World champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) will make his season debut in the Tour of Oman on Tuesday but admitted his major goals for the season are still a few weeks away: he is targeting victory at either Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix.
The powerful built but softly spoken Norwegian had a busy winter after winning the world title in Australia last October but now appears more confident of his own abilities in the classics after taking the world title.
He played down the risk of problems at Garmin-Cervelo after the creation of a classic super-squad and talked up his form. He spent some of the off season cross-country skiing in Norway but insisted he also spent plenty of time in the saddle in Monaco and at two recent Garmin-Cervelo training camps.
"People want more time from me because I'm world champion but I don’t feel under any pressure here because my big goals aren't in Oman," he insisted while talking to Cyclingnews and other media in Oman.
"My big goals are the grand classics: Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Paris-Roubaix is the most prestigious of them all but all three are great races. For example winning Milan-San Remo with the rainbow jersey would be very nice too."
"Here in Oman I'll see how I feel in the first couple of days and then take it from there. If I'm feeling good maybe I'll try something but we've also got Heinrich Haussler who is also going well."
"I think it's really important that I stay focused on what I want to do. My goals are to win big in April and so if I try to win everything now, I'd be tired and wouldn't even finish the season. I've got to do what I've done every season and so far I've done the training like every year. I think I'll be up there in the races I want to do well in."
Hushovd admitted he now feels the cycling world is watching his every move because the rainbow jersey makes him stand out from the crowd.
But he refuses to change his approach to the sport because of the exclusive bands on his jersey.
"I can feel that things are different, now that I'm the world champion. But my first feeling when I won the rainbow jersey is that I really wanted to enjoy it but also keep my feet on the ground." He says with Nordic logic.
"I've seen the race many times on video and I enjoyed it. But I know I have to forget about the past and think of the future and start training. And that's what I've done. Be it in the cold in Norway or wherever I was. I think I've got the same motivation as ever."
A gradual metamorphosis
Hushovd was 33 on January 18 and admits he has gone through a metamorphosis as a rider in recent years, evolving from a sprinter to a real classics contender.
"I think I changed in the last two or three years. I've won a lot of races and sprints too and I've even beaten Cavendish in the past. But that might not happen very often in the future. So instead of sprinting for second or third, I've preferred to turn for other objectives and win other races, especially the classics."
"I'm never going to stop sprinting because if I can get over the climbs like I did in Geelong, I can still win. I'm also going to target the world championships in Copenhagen and the Olympics in
London. They will probably end in bunch finish and so I hope to be have a chance in the sprint."
Hushovd is starting his 12th season as a professional and believes winning the world title was the natural consequence of his gradual development.
"I think it’s down to a lot of hard work and gradual progression. I didn't make one giant leap in performance," he points out.
"I took a big step with the winning the world title but winning the big races is all about what you can do after the 200km mark. What experience gives you is a huge factor and in the last two years I've really improved in that area."
Asked exactly how he won the world championships in Geelong, he joked: "I was more intelligent….." before revealing the race strategy that allowed him to contest the sprint finish despite only being part of a small Norwegian team.
"The truth is that I just stuck to the tactic of following the major nations like Italy, Spain and Belgium," he said.
"I raced like Freire did and I knew that I'd have a chance. I had a great day because I got over the climbs and then everything came together for me. Gilbert tried to win it with a brave attack but he had to try it because he didn’t have much chance against the faster finishers like me, Freire or Allan Davis."
Several team leaders at Garmin-Cervelo
Hushovd stands out at Garmin-Cervelo because the rainbow jersey is so different to the black, white and blue team clothing of the other riders. There is a huge potential risk of tension between Hushovd, Haussler and Tyler Farrar for the spring classics and the seven riders who joined from the Cervelo TestTeam could close ranks into their own team within the team.
Haussler has already laid claims to leadership for Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, yet Hushovd insists he is not the only leader in the team and insists there won't be any problems.
"I'm not the only one, we have a few leaders. I'm the leader in some races and then so is Farrar in others, Vande Velde in others or Hesjedal in others. We have several leaders," he says.
"If you look at the results so far, I think it's worked really well. We've won a lot and I really believe it's going to work because the feeling at the two training camps was good. We're all open with each other and we want to make this work."
The first test of their relationship could come here in Oman. The first stage to Al Seeb is predicted to end in a sprint and could see Hushovd and Haussler contesting the finish together.