The last time the UCI Road World Championships were held in Norway Thor Hushovd was but a 15-year-old boy. In October 1993 he and his family travelled to Oslo and camped on the side of the road during the event. The then-teenager watched on as first, national hero Dag Otto Lauritzen put in a late attack, and then Lance Armstrong won in the rain. Hushovd remembers it all. Lauritzen's move, Armstrong's win and especially a bike ride leading up to the race when he tagged along with the Spanish team that included Miguel Indurain. For a young, aspiring cyclist it was a dream.
Now almost 40, Hushovd acts the ambassador for his home Worlds in Bergen. He's just as trim and lean as when he last turned the pedals and remains Norway's only winner of the men's elite road race after taking the title in Geelong in 2010. Since then Norway has come close with Edvald Boasson Hagen in 2012 but on Sunday, with a nation watching on, a strong performance from a united squad is what the local wants first and foremost.
"In the men's elite we have Edvald who has been really strong and we have Alexander Kristoff as well. We have guys who can win the race," Hushovd tells Cyclingnews.
Both Boasson Hagen and Kristoff arrive in Bergen with form. The Dimension Data rider has had a hugely successful few weeks, while Kristoff recovered after a poor Tour de France with a win in the European Championships. However, just twelve months ago it looked as though a lack of unity was running through the Norwegian camp. Both Boasson Hagen and Kristoff hit the final sprint in Doha and rather than work together they competed against each other. Both failed to make the podium and a painful post-race autopsy was conducted in public.
It's no secret that Boasson Hagen and Kristoff are not the best of friends. They don't have to be and their relationship is one that you might classify as 'professional'.
"We saw last year that they didn't work well," Hushovd says.
"At the end of the day, the team needs to make a plan and then stick to it. Things didn't work out last year but they have to do something this year because of what happened in 2016 and because the race is in Norway. You have one chance and you don't want to miss out."
Hushovd has no doubts that the pair must work together and when Cyclingnews asked Kristoff earlier this week if he would prefer to win bronze or see Boasson Hagen win he laughed off the question before highlighting that the best result for Norway was all that mattered.
"Edvald has to follow the moves near the end but if that doesn't work then you need to have a plan with who will sprint. If you do things like last year and you both sprint and then you get sixth and seventh, well it's embarrassing," Hushovd says.
"If they can't work together then both guys have to sprint and then you just hope it happens."
For Hushovd the problem runs deeper than just the relationship between Norway's two top cyclists. Even in his pomp, Hushovd was never afforded the lone leadership role, and that included the year in which he won when Norway let Boasson Hagen ride for himself and Kristoff completed the three-man team as their only worker.
"That's always been the problem in Norwegian cycling – there's never been one captain. We're a small federation so the coach could never decide on who was the leader. During my career, I was never the captain. The year I won, me and Edvald both had a free role, but that worked."
So, does either Kristoff or Boasson Hagen need to sacrifice his own chance for the other to succeed?
"It's hard for me to see that happening because of what happened last year. That didn't help their relationship but they have to realise that they're riding for their country, for Norway, for the flag, and they're riding on home soil. I wouldn't want to be the guy that stopped us from getting the job done. You have to be respectful. Norway wants to see them both give it everything and do their best and the best means working together."
The course around Bergen certainly has characteristics that suit both riders. The punchy climbs give Boasson Hagen the landscape to attack and follow moves, while Kristoff is the type of rider who can hang on when a lot of the pure sprinters are dropped.
"Based on form I think it suits Boasson Hagen but with Kristoff, you never know because he's such a fighter. It's a technical course, it's long and hard, and after 12 laps a lot of riders will be tired. The final ride up the hill is going to be hard for the sprinters to follow."
Whatever the outcome of Sunday's race it's clear that Hushovd and Norway want to see a collaboration from their two best riders. Infighting and rivalries need to be put to one side, for one day at least, because as Hushovd says, they will only have one opportunity to get this right on home soil.
"The hope is that we can inspire riders like when I came to the Worlds when I was 15," Hushovd says. "That's the idea, isn't it? To inspire and motivate a new generation."
Norway expects. Hushovd expects. Disappoint at your peril.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.