For the first time in five years, Edvald Boasson Hagen donned the colours of a new team. The Norwegian rider and his teammates tried on MTN-Qhubeka's new zebra-inspired team kit before it was presented to the world on Thursday evening. Boasson Hagen wasn’t allowed to wear it at the official presentation but got a chance to try it on for the official team photos. He will have to wait until January 1 before he can show off the distinctive kit in public.
The 27-year-old was one of the first of the eight riders that eventually moved to the African team this winter. The majority of the signings have been sprinters, with Matt Goss, Tyler Farrar, Theo Bos and Reinardt Janse van Rensberg – who has previously raced for the team - coming into the fold. None of the sprinters have ever raced together but Boasson Hagen is confident that they can make it work.
“We are pretty similar but we are also different,” he told Cyclingnews at the team’s training camp in South Africa. “If it comes to a sprint we just have to be honest and decide who to sprint for. We’ll make a really good train and I don’t think that many other teams will be as fast as us, but of course we need to prove it.
“It really looks like Highroad, it is not just one big GC rider so all different riders can win. I hope that we can have something similar to that.”
Boasson Hagen has spent more than half of his career with Team Sky – joining them in 2010 after two years with High Road – and being the new boy is something he hasn’t done for a long time. “I just wanted to try something new and see how it went. I’ve been there for five years and I wanted to try something new,” he explained.
“It’s a little bit special when you don’t really know anyone. I know some people from sitting in the peloton but not really that much. There are a lot of guys in the same position but we have blended well into the group and the other guys have welcomed us into the group.”
It’s not just about racing
Boasson Hagen announced his intentions to leave Team Sky in August and there was plenty of interest in securing his signature. At one stage, Tinkoff-Saxo expressed their interest in partnering him with Slovakian star Peter Sagan, but Boasson Hagen decided on the Pro Continental MTN-Qhubeka in the end. While he says that he was tentative about making the move he isn’t worried about the apparent backwards step.
“You think that it is a bit of a step down but it’s not really a step down. It’s a professional bike team and it's about winning races,” he told Cyclingnews. “For me, I think it is better when there is no specific GC rider, it is more about getting in breakaways and going for stage wins. I think it will suit me better.”
Riding for a team that is so intrinsically linked with a charity adds another element to the move. “With Qhubeka, that project, it is really nice to be a part of that, and we can use our position to bring out the story about Qhubeka and raising money to give bikes to the poor. Today we saw a township to see how they live and it makes an impression. You really see how it is.”
Returning to the top
Boasson Hagen is a rider that comes with a reputation of winning some of the biggest races on the calendar. His palmarès includes stages of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, Gent-Wevelgem and national titles in the time trial and road race. The majority of his success came in his final season at Highroad and first two years at Team Sky. As Sky’s general classification ambitions have continued to grow, Boasson Hagen found himself squeezed out as a sprinter and his performances have tailed off in the last few seasons.
He refuses to point any fingers for his decline in results. “I don’t want to blame anyone,” he said. “The results have (in the past) been really good but they weren’t so good in the last years. I hope to get back there at the top level.”
This year has been the most challenging for Boasson Hagen. He failed to notch up a single victory for the first time in his career, and an Achilles injury forced him to miss the National Championships and the Tour de France. The problems have only made him more determined to return to the heights of 2009 and he still has a few major targets he’d like to achieve.
“I think that I will come back stronger next year,” he said confidently – well, as confidently as the eternally modest Boasson Hagen can sound. “The goal has always been to win Roubaix we will see if that is next year or another year. I also hope to get to the Tour de France with the team and to try and win stages there.”