At 36 years old with a bountiful palmarès, Alexander Kristoff could be forgiven for kicking back, putting his feet up and settling into a peaceful retirement. There’s not much left to achieve, after all – over the years he’s won Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, worn the yellow jersey, picked up four Tour de France stage wins, a Worlds silver medal, an Olympic bronze. But heading into 2024 – his 15th season as a pro – Kristoff instead finds himself facing a period of reinvention: trying new things, seeking new priorities.
Part of that is the inevitable result of ageing – some sting gone from the legs in combat with younger, hungrier rivals. But there are also shifts within the team dynamic at his Uno-X Mobility team, and in Norwegian cycling itself, that mean that Kristoff can no longer do the same things and expect the same results.
A team on the move
Uno-X – which began as a development team for Norwegian and Danish riders – has expanded its ambitions as its young charges have, predictably, developed. In 2020, it stepped up from a Continental team to a ProTeam, scoring access to races of greater prestige and working up to become one of the top ranked of its category over the next couple of seasons. Young riders – the likes of Torstein Træen and Rasmus Tiller – started making their presence felt.
It was the arrival of Kristoff in 2023, however, that most aptly demonstrated the team’s shifting goals.
At the time, Kristoff was by a considerable margin the most experienced rider in the squad, and a full decade older than the team’s average rider age. But there was a mutual benefit to his presence on the team: it gave the young Scandinavians someone to learn from, and it gave Kristoff three years of contract stability, safe from the churn of the annual renewal negotiations that had preceded it at Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert. When Uno-X scored an invite to its debut Grand Tour at the 2023 Tour de France – which a rider of Kristoff’s prestige could only have helped with – it also gave the team its biggest moment yet. There was no better metaphor for the team’s rapid rise than the fact that it took delivery of its very first (and very shiny, very yellow) team bus just before the Tour.
The rise of Uno-X was reflected in an uptick in interest at home, and helped shift Norwegian focus in particular from a handful of marquee riders (chiefly Kristoff and Edvald Boasson Hagen) into support for a home team; people cheering for their local stars from Drøbak or Mandal, rather than just seeking a single emblem of national cycling pride to pin their hopes on. Our friends at TV2 Norge told Escape Collective that there was a substantial bump in viewers for their Tour coverage – I can’t find my notes now because it was last July, but 40% rings a bell – and Uno-X reported an (admittedly abstract) exposure value of €52M for its key partners during the month of July, along with €26M in exposure for the Uno-X Mobility brand itself. Also at the Tour, then-team boss Jens Haugland told Escape Collective that the squad’s sights were set firmly on a WorldTour berth in the next license period.
The ins and outs
The team’s hiring since has been reflective of that, while still keeping an exclusively Norwegian (~75%) and Danish (~25%) roster. There’s change in the team’s leadership: Haugland, who oversaw the team’s rise while somehow simultaneously finding time to be the general manager of the Uno-X fuel company, has stepped graciously – if unwillingly – aside from the cycling team this season. In his place comes perhaps Norway’s favourite cycling son, Thor Hushovd, who will become the general manager of the men’s ProTeam, the women’s WorldTeam, and the development team. “The dream is to create many Norwegian and Scandinavian riders who become among the world’s best cyclists – and maybe win the Tour de France one day. But within two years, the goal is for Uno-X Mobility to become one of the 18 best WorldTour teams, so that every year we can participate in the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España and the biggest races,” Hushovd said after the surprise announcement of his appointment.
Where Kristoff was the only really big name on Uno-X last year, he’s been joined by a couple of other former WorldTour hitters in the flamboyant Magnus Cort (ex-EF Education First-Easypost) and the maglia rosa-alumni Andreas Leknessund (ex-DSM Firmenich), bolstering the team’s firepower and expanding its options, both for stage wins and GC results.
The level has risen within Uno-X, too, especially with young riders raised along with the team. Take, for instance, 23-year-old Søren Wærenskjold, who impressed as Kristoff’s leadout guy last year, snubbed the advances of UAE Team Emirates, and this year has already opened his account at the AlUla Tour. Or Tobias Halland Johannessen (24), who was a key animator of breakaways at the Tour last year and picked up four top-10 stage finishes for his trouble, finished 2nd on GC at the Tour of Britain and 4th at the Arctic Race of Norway, and is already showing promising form in 2024.
For Kristoff, that’s reason for pride and contemplation: he was an obvious first pick for Uno-X’s roster at last year’s Tour de France, and this year has internal competition. But rather than resting on his laurels, he’s doubling down on his work ethic. As TV2 reported from a recent Alicante training camp, Kristoff is setting an example for the entire team. “Alex is the rider who trains an extra hour every single day here in Spain,” said sports director Kurt-Asle Arvesen, his comments echoed by Wærenskjold: “He manages to motivate himself all the time. He is the one who trains by far the most.”
A new approach
As anyone who follows Kristoff on Strava would suspect, the work ethic is not new – but the reframing behind the scenes is. In 2023, personal results were fairly meagre, but he saw the benefit of working toward team goals. “We were competitive in everything we were involved in. Even if it wasn’t me who delivered the results, I see that I can contribute to someone else on the team doing it – that also gives something,” Kristoff told TV2. That’s a shift: in the past, he said, “I was the one who had to do it. I still want to, but see that there are others on the team who can do well in the same type of race.”
The other big change for Kristoff arrives in the hopes of finding a better level at this year’s Tour de France and improve on his best stage result of 6th last year. There’s a new tool in his training arsenal: for the first time in his career, the Norwegian veteran will go to altitude for a training camp. “I said last year that I was afraid to take part and that I would think: ‘What have I been doing all these years that I haven’t bothered to do this?’” he admitted to TV2, acknowledging the “tremendous boost” he’d seen in his altitude-trained teammates the year before.
That doesn’t come without sacrifice, however. Kristoff has long used May as a recovery block at home in Stavanger with his wife and four sons, catching a breather between the classics and the most important race of the summer. Three weeks in the monastic environment of a training camp will be a shift. For the Stavanger Stallion, though, it’s a necessary evil: “It means more away from the family, but I hope that it will help raise my level physically, and that I can thus perform better in the Tour de France – if I get there,” Kristoff said. “I have to do something when I struggle to keep up with the best.”
The future beckons
With the level continually rising at Uno-X Mobility, the 2024 season is a test of how all that investment will translate into concrete results. There are new races to attend – like debut outings at the Italian monuments – along with an already-announced return to the Tour de France. There’s reason for excitement, both for fans of the team and for those within it.
For Alexander Kristoff, the figurehead of Uno-X last season, there might be wins, and there might not (although as he’s repeatedly shown since his peak in the mid-2010s, underestimate him at your peril). The team’s goals are now greater than just that, though: this season he forms part of a groundswell in Norwegian cycling, its biggest name in flux from master to mentor.
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