A new ASO-organized cycling event on the UCI calendar is going to attract attention this week because of its unique location. The Arctic Race of Norway will take place from August 8 to 11 above the Arctic Circle, comprised of four stages from Bodø to Harstad via the Lofoten islands.
Race promoters have appointed Thor Hushovd as Ambassador and the Norwegian national champion couldn't have come back to form at a better time. With two stage wins under his belt at the recent Tour of Poland - his first at the WorldTour level since he won two stages at the 2011 Tour de France while wearing the rainbow jersey - the former world champion finally delivered for BMC after a dark period in his career, marred by a virus. He has missed the past two editions of the Tour de France but paid a visit in Vaison-la-Romaine where Arctic Race organizers flew him via helicopter to attend a press conference.
"I've found confidence again and my teammates trust me as well," said a re-boosted Hushovd after his Polish campaign. "It gives me high ambitions for the Arctic Race. I'm proud of my country and I want the cycling world to realize how beautiful it is up there. It's an honor for me to be the Ambassador. But I also want to win the race. My goal is to win at least one stage and the overall as well."
The Arctic Race will also help Hushovd to discover a part of Norway that he doesn't know yet. "I've never been to the Lofoten islands," the man from Grimstad told Cyclingnews. "I've been invited a few times but I never found the time or the opportunity to go and visit. I've liked the idea of the Arctic Race from the start because no event is usually organized so far north and cycling is the best way to show how beautiful the nature is. The fjords, the islands, the ocean: it's an amazing place and I believe it will be very special for all the participants."
120 riders representing 20 teams and 16 nations (including Hong Kong, Canada and New Zealand) have entered the Arctic Race of Norway. The peloton includes five ProTeams (BMC, Katusha, Argos-Shimano, Belkin and Vacansoleil-DCM) and all six Norwegian Continental teams, featuring Ronde de l'Oise winner Vegard Breen from Joker-Merida and Ville de Saguenay U23 Nations Cup winner Sondre Holst Enger of Team Plussbank.
"The Arctic Race of Norway is an important step towards my goals for the end of the season: the Tour de l'Avenir and the U23 world championship," said Enger. Atle Kvålsvoll's protégé also hails from Grimstad and has been courted by several top-tier teams since he finished third overall at the Glava Tour of Norway in May.
The toughest competition for Hushovd is likely to come from the runner-up at Norwegian national championship. Since then, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) has made impressive debuts at the Tour de France, finishing second to Marcel Kittel on stage 1 to Bastia.
"Between the Tour and one-day races in Hamburg and Plouay, I'm delighted to be able to race at home," said Kristoff, who will get plenty of support from his lead-out men Rüdiger Selig and Marco Haller to cap off the work of Russian time triallists Mikhail Ignatiev, Maxim Belkov and Timofey Kritskiy. "I expect a race of a very high level because there are a lot of young talents in Norway."
Belkin Pro Cycling, with Lars-Petter Nordhaug and Paris-Roubaix runner up Sep Vanmarcke, will probably be the first team seeking to avoid bunch sprints, starting from stage 1 that includes a steep hill after Rognan at half way into the race. The two other Dutch ProTeams, however, feature ambitious sprinters. For Argos-Shimano, the young German Nikias Arndt is set to be the next Marcel Kittel but he's also able to overcome some climbs. Vacansoleil-DCM has chosen a fast trio made of Barry Markus, Kenny van Hummel and Boy van Poppel.