Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) was one of the most talked about Tour de France debutants ahead of this year’s race. His second third-place finish in a row, at the end of Thursday’s fifth stage to Montargis, helped justify some of the expectation that has surrounded the 23-year-old Norwegian since he won last year’s Gent-Wevelgem.
Boasson Hagen seemed to emerge late in the sprint for the line, and in the closing metres appeared to be closing on the winner, Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) - an analysis with which the Norwegian, who is hardly given to talking up his performances, seemed to agree.
“I felt strong, and I was going really good, but then, the finish line was there,” said Boasson Hagen. “It was a bit too soon.”
Although Boasson Hagen is regularly mentioned as one of the sport’s most exciting talents, it is worth noting that the top four on the stage were all under-25. Boasson Hagen was also led out by the leader of the young riders’ competition, his teammate Geraint Thomas.
For many, though, the question that remains is to ask what kind of rider Boasson Hagen will develop into. While clearly in possession of a fast finish, he is not - as his team principal, Dave Brailsford, said - a pure sprinter.
It is also notable that, although he was helped in the finale by Thomas and Juan Antonio Flecha, Boasson Hagen’s team is not devoting significant numbers, or attempting a lead-out train.
By moving up to fifth in the points competition he has hauled himself into contention for the green jersey, but Brailsford insisted it is not a target.
“It goes without saying he’ll be a green jersey contender in the future,” said Brailsford. “But here we just want him to learn and get used to this environment. You have to remember he’s only 23.
“He’s a guy for the future,” continued Brailsford. “There’s absolutely no pressure on him from the team. We’re very, very happy with him. We just wanted to bring him here for experience.
“He’s not a pure sprinter, but if he’s got clear air in front of him he’s very strong for a long time. The sprints haven’t gone the way people would have expected them to here, but that’s two thirds in a row he’s had. He’s sprinting well, and we’re very proud of him as a team.”
The previous day had seen Brailsford make a polite plea to the Norwegian media - gathered around the Team Sky bus in significant numbers - not to place too much pressure on Boasson Hagen, stressing, again, his youth and inexperience.
Brailsford might also have mentioned that he is naturally reserved, and not someone who seems to relish media attention. When he appeared from the Team Sky bus after Thursday’s stage, Boasson Hagen spoke briefly, paying tribute to the work done by Thomas and Flecha in helping to set him up for the sprint.
“They gave me really good help and kept me at the front for most of the time coming to the finish,” said Boasson Hagen. “I was following Geraint and the team was good. We have to practice and get more experience for the next stages.”
Asked if he is getting stronger - and closer to a stage win - as the race goes on, he said: “It’s hard to say, but I felt strong in the sprint today.”
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Richard Moore is a freelance journalist and author. His first book, In Search of Robert Millar (HarperSport), won Best Biography at the 2008 British Sports Book Awards. His second book, Heroes, Villains & Velodromes (HarperSport), was long-listed for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
He writes on sport, specialising in cycling, and is a regular contributor to Cyclingnews, the Guardian, skyports.com, the Scotsman and Procycling magazine.
He is also a former racing cyclist who represented Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at the 1998 Tour de Langkawi
His next book, Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, will be published by Yellow Jersey in May 2011.
Another book, Sky’s the Limit: British Cycling’s Quest to Conquer the Tour de France, will also be published by HarperSport in June 2011.