While Norwegian Thor Hushovd has not been able to beat the world's top sprinters this season, he still proved he has what it takes to win in the Vuelta a España's sixth stage to Murcia.
By surviving the category 2 ascent of the Alto de la Cresta del Gallo with 17km to go, Hushovd also proved he could be a prime favourite at the world championships in Melbourne in one month's time.
It was the third Vuelta stage of his career, with today's win adding to one in Cuenca (2005) and Leon in 2006. While other fast men like Tyler Farrar and Mark Cavendish were 10 and 12 minutes behind by the finish, Hushovd made the front group and topped Daniele Bennati (Liquigas-Doimo) and Grega Bole (Lampre) for the win from the 71-rider peloton.
"When I saw that Bennati was also there for the sprint, he was the man for me to watch," Hushovd said. "I also feared Philippe Gilbert and Filippo Pozzato who are fast finishers in small groups."
Hushovd has always been more than a pure sprinter, and has won prologues, time trials and Classics in addition to the points classifications of the 2005 and 2009 Tours de France and the 2006 Vuelta.
A broken collarbone in May of this year hurt his preparation prior to the Tour de France, and Hushovd admitted he is lacking the pure speed needed for typical bunch sprints. "I haven't sprinted enough this year to win against someone like Mark Cavendish," he said.
"When I came to the Vuelta, my first goal was to get back in race rhythm," the Cervélo rider said. "The second goal was to win a stage." Now that he has reached these two goals, he can focus on the world championships.
At the start of stage 6 in Caravaca de la Cruz, Italian Filippo Pozzato identified Hushovd as one of the few sprinters who would be able to survive the climbs that litter the course of Geelong to claim the rainbow jersey in Australia on October 3rd. Hushovd's disadvantage will be the small number of teammates he'll have as Norway can line up with only three representatives.
The 32-year-old looked worried when he arrived in Sevilla for the Tour of Spain last week after the news of his Cervélo team's closing shop came out. On Monday he sealed a deal to join Garmin-Transitions whose team manager Jonathan Vaughters was his teammate when Crédit Agricole won the Tour de France team time trial in 2001 - Hushovd's first Tour stage.
Hushovd insisted that six of his current teammates at Cervélo follow him to the team that had already recruited another of his former faithful teammates, Frenchman Christophe Le Mével. "I need them for the Classics," Hushovd said of Roger Hammond, Heinrich Haussler, Daniel Lloyd, Andreas Klier, Gabriel Rasch and Brett Lancaster.
After declaring that he and pure sprinter Tyler Farrar would not be in competition at Garmin, it seems clear that the main focus of Hushovd's career will be the Classics.