The 22-year-old future Katusha pro headlined a great day for Norwegian men’s cycling as he powered across the finish line in Ponferrada with his arms aloft for the first time this season, with compatriot Kristoffer Skjerping adding to the nation's success by taking bronze in the bunch sprint.
Using a strategy which will have been observed closely by the elite men’s competitors in Sunday’s road race, Bystrom launched his attack over the summit of the Mirador, the final climb, and just managed to fend off the peloton as the sprinters’ teams failed to take up the chase in time.
“It was unbelievable, I felt good today and I took it easy in the beginning to save my legs for the final. I did the right move at the right time,” Bystrom said afterwards.
Timing and patience and then risking it all with one full attack proved to be the best way to foil a very strong Australian team, working to keep the bunch together so that Caleb Ewan could go for it in the sprint.
“I saw what the Australians were doing, so I chose to wait for the last lap,” Bystrom said,
“I put all my power into the last climb, I went full gas and nobody could follow me. I went super fast on the downhill, felt good all day, and I just needed to keep going in the end.”
With the news breaking earlier this week that Bergen will host the 2017 World Championships, Bystrom recognised it had been an exceptional few days for Norway.
“Bergen’s not far from where I live, it’s going to be super special and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“Getting the bronze as well makes it a really perfect day for us,” added Skjerping, who unlike Bystrom, has no contract for next year.
“I was waiting in the bunch behind, I have a good sprint and bronze was the best I could get today. But the really important thing is the gold medal for Norway.”
Both concurred that Norwegian cycling has fast progressed in the last decade or so, with Thor Hushovd - himself a former World Champion who retired just last week, acting as a source of inspiration to the new generation of riders.
“I think it’s really good right now, we have really good pros," Edvald Boasson Hagen, silver in 2012, Alexander Kristoff and Lars Petter Norhaug are racing for Norway this Sunday “and hopefully we can get another medal," said Bystrom.
But he speculated that Sunday could be a different kind of outcome to the race, pointing out that “it’s very different, 100 kilometres longer. The course is hard, but not so hard.”
“Maybe a sprinter who can climb a bit can take the win," he added, which is something Kristoff will be happy to hear.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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