An interview with Thor Hushovd, September 1, 2005
Placement, strength and speed led to a perfect ending for Crédit Agricole's Thor Hushovd on Stage 5 of this year's Vuelta a España, which saw him lead home a group of 35 riders to triumph in Cuenca. As Shane Stokes writes, the same characteristics could see him take a rainbow jersey back to Norway a few weeks from now.
When it comes to drawing up a shortlist of contenders for the world road race championship on September 25th in Madrid, the name of Thor Hushovd will be on many people's minds. The Norwegian has had a remarkable season, taking stage victories in the Four Days of Dunkirk, the Tour of Catalunya, the Dauphiné Libéré and the Tour du Limousin, winning the Norwegian time trial championships and, of course, taking the maillot vert as most consistent sprinter in this year's Tour de France. Along the way, the Credit Agricole rider also finished third in Milan-San Remo, fifth in Gent-Wevelgem, ninth in Paris-Roubaix and sixth overall in the Four Days of Dunkirk.
But one of Hushovd's most important victories came on Wednesday in the Tour of Spain. Not only did the 27 year-old win Stage 5, he did so on a tough, hilly course and finished with such dominance that outlined his very real potential for the world road championships in Madrid. Each lap there will feature two climbs, and while both are big-ring grinds rather than difficult hills such as those found on last year's circuit in Verona, racing up them 13 times will certainly sap the legs. Hushovd will be hoping that this will be enough to blunt the finishing speed of his adversaries that include Alessandro Petacchi and Robbie McEwen and, all going well, to see him thunder home as world champion.
"If you win a couple of stages you can win the World's" - Thor Hushovd's view on what victory means at the Vuelta.
"This is a great victory for my career," Hushovd told journalists after the Vuelta stage. "After the Tour de France I rested for a few days and then I began working to race the Vuelta and the world championships in good condition."
When speaking to Cyclingnews earlier in the race, Hushovd said that like many of the other sprinters in this year's Vuelta, riding the race was the perfect protection for the World's. "It is about getting ready for Madrid. But for sure I will try to get a stage here first."
True to his word, Hushovd came full-belt down the finishing straight and scooped victory in Cuenca. Some of the other sprinters had played down the importance of stage wins here, saying before the race that building for the world championships was more important than whatever results they got on stages. But Hushovd was clear about the psychological effects of a victory in the Vuelta. "It's certainly important. If you win a couple of stages you can win the World's. It is important to show that you are better than the others," he said last Sunday.
"I think it will be like a normal sprint in a normal race. It will be like the Tour de France and the Tour of Italy when we are getting close to the finish line. Even though many of us are preparing for the World's, the Tour of Spain is still very important. It is a big thing to win a stage.
Although Hushovd didn't add to his tally of Tour stage victories this year, his consistency meant that he took hold of the green jersey after Tom Boonen withdrew, and held it all the way to Paris. Stuart O'Grady and Robbie McEwen did what they could to take the jersey off his shoulders but they were unable to get close.
It was an important victory for Hushovd, and also for his countrymen. "The reaction was quite big when I went home to Norway," he said. "That was nice. I then had a holiday after the Tour, rested a bit and have trained well since. I raced in Limousin before heading to Spain."
Unlike some of the other sprinters who are planning to withdraw before the finale of the race, Hushovd has said that he plans to stay all the way to the finish in Madrid. He'll then make his final preparations for the world road race championships there one week later. Previewing the course will be a priority. "I haven't seen it yet, just looked at the profile," he said.
As the eleventh ranked country in the ProTour standings, Norway is entitled to just one entry in the race. For Hushovd, this means he has to identify his biggest rival and stick to him like glue.
"For me, the favourite is Petacchi. He is the best sprinter," he said. "I will just have to follow because I am by myself. I can't do anything else. It makes things harder, certainly; I would like to have a couple of guys with me but I don't, so I just have to shadow Petacchi and be stronger than him when it comes down to the end."
If he manages to do that, he could well take another jersey back to Norway. Green was important, but the maillot arc-en-ciel would be even more special again.