- Sadhbh O'Shea
Hushovd back to defend his title
Current Norwegian national champion Thor Hushovd (BMC) with past champion Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky)
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The Arctic Race of Norway returns for its second edition. 2013 champion and home favourite Thor Hushovd is back to defend his title, as he races on home soil for the final time in his career.
With bonus seconds available at the finish, consistency will be key for overall victory. In Hushovd’s way will be his fellow Norwegian Alexander Kristoff, who is making his debut at the race. Kristoff should be able to handle the uphill finishes, and provides Norway with another real contender for the general classification – along with stage victories.
On the flatter stages, Marcel Kittel will be hard to beat. Like Kristoff, he will be racing for the first time since the Tour de France. NetApp-Endura comes to the race with a strong team, with sprinters Sam Bennett and Scott Thwaites. Bennett is likely to be the favoured of the two, but both could steal the thunder from the more experienced riders.
Hushovd will be one of the key contenders once again, but he faces a different terrain to the one he encountered last season. The inaugural edition of the race was one dominated by the sprinters, with Hushovd and Kenny van Hummel sharing the four stages between them. However, this year sees a harder course that gives the rouleurs a shot at success.
The opening stage of the race will bring the riders nearly 1,000 kilometres further into Arctic Circle for the finish in Norway’s North Cape (Nordkapp). The peloton will begin the 204-kilometre stage in the town of Hammerfest on the island of Kvaløya. They will ride towards the mainland and turn northwards for Nordkapp, the second most northerly point in Europe.
If that wasn’t enough, to reach the finish – which is situated on the island of Magerøya – the peloton will take the underwater North Cape tunnel. The exit of the tunnel will be the first of three categorised climbs that day. The final ascent of the day is short and sharp, and will test the riders to the maximum. Nothing is a given on this finish.
Stages one and three are likely to be the defining factor in this race, as the uphill finishes filter out many of the fast men. Stage three from Alta to Kaenangsfjellet will be the sternest test of the four days. While there is only two climbs, the final, sharp ascent to the Kaenangsfjellet should sort out the general classification. The 6.9-kilometre climb averages 5.7% opens the door for the likes of the other Norwegian WorldTour rider in attendance, Lars Petter Nordhaug. IAM Cycling’s Martin Elmiger and Thomas Löfkvist could also feature on this stage and take the GC away from the sprinters.
Stages two and four will give the pure sprinters a chance to get something on the board, with five laps of Tromsø capping off the four days. Kittel will be favourite on these days, but Kristoff shouldn’t be counted out here.
The 2014 Arctic Race of Norway is a very different prospect to that of 12 months ago and Hushovd will have a fight on his hands if he wants to take victory again. Whatever happens, we’re in for another stunningly scenic edition of the race.