Thor Triumphs in Tour
By Shane Stokes in Joigny, France
Finally, back on top. Heading into this year's Tour de France Thor Hushovd was lacking confidence in his abilities. It seems a strange thing from the rider who won the prologue and the final stage of the 2006 race, but going ten months without a victory can play havoc with a sprinter's essential swagger. Self-belief is crucial for those who literally risk life and limb to win; a dry spell which began after his triumph on stage six of last year's Vuelta a España had planted the seed of doubt in his mind.
Today, on stage four of the 2007 Tour de France, the Thunder God roared again. After a frenzied, somewhat chaotic build-up to the sprint, the race's top sprinters went mano a mano in the final few hundred metres before the line in Joigny. The head of the bunch flicked back and forth across the road as teams tried to impose their dominance and then, with approximately 450 metres to go, Julian Dean darted forward.
Hushovd was latched securely onto his back wheel and 250-odd metres later he hit the afterburners and powered to the front. From there to the line it was all about brute strength; Robert Hunter (Barloworld), Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Erik Zabel (Milram) were those who came closest to denying the Norwegian celebrations, but Hushovd had enough gas to go all the way to the line. He threw his arms up in the air and let out a huge roar of triumph; the drought was over, Thor was back.
"This win is great for me because I didn't have a very good start to the season," he said afterwards, very satisfied with the 66 km/h success. "I prepared the season to be good in the Classics, in Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but I fell sick the day before Milan-San Remo and I didn't do well in the Classics.
"Then I did the Giro. I was second twice there. It is great to win a stage because of that and I am very happy. I hope the rest of the race goes as well as today."
Hushovd paid credit to his team, who he said did vital work. "The sprint was very fast with big, wide roads at the end. My team did a lot of work for me and riders such as Sébastien Hinault and William Bonnet were helping a lot. I trusted Julian Dean; I stayed on his wheel and he started the sprint very strongly with about 450 metres to go. He led me out and then I jumped with about 200 metres remaining.
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