Thor Hushovd could only smile as he watched Mathieu van der Poel rip to victory on the opening stage of the Arctic Race of Norway. The former world champion is now an ambassador for cycling’s ‘northernmost race’, and a hugely entertaining day’s racing was capped with a special moment from a rider he describes as “one of a kind.”
Hushovd, who became world champion in 2010, won the first edition of the Arctic Race of Norway back in 2013, before joining the organisation team in retirement.
Van der Poel, the 24-year-old Dutchman who has been prolific in three disciplines – road, cyclo-cross, mountain bike – this year, won the opening stage in Leknes on Thursday with an emphatic long-range sprint from a group of 30 that went away with more than 100km remaining.
It was his first road race since his sensational Amstel Gold Race victory nearly four months ago, and in the intervening period, he’s been racing – and winning – on his mountain bike.
“He’s such a good rider. The way he won Amstel just shows he’s one of a kind, almost,” Hushovd told Cyclingnews in Svolvær.
“I don’t know the last time we saw something like this – probably never.”
Van der Poel said he surprised himself by winning on his return to the road, but Hushovd insisted he’d picked the Dutchman at the start of the day. That said, it was a more open and aggressive stage then anyone could have predicted, with no breakaway until the peloton split and those 30 went clear. The race hung in the balance right up until the dying moments, and late attacker Steve Cummings was only caught when Van der Poel was in full sprint.
“He was one of the big favourites, but you still have to do it. Most of the riders were looking at him, and he was kind of lucky that Jumbo-Visma did a lot of work at the end to bring back Cummings, but he is very strong,” said Hushovd.
“Now again he has shown he has done his job, coming back into form for the last part of the season, building up to the World Championships. He seems to be in top shape.”
Hushovd, who was 32 when he won the world road race title in Australia, feels Van der Poel can inherit the rainbow jersey in Yorkshire at the end of next month. "If you can win Amstel you can win these Worlds," he insisted.
However, Hushovd warned that this early success is not a guarantee of career’s worth.
“We see strong riders, very strong riders, who kind of don't stay around for long, so you always have to do your work, stay focused, concentrated on the right things, take good decisions. Even if you’re a big talent, you still have to do all the work,” Hushovd said.
“I don’t think we should compare him to anyone because he has his own story, coming from cyclo-cross. He has very few road races in his legs and he comes in and wins one of the biggest races in the world, so I think it’s wrong to compare him with someone, because he’s Mathieu van der Poel, and I think that says enough.”