scandal forever meaning cycling is on the back foot when it comes to public relations, and the even harsher world of sponsorship and the rigors of gaining and retaining them. The media might have splashed the bad news all over the front pages and kept hammering on at it, but the sponsors probably already knew.
Scandal Did Massive Damage To The Sport
That one would invest in the advertising and publicity derived from sponsoring a team in the Tour De France or any other major cycling event gambling news coverage of good team performances alone would claw back the investment is frankly as laughable as the idea of people spending three weeks riding 175km every day without assistance. There was always going to be a pressure to win placed on the top competitors and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that some succumbed to this temptation.
For a number of years there Lance Armstrong was everything cycling and its sponsors could possibly want, a winning hero who had a superb back-story narrative of beating cancer to keep the press forever enthralled in whatever he did. They had, in effect, got precisely what they paid for, but then that money pumped into the sport, however necessary for the development of the events, can’t possibly be said to have had no influence at all on the resulting behavior of some riders.
Of course the Tour De France is the flagship event and it is to the images of multi-colored pelaton sweeping through the pastoral scenes of the French countryside that one’s mind will always be draw, along with the agony on the faces of the mountain stage riders and their sprint specialist brethren. A superb advert for France, and a great showcase for the sport, it is that race above all others that has been forever and irrevocably damaged by Armstrong and his ilk, but it brought it upon itself.
Thankfully sports bounce back over time and the world of cycling is beginning to see the shoots of this recovery start to actually bear leaves as well. The Olympics and Mr. Wiggins did much to help this along, the stunning velodrome a million miles away from any French rural edifice, and Bradly Wiggins being the quintessential British athlete in that he rose from the ranks rather quietly, won some big events with a good dose of luck on his side and has managed to remain hugely boring throughout.
Kristoff Cruises Despite Crosswinds
This year has already seen some great races and indeed those that like to bet on sport in Norway should be watching especially closely as people gear up for the first of the three big races in the calendar. The Tour Of Flanders might still be a couple of months off but already there’s a lot of eyes following the initial events of the year, and in one of them a young Norwegian has been showing that he’s one to keep an eye on this year.
Alexander Kristoff from the Katusha team won the second stage of the Tour of Qatar moving into the overall lead despite a day of racing that saw some tricky conditions challenging the riders and indeed those trying to cover them for the media. You rarely get sand-storm-esque crosswinds in the Tour Of Flanders, although Qataris would point out you as infrequently get torrential cold rains in the deserts conditions of Qatar.
The crosswinds broke up the pelaton significantly but despite this the leading group kept up a blistering pace averaging 48km over the 194km stage, and Kristoff hit the front at precisely the right moment to get the win in what was a long sprint at the end. Despite a lot more of Qatar to come some are already tipping Kristoff to surprise everyone in Flanders and with ComeOn! Sportsbook offering him at 11.50, odds that will no doubt shorten, Norwegian gambling laws will doubtless not stop him being backed from Oslo.
Of course Peter Sagan is favorite at 4.30, with Fabian Cancellara at 5.30, Sep Vanmarcke at 6.80 and Greg Can Avermaet at 9.75 so perhaps Kristoff has more of a mountain to climb in the flatlands of Flanders but thus far in Qatar he’s shown the tactics and performance needed. “It was a really hard day,” he said afterwards, “but my legs were okay. I felt good during the whole stage and my team supported me.” Something he’ll be hoping they do again when they get to Belgium.