Thor Hushovd took a remarkable 10th Tour de France career stage victory in Gap and a fourth for his Garmin-Cervelo team this year, but the win was even bigger for his home country of Norway, as he and compatriot Edvald Boasson Hagen battled for the line. The only two Norwegians in the race, and the two biggest cycling stars in their country, have never before gone head-to-head in such a manner.
"This was incredibly big for Norwegian cycling," said Atle Kvålsvoll, who is currently Hushovd's coach and was instrumental in developing cycling in his country after his career with the French Z team, notably at the service of Greg LeMond for winning the 1990 Tour de France. "It is an historical moment that we might never see again."
Hushovd called the finale of stage 16 "a Norwegian championship," but even at the National race, such a scenario hasn't happened before. Boasson Hagen, 24, is much younger than Hushovd, 33, and he didn't contest this year's Norwegian championship due to a virus. The race was won by Hushovd last year and Alexander Kristoff of BMC this year.
In addition to today's performance, both Hushovd and Boasson Hagen had won a stage before reaching the Alps. "To say the truth, I expected to win stage 6 to Lisieux where Edvald was the winner and I didn't expect to win stage 13 in the Pyrenees," Hushovd noted. "I've done two breakaways and I've had 100% of success. The whole luck is on my side during this Tour de France after having the yellow jersey for seven days."
Boasson Hagen felt that he could have beaten Hushovd in a two-man sprint but his elder had the advantage of the presence of his teammate Ryder Hesjedal in the front group of three. "It was too hard to race against two guys," the Sky rider commented. "Maybe I should have opened the sprint earlier but that was difficult with someone constantly on my wheel. I cannot deny that it still hurts to lose against a compatriot. Thor has done a great job but I'd like to be on the podium instead of him."
"I felt sorry for Edvald but I had to race against him," Hushovd said. "I had to sit on his wheel when he was chasing my teammate Hesjedal who was at the front in the climb. In the finale, when we were the three of us, I wanted Hesjedal to attack but he had spent a lot of energy already. He did kind of a perfect tactic because he put pressure on Edvald. Edvald was isolated and I could surprise him when I decided to open the sprint."
The Tour de France remains a success story in Norway and Hushovd counted "a few thousands of Norwegian fans" on the road side between Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux and Gap. Those people couldn't expect a better outcome.