On a day when it was expected that the yellow jersey would slip from the shoulders of fast man Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) to a climber like Cadel Evans (BMC), it was the world champion who pulled off the performance of the day at the Tour de France. Where many climbers and riders with general classification ambitions got dropped and lost time on the climb to the finish at Mûr-de-Bretagne, the strong Norwegian showed real grit to finish as part of a highly-rated group of nine riders who finished in the same time as the stage winner Evans.
Alberto Contador's Saxo Bank-Sungard team manager Bjarne Riis applauded the performance from the so-called sprinter. “The big surprise is Thor Hushovd, that was a fantastic job from him,” Riis told Cyclingnews. “He did the performance of the day, not Alberto. I expected Alberto to be up there but not Thor.”
Hushovd was understandably proud as he looked back at his performance. “I went really deep to stay with these climbers,” he said. “It is my best performance so far in this Tour. I'm a proud man in yellow. I'm very proud on what I achieved. It wasn't a stage for me but I was very motivated. I played the tactics well and hid myself all the time.”
Hushovd explained that his initial aim on the stage was to maintain his hold on the yellow jersey, in spite of his slender one-second lead over Cadel Evans.
“My goal today was to keep the jersey but I knew it would be difficult,” Hushovd explained. “When I saw Contador, Evans and other climbers in the front I had my doubts.”
Hushovd weathered the storm, however, and even allowed himself to briefly dream of stage victory as the group of nine slowed down when the steepest part of the climb was covered. While those hopes were soon dashed, the lack of uphill finishes between now and Saturday’s haul to Super-Besse means that Hushovd fancies his chances of staying in yellow for the remainder of the opening week.
“I didn't think about the stage win but with 400m to go it went through my mind although only for a second,” he said. “It was gone right away because I was immediately at my limit. I was capable to keep up, though, and hold the jersey. It should be possible to keep it until Super-Besse.”
As well as holding onto the yellow jersey, Hushovd also picked up twenty points for the points classification at the finish line. It moves him into fourth place overall with 70 points, which is within twelve points of leader Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar).
“It's still a long way to Paris,” Hushovd said. “There still two to three stages to come for the sprinters. It's my job to play my role in it.”
He also explained that the pure fast sprints are no longer his playground, and that his teammate Tyler Farrar showed on Monday that he is the specialized man for the sprints at Garmin-Cervélo.
“In recent years I’ve found out that it's getting harder to win a sprint on flat roads against men like Mark Cavendish for example,” he said. “That's why I focused more on uphill sprints and worked on my climbing. It's also thanks to Philippe Gilbert with whom I train a lot, so thank you Philippe.”