By Jean-François Quénet
On Wednesday, Thor Hushovd felt strong during his five hour long training ride. His morale was clearly not affected by the e-mail he received from the UCI 24 hours earlier, threatening him with a fine and a suspension should he participate in Paris-Nice this coming Sunday. "My team has to decide about my participation, not me," he told Cyclingnews. He chose to take part in "the race to the sun" after Crédit Agricole was not invited to Tirreno-Adriatico, the race he opted for as a preparation for Milan-Sanremo in the past two years.
"Paris-Nice is also very good for me before Milan-Sanremo, which is my first big goal of the year," said the Norwegian who came in third on the Via Roma in 2005. While Tom Boonen chose to ride Tirreno-Adriatico this year after seeing the hilly course of Paris-Nice, Hushovd reckons this isn't too hard for him with the Mont Ventoux to climb in the middle of the week.
"I think I can pass," he said confidently. His morale was boosted when he won his first race of the 2008 season on stage one of the Tour of the Mediterranean, although last year he had to wait for the Tour de France before claiming his first success in Joigny.
The large sprinter tested his climbing abilities when he attacked solo during the Tour du Haut-Var two weeks ago. "That's something we spoke about with my personal coach Atle Kvåslvoll," he explained. In past years, Hushovd's goal at this time of the year was to win the Classic Haribo, which he did in 2004 and came second in 2006. But the race sponsored by the famous candy brand is no longer, and the Norwegian had no choice that weekend but take part in the hilly Tour du Haut-Var. "We decided that since I was there, I should try to attack and see what happens. Nobody followed me, so I gave it go by myself. I felt really strong. I eventually got caught but I was happy with the race."
Hushovd went back to his traditional European early season program after opting for a start at the Tour Down Under in 2006 and the Tour of California in 2007. "I didn't want to wait for July to win again," he said. After his post-classics break following Paris-Roubaix, he'll also return to his old plan in the build-up to the Tour de France, resuming racing at the Four Days of Dunkirk in May and then riding the Tour of Catalunya and the Dauphiné. "I tried the Giro last year and it was an interesting test, but this race is a bit too hard after a long break," he realized.
Finishing third at the Het Volk confirmed the good condition he's having at the right time of the year. "At Paris-Nice, I'm hoping to win at least a stage," he announced. "The first two should suit me. Everything else will be a preparation for Milan-Sanremo." The Crédit Agricole team built around Hushovd for La Classicissima will stay in the south of Europe for a training camp based in Andorra on the Italian Riviera between Paris-Nice and Milan-Sanremo.