By Jean-François Quénet
What a comeback! After a three week break in Norway, Thor Hushovd has won his first race of the year at the Four Days of Dunkirk. He outsprinted Jimmy Casper in a tight finish. "He told me afterwards that he saw me blocked near the barriers," Hushovd explained of his rival. "When he finally opened the door, I had to go around another rider. I thought I had won but the judges needed the photo finish to confirm that I was 5 centimetres ahead."
The Norwegian champion had a delayed start after a sinus operation and different goals set for the 2005 season. "Last night I was saying to myself that I raced pretty good this year but no win yet wasn't normal," he said. "I had decided to take it easy in smaller races and give 100 percent in the big ones. Finishing third in Milan-San Remo, fifth in Ghent-Wevelgem and ninth in Paris-Roubaix makes quite a good classics campaign, I believe. I'm particularly happy with the way I went in Roubaix because I got the feeling that I'll win this race one day."
Still, he was missing the feeling of winning. For the second part of the season, he has chosen to focus on a different kind of exercise than what the classics require: sprinting. "During my stay in Norway, I've done a lot of specific training for that," he underlined. "Sprint effort series were on my program. That's why I could win today, I had the speed. Coming back to races, I'd like to win one stage in every stage race that I take part in before the Tour de France. After Dunkirk, I'll do Volta Catalunya and the Dauphiné, plus the team time trial in Holland prior to the national championships."
Hushovd's trademark is now the famous green-and-white with blue cross jersey of Norwegian champion. "I'll try to keep it because everyone in Norway tells me it's so easy to recognise me now." He has paid a visit to Larvik to see the course of this year's national's. "It's quite hard," Thor said. "The uphill finish is 7 or 800 metres long with a gradient of approximately 8 percent, in the middle of the circuit there is another climb of 1.5km but less steep. It's good for me. I'm looking forward to a duel with Kurt-Asle Arvesen, and I'll have Mads Kaggestad on my side."