By Jean-François Quénet in Fiorano Modenese
Kurt-Asle Arvesen, who won the eighth stage of the Giro d'Italia on Sunday, wore the jersey of National Champion when he rode to his first stage win in Faenza in 2003. In fact, he's no stranger to Italy, where he turned pro with ASICS after he claimed the U23 world champion title ahead of Oscar Freire. Away from the races, he still splits his time between his hometown of Molde in the northwest of Norway and his apartment near the lake of Garda in Italy. He speaks fluent Italian, a language widely spoken inside his CSC team.
"Becoming the world champion helped me turn pro," he said. "Winning a stage with the national champion jersey wasn't bad at all. But beating the world champion, who is an Italian, is the most beautiful win I could get at the Tour of Italy. I'm sorry for Paolo Bettini, but I win only once every four years. He does it much more often than I do.
"This win is very important for me because I've been close to big wins in the past and I didn't get them." Arvesen was second in a stage of the Tour de France in 2005 between Paolo Savoldelli and AG2r's rookie Simon Gerrans. He was second again behind Frédéric Guesdon in Paris-Tours last year.
Only three Norwegians have won stages in the Tour of Italy, and none of them settled for just one. Knut Knudsen, who was a pursuiter and the first real professional cyclist in a country famous for its skiers, won stages in 1975 and 1977 and a prologue plus two stages in 1981. Dag-Erik Pedersen, a pure climber, won mountainous stages in 1984 and 1986. That was all before Dag-Otto Lauritzen brought to Norway their first win in the Tour de France (Luz-Ardiden, 1987).
"As a Norwegian, people know Thor Hushovd much more than me," said Arvesen of the only other Norwegian in the Giro. "That's because he is a true winner and that's normal. I'm just happy if I can play my part for popularizing cycling in my country. When I was a kid, cycling wasn't big in Norway but we all knew about Knut Knudsen. He was my childhood hero. Therefore it's really nice that he was here to see me winning today."
Arvesen fought a lot with Bettini to make the today's break work, but the initial presence of Riccardo Riccò in the front group prevented him from taking his turns until the new star of Italian cycling dropped back. "Riccò is a threat for the white jersey that we also target with Andy Schleck," the Norwegian explained. "Andy is young, but we have ambitions for him on GC. He might finish in top 10 in Milan."