Copyright Tim De Waele

A strong sprint straight up the left-hand side of the course in Koksijde gave Team KATUSHA ALPECIN’S Alexander Kristoff his sixth win of the season and provided a boost of confidence for Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.

“I sort of led out myself for the sprint. I was afraid with the headwind I would be too slow so I sped up slightly all the way and when I saw the others guys coming I was able to sped up more. It was a hard sprint in the headwind but in these smaller sprints without the trains it is more man-against-man and they usually suit me quite well,” said Alexander Kristoff. The win came from a reduced group of riders, including a hard-working Baptiste Planckaert, who broke away on a windy day for the 192.9k course that began in Zottegem. Second and third places were earned by Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) and Marcel Kittel of Quick-Step Floors, all on the same time of 4:37:29 (41.711 km/h).

The race lead belongs to Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) by 50-second to Matthias Brändle of Trek-Segafredo. Kristoff is third on the classification at 67-seconds. Two stages remain.

“It’s nice to win today. The parcours was a little bit easier so the sprinters were better. I was there with Marcel Kittel in the first group so I was not sure I could beat him as he is usually a bit faster than me. But after a hard race and without the big lead outs, we had our chance today and I was happy to see that I could hold them behind me and take the win today. You take what you can in cycling. If I cannot win on Sunday I will still always have this nice victory from today but I hope I have the shape on Sunday and I can fight for something,” said Alexander Kristoff, referring to the upcoming classic Ronde van Vlaanderen, a race he won in 2015.

“I don’t look at myself as one of the favorites for Flanders this year because if we look at the results of the largest races so far, I do not have quite the strongest shape. The win here today is good for my confidence, but today is different from Flanders and it’s way harder. Hopefully my condition is coming, but there are many favorites for Flanders, like Gilbert and (Peter) Sagan and (Greg) Van Avermaet. I hope I can be there fighting among them. I hope I will manage to do it on Sunday,” said Kristoff.

Kristoff, age 29, reflected on his history in racing at Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde: “My first pro win outside of Norway came from this race (2012) so I always have good memories from this race. I’ve always come out of here feeling strong and in the past years I was top 5 in Flanders after doing this race so for me it has been working very well to improve my shape,” Kristoff concluded.

Thursday is a double-stage with a 118.5k road stage in the morning followed by the concluding 14.2k time trial, all in De Panne.

How the Australians fared:

1              Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin             4:37:29

2              Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo

3              Marcel Kittel (Ger) Quick-Step Floors

94           Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-Scott  0:02:39

154         Zakkari Dempster (Aus) Israel Cycling Academy 0:06:48