Take two for Thor Hushovd. For Garmin-Cervélo, read BMC. For the second time in as many seasons, the Norwegian is a new arrival at an all-star classics squad, as he continues his quest to land victory in one of sport’s monuments.
In spite of Johan Van Summeren’s victory at Paris-Roubaix in 2011, however, that Garmin-Cervélo squad never quite seemed to add up to the sum of its considerable parts, and Hushovd will doubtless be hoping for a smoother transition when he lines up as part of Andy Rihs’ glittering array of galacticos at BMC.
“With the riders I think it’s a stronger team and it’s a bigger team with more people and staff, really professional and well-organised,” Hushovd told reporters in Denia, Spain. “They have a plan about every person – not only the leaders on the team, but every rider, every staff member. Whether it’s the mechanic or the bus driver, everybody knows what to do, everybody is relaxed and I think that’s an important thing.”
Hushovd insisted that he gave due consideration to remaining with Garmin into 2012, in spite of rumours emanating as early as last spring that he was looking to leave the team. He also downplayed the furore over his exclusion from Garmin’s Vuelta a España squad, which came shortly after his transfer to BMC had been announced.
“Sometimes you’re not happy with decisions, but there are thirty riders on the team and it worked out well in the end, so there is no bad taste,” he said. “I wanted to get into shape for the Worlds in Copenhagen and I thought the Vuelta would be perfect preparation but now when I look back I see it was a very hard Vuelta and I think riders who did this race ended up being tired.
“[At the time] I would have liked to have done it but there wasn’t room for me at that time and I did a good eight days at the Tour of Britain.”
Combining with Gilbert
Among Hushovd’s teammates at BMC will be his sometime training partner and world number one Philippe Gilbert. Given their friendship, Hushovd unsurprisingly believes that the Belgian’s presence at his side will be a help and not a hindrance come the spring. “To be with him, I think it makes me stronger,” he said. “He’s maybe the best rider in the world.”
Hushovd may have been frustrated when team orders forbade him from riding with Fabian Cancellara in pursuit of the leaders at Paris-Roubaix last year, but he acknowledged that a similar situation could arise in 2012 at BMC. With Gilbert and Hushovd likely to be heavily marked, a number of other riders could yet have their opportunity.
“We’re going to do good team work like what happened at Paris-Roubaix last year for myself, when a teammate won,” Hushovd explained. “The same thing can happen this year. It doesn’t have to be me or Gilbert. It can be somebody else who rides after an attack and ends up in front, and we can sit back waiting and – boom – it’s done, a victory for BMC.”
As ever, Hushovd’s classics campaign will be centred on Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but he insisted that he did not feel under pressure to finally land one of the sport’s biggest prizes this year.
“I would love to win a big classic before I finish my career, and now I have three years on maybe the best team in the world to reach that goal,” he said. “I’m going to take that chance, and if it happens this year, next year or in the third year, there’s still time.”
The Tour and the Olympics
While Hushovd dreams of classics glory for now, he is aware that come July he will be expected to furnish Cadel Evans with robust support during his defence of the Tour de France. Lacking some of the speed of yesterday, the then-world champion opted to go on the offensive for much of the 2011 Tour, and was rewarded with two thundering stage victories.
Hushovd may not in theory have quite the same freedom to roam this time around, but he believes that he will still have some scope to continue the remarkable run that has seen him win a stage or the points jersey in every edition of the Tour since 2004.
“The tactic is not set, everything can happen,” he said. “I think when we come into the Tour de France, we’ll just have to take it day by day. Obviously the team also want a win early in the week, so that maybe we will have a little less pressure. So maybe I will have a chance or Gilbert. In between we are going to help Cadel to stay at the front and not lose time, or maybe even gain time on his contenders.”
Just six days after the curtain comes down on the Tour, Hushovd will line up among the contenders for victory at the London 2012 Olympics road race, even if he insists that the Tour is the priority.
“For me and the team, the Tour de France is the biggest goal and stays the main goal,” he said. “I’ll do things 100% there for me and the team and then I’m going to kind of switch off and try and find form that day in London six days later. It’s not easy, but I think it’s important to have a race like the Tour de France in the legs to be good.”
Given the nature of the course and after celebrating his 34th birthday two weeks ago, however, Hushovd is aware that London 2012 may well be his final opportunity to taste Olympic success. “The Olympic medal is a big goal for this year, but I’m afraid it’s my last chance, so there’s big pressure too,” he laughed.
Hushovd's 2012 season gets underway at the Tour of Qatar on Sunday.