Going into the 2012 season there was widespread debate about how the BMC Racing Team would be able to accommodate the objectives of team leader Cadel Evans with those of new signings Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd. The conjecture assumed that all three riders would be fighting fit and on top form at the same key moments in the season, principally for the Tour de France. However, as it turned out, lack of form and illness meant none of the trio performed as consistently well as had been expected.
Hushovd was the most severely affected. He went into the season with an energy-sapping virus and it took months to shake it off. In May, he lasted only a week at the Giro d’Italia before pulling out. Two months on, he returned at the Tour of Poland but quit the race after four days. That marked the end of his campaigning for the year, which totalled just 28 race days.
Tests showed that the Norwegian needed rest. He spent the rest of the summer relaxing, before starting back into training in October. Speaking at the BMC team presentation in Belgium last Friday, Hushovd confirmed: “I had a long, long break last year. When I started riding again, I started slowly at the beginning of October while the peloton was still competing. I feel like I’ve reached a good level now and I’m trying to peak a bit so that I am ready to get back up to race speed. Because I’ve got that base from the last three months I feel that my level is better than it was one year back. I’m sure that I’ve recovered. I feel much better.”
With his 35th birthday approaching this coming Friday, Hushovd hopes that the lay-off will benefit him in the long term, boosting his motivation and his chances of riding for a few more seasons. “When you look at other riders who have had a big break either due to a crash or illness, they can come back even stronger and that’s what I’m hoping for. Perhaps this virus gave me the chance to get some rest, which I would normally never have, and enable me to come back with a higher level of form.
“My initial goal will be to try to get my form back to a high level and then try to win a race quite early so that I can regain my confidence and the feeling of winning. After that my aim will be to be up there in the big Classics and hopefully finish on the podium at one of them, perhaps even on the top of the podium,” he said.
It’s no secret that Paris-Roubaix is at the top of Hushovd’s wish list, although he acknowledged that he would “love to win Sanremo or Flanders as well. If I could win one of those three I will be happy.” But when pressed on what draws him to Roubaix, he explained: “First of all Roubaix is a big race to win. I think because it’s long and hard and dirty. You know that the rider who wins it is a hard guy. I’m always like hard races like that, and of course the history adds to its appeal as well.”
Hushovd said he believes he has what it takes to beat the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen in “The Hell of the North”, but admitted: “It is always hard to beat a Boonen or a Cancellara when they are on a big, big day. I also need to be a very strong day and it’s not easy to be that way on exactly the day you need, on the day of Paris-Roubaix, for example. I’m still waiting for the day when I can just go and go.”
He added that he also needs another factor on his side. “You not only need to have great form on the day, but you need to have luck on your side as well. I don’t think I’ve really had that in my favour yet, but I’m really looking forward to the day it does happen.”
Hushovd is certainly not concerned about the support he is likely to be able to count on during the Classics. “Looking at the team we have here now, I cannot complain about the talent we’ve got. Now it is up to me to take the chance and win it. But as long as I know I’ve given it 100% I won’t have any regrets. I’m not going to feel bad the day that I do stop if I haven’t won Roubaix.”
The Norwegian veteran was keen to stress that his goals for the season do not start and end with Roubaix. “That is my main target, but I’ll also be aiming for Sanremo, Flanders, Het Nieuwsblad, and at the end of the there are plenty of nice races too.”
Will they include the Tour de France? This remains to be seen, but Hushovd explained: “When it comes to the Tour de France, BMC have just one goal and that’s to win the yellow jersey with Cadel or with Tejay [van Garderen]. If the team need me to help to do that, then I will be glad to do so, but it’s not my main goal of the year. That comes earlier. But the Tour de France is the biggest race in the world and I would love to take part.”