The renaissance continues apace. After cruising to a time trial win last week and then besting Vincenzo Nibali on an uphill finale three days ago, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) claimed his third win of the new season by unfurling a crisp sprint to claim stage 5 of the Tour of Oman.
There is palpable excitement in the Dimension Data camp about what Boasson Hagen can achieve in their colours this spring but as ever, the man himself was the steady voice of equanimity amid the hubbub at the finish, where he chatted politely with a cheerful group of Norwegian expatriate supporters before mounting the podium.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Boasson Hagen said with typical understatement. “I was feeling pretty good already in Qatar and I’ve taken two stages here now, so I’m pretty happy with that. I was hoping for it of course but I didn’t expect it.”
As at Quriyat on stage 2, Boasson Hagen was able to rely on robust support from his Dimension Data team on Saturday, and their cause was aided considerably by the presence of Jacques Janse Van Rensburg in the day’s early break. The South African and his breakaway companion Pieter Weening (Roompot) managed to survive at the head of the race almost all the way to the finish, and were ultimately swept up just over two kilometres from the line.
Boasson Hagen, meanwhile, had survived the whittling down process that took place over the three ascents of the stiff climb of Bousher Al Amarat in the finale, and he had four teammates – Nathan Haas, Merhawi Kudus, Serge Pauwels and Daniel Teklehaimanot – for company in the 40-man leading group that formed on the last lap.
“We had a plan that Jacques was going to go in the break, so we wouldn’t have to chase from behind all day,” Boasson Hagen. “The rest of the guys on the other teams needed to do the work, and we could just relax.”
“I was able to sit near the front and the rest of the team was around me. When we came down to the flat after the last descent, Jacques was closed down, so we started the lead-out then, and it was really nice to have that support from the team. I feel sorry for Jacques because he was so close to winning, but I feel happy for myself.”
The goal is the Classics
On Friday Boasson Hagen had showcased the full extent of his repertoire by putting up a game, but ultimately unsuccessful defence, of the red jersey of overall leader on the arid slopes of Green Mountain. Not since 2010, his maiden year with Team Sky, has he enjoyed a start to the season quite as effervescent as this one.
“I’ve been feeling good but I’m not a climber,” Boasson Hagen said on Saturday of his exertions of Green Mountain the previous afternoon. “I just wanted to do my best and I wanted to do a big effort to see how well I could do. I didn’t expect to do as well as that, so I was happy.”
In the heady years of promise that encompassed Boasson Hagen’s dramatic emergence at Maxbo-Bianchi and his rapid progress at Highroad, he was heralded as the most exciting talent of the new century and even dubbed as the new Eddy Merckx.
A man with 45 professional wins to his name can hardly be described as a wasted talent, nor can Boasson Hagen’s time at Team Sky simply be discarded, given the cameos he produced both on his own account and in support of others during his five years on the team. Yet he appeared simply to be treading water by the end of his tenure at Team Sky, and failed to land a single win in 2014.
After showing signs of his own self at the tail end of his debut season with MTN-Qhubeka last year, Boasson Hagen’s fast start to 2016 has raised hopes that at 28, he might finally start to realise his considerable potential in the Spring Classics, where, Gent-Wevelgem victory in 2009 aside, he has perennially underwhelmed. After the Tour of Oman, he lines up at Tirreno-Adriatico before facing into the Classics.
“The goal is to be up there in the classics. I hope to be up there,” Boasson Hagen said on Saturday, reiterating that Paris-Roubaix is the race he covets above all others. “My main goal and my dream is to win Roubaix. But any classic would be nice.”