Blowing out Alexander Kristoff’s Tour de France birthday candles, one year at a time

A detailed timeline of the Stavanger Stallion's Tour de France birthday cakes.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 07.07.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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The life of a professional cyclist is, in many ways, one of deprivation – time depriving oneself of treats, time away from family, time focusing on goals more oriented toward process and performance than pleasure. So, on a special day like a birthday, can you blame them for wanting to feel a little bit pampered? In good conscience, I cannot.

Someone who understands this dichotomy – the diligent life of the athlete, the deep-seated desire to blow out a candle – is Alexander Kristoff. The Norwegian veteran sprinter has had a long and fruitful career where he has, for more than a decade, been a lock for Tour de France selection. But that golden chalice has a drop of poison in it, because the Tour is consistently in July, and so is Alexander Kristoff’s birthday.

Kristoff, aged 36 and 364 days, having a chat with Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme.

After a stage 7 time-trial in which Kristoff wore Uno-X’s pretty little bob of a helmet, I wandered through an industrial estate on the edge of a wine-growing region with chateaus in the hills. Eventually I tracked him down, standing next to an Uno-X team car with a backpack on his back, street shoes strapped to it, preparing to ride back to the team hotel. After staying the hell out of the way of TV2 Norway’s interview – this is the hierarchy, I don’t question my lowly position on the pecking order – I grabbed Kristoff and asked him a question that’s been simmering away in the back of my mind since the last time I asked him about his birthday cake. That question: what cake will it be today? 

Now, this is a simple and admittedly silly question to bother a now-37-year-old man with every year. But I’d actually argue there is something important you can learn about the athlete, about the team dynamic in which he finds himself at Uno-X, about the ties that home holds on the Stavanger Stallion, about his deeper hopes and desires. Over a number of interviews and close liaison with the team press officer (yes, this is my job, isn’t it silly) I was able to piece together the following timeline. 

A forensic deconstruction

July 5, 1987

Alexander Kristoff is born. Norway rejoices. 

Photo: Sean Hayford O’Leary/Wikimedia Commons

July 5, 2009

Alexander Kristoff experiences his first Bike Race Birthday away from the warm embrace of home, racing the U23 European Continental Championships. He finishes seventh. The cake he receives is not known. 

July 5, 2013

Alexander Kristoff is first selected for the Tour de France, riding for Team Katusha back when it A) existed and B) team owner, recently Cypriot billionaire Igor Makarov, wasn’t publishing weird sponsored content to push The Bad News down the Google Search results. Katusha’s institutional appetite for cake and/or giving it to people is lost to the mists of time. This black hole in our knowledge continues until 2017, despite six consecutive Tour de France birthdays.

July 5, 2017

“So, Alexander, what is your favourite cake?”

Another birthday at the Tour de France, although this one is on-the-record as being a lively one. TV2 Norway brings him a small chocolate birthday cake ringed with cream and everyone wears little birthday hats, elastic cutting into their chins. There are two suspicious red splodges on the top of the cake, but where we are going that does not matter.

As per an oral history of this incident, told to me by Alexander Kristoff in 2023, he smashes it in the face of former pro/current TV pundit/deeply tanned man Dag Otto Lauritzen. “They always write shit about me, so then I get the cake …” Kristoff explained, tailing off with a mischievous smile. 

TV2 Norway no longer bring a cake for Alexander Kristoff. 

July 5, 2020

A little virus called SARS-CoV-2 – stage-name COVID 19 – upends the pro cycling calendar. The Tour de France is held not in July, but September. In the hypothetical world of a Tour de France in July (which it wasn’t), Alexander Kristoff probably would have gotten a cake, because he is now with UAE Team Emirates and the Italians seem a little more inclined to making people feel fancy on their big day. Instead, he celebrates at home with his wife and growing collection of sons. 

For the first time since 2013, marriage, and children, Kristoff has a comparison point to the Tour de France Birthday. He likes it better. 

July 5, 2021

While presumably a cake-giving organisation, what the UAE Team Emirates folks are less inclined to do is select Alexander Kristoff for their Tour de France team, focused as it is on returning Tadej Pogačar to a second Tour de France title. Kristoff tastes again the forbidden fruit of a second birthday at home.

July 5, 2022 

Alexander Kristoff now rides for Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert. He is at the Tour. He has a birthday cake. Happy times. 

Later that year, the team begins using the nickname ‘Stavanger Stallion’ for him. It is one of the prouder moments of my life.

July 5, 2023

Alexander Kristoff talks to TV2 Norway at the 2023 Tour.

Alexander Kristoff has his first Tour de France birthday riding for the Norwegian/Danish Uno-X Mobility team. He asks for an Oreo cake. He gets what he wants. 

He also gives a lengthy interview about whether or not a squirrel fell on his head at the 2013 Tour of Oman. Content-wise, it is basically my perfect day.

July 5, 2024 (afternoon)

Alexander Kristoff is cornered after a time trial by a strange Australian man. He tells him (/me) that, birthday-wise, he “prefer[s] to be home with my family.” He confirms that family sang “the song” over FaceTime in the morning. He has also, we later learn, done numerous big poos in a hotel room shared with Magnus Cort

After last year’s Oreo request, I’m interested to learn whether there will be a cake. From 2023’s absolute certainty (a lightning-quick “there will be cake”) to this year, something has changed. He has not been given the option to request a cake: he merely “hope[s] there is a cake since we have such a short day. I hope the nutritionist can see through all the numbers and give us something nice,” he offers. 

Kristoff rides in a birthday time-trial wearing a big happy birthday time-trial helmet.

I’m flabbergasted. No input? What gives? “Maybe they thought 36 was a bigger number than 37,” Kristoff offers enigmatically. I counter that 37 is the more impressive age. He agrees enthusiastically, and just before riding off, ponders aloud whether his overlords at Uno-X will let him choose a cake for his 40th birthday. We make an appointment for the following day to discuss what cake –  if any – he receives.

July 5, 2024 (evening)

I slide into the DMs of the team’s press officer, asking if Kristoff got a cake and if so, how was it. I get a response from the team nutritionist, James Moran: “Chocolate cake, lovingly prepared by our chef [Very Danish Man] Kim Rokkjær. We can still accommodate cake on a special occasion like Alex’s birthday!” Moran says. “Alex has a sweet tooth and anything with chocolate is usually a favourite so we have decided for him.”

Will there be candles, and if so, how many? “There will be candles to blow out, but probably only 1 and not 37,” Moran confirms. “All staff and riders will come together and sing happy birthday to him!” It sounds lovely. I ask for pictures. I am politely rebuffed. 

July 6, 2024

It is raining in Semur-en-Auxois, alternating between a dispiriting drizzle and rain that pours off the awnings of the buses onto the media waiting outside them to talk to the riders. I ask to talk to Uno-X’s newest 37 year old. I am told he will not be out for a little while. I go to talk to Mathieu Burgaudeau, who practically runs away from me and the rain into the Total Energies bus. Dispirited, I walk the long walk of shame back to Uno-X. My colleague Jonny, heading upstream, asks if I am OK and tells me to cheer up. Rain drips off my hood for, oh, 15 minutes or so; my podcast gear gets soaked wet in the rain and I later realise I’ve recorded absolutely nothing for 12 minutes. Alexander Kristoff emerges. 

He is in outrageously good spirits given the weather and the fact that he’s about to be pestered for the second consecutive time in 18 hours about his cake preferences. I cut straight to the chase:

Escape Collective: So: cake rating from yesterday. 

Alexander Kristoff: Oh, 10 out of 10. 

EC: 10 out of 10! We were concerned that a nutritionist-prepared cake would be a little bit dry, maybe a little bit bland. Can you run me through that? 

AK: It was really tasteful and wet … a lot of chocolate.

EC: A moist cake?  

AK: A moisty one.

EC: Was there icing on top? 

AK: Yeah, it was like, floating chocolate – melted chocolate, I would say.

EC: How many candles?

AK: Only one candle, but with playing music and one firework. 

EC: Oh, that’s goooood. 

AK: [contentedly] Yeah. 

EC: I’ve been told that [Uno-X] sing Happy Birthday in English and not [Norwegian birthday song] ‘Hurra for deg’.

AK: Yeah. Because we have some English staff also. 

EC: Oh, okay. That’s very inclusive of you. I appreciate that. 

AK: [earnest, if slightly concerned, chuckle]

EC: So of the cakes in your time, celebrating your birthday at the Tour de France, is this number one?

AK: [firmly] This is the best one. Definitely.

EC: Better than the Oreo cake from last yeah? 

AK: Yeah – definitely. 

EC: Thank you for your time. 

Another day, another year older: Alexander Kristoff at a near-chocolate cake level of moistyness.

July 5, 2027

Alexander Kristoff turns 40. After a mid-contract renegotiation of his terms specifically vis-à-vis baked goods, he has spent years preparing for this special moment. He requests a cake of identical dimensions and design to the Team Uno-X Mobility bus.

Under Norway’s permissive employment law, his employers have no choice but to comply. He eats his fill and retires on the spot, content with the knowledge that after more than a dozen Tour de France birthdays and almost two decades as a professional athlete, he has done the funniest thing possible. He has got his cake, and eaten it too.  

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