It was a course for the tough sprinter, for a man made of iron who could get over the climbs and launch a brutal uphill sprint: enter Thor Hushovd (Norway). The final sprint in Geelong, Australia was perfectly suited to the Norwegian rider and with a clear run down the left-hand barrier, Hushovd secured a year in the rainbow jersey of UCI Road World Champion.
Matti Breschel (Denmark) took a comfortable second place while Allan Davis (Australia) won a tight battle against Italy’s Filippo Pozzato to claim the bronze medal.
“It’s hard to understand that I’ve won the Worlds. It’s a dream. I’m speechless,” said Hushovd. “There’s still one goal and that’s Paris-Roubaix. But for now I will enjoy everything and try to enjoy every day of this winter. I had this chance and maybe it will never happen again.”
Hushovd admitted that he didn’t think the race would come back together when the peloton fractured and a group of 31 riders moved ahead. Hushovd missed the move but had no motivation to chase it himself given that teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen had made the cut.
“Absolutely, for a while of course only Spain was riding with one or two guys and I thought it was over at that moment. Then Russia joined in and for us it was perfect.”
The solo specialists tried to stamp their mark on the race over the final two laps. Italy threw its riders off the front in moves that were brought back by riders such as defending champion Cadel Evans (Australia).
Finally pre-race favourite Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) showed his hand on the final lap, surging through the lead group of 51 riders on the first climb to pull out an immediate advantage of 14 seconds. Gilbert extended the lead on the descent, reaching a maximum of 22 second, before the chasers started to reduce it on the second climb.
Gilbert looked doomed as he started to take on food in the final five kilometres, signalling that he was low on energy. The excitement on the roadside grew as the home fans watched Evans pull a group of five towards Gilbert, but that soon turned into horror as the dropped peloton suddenly appeared without warning to consume all.
Bids for glory were launched by Pavel Brutt (Russia) and Janez Brajkovic (Slovenia), but they were caught on the final corner of the race. As the 40-odd riders made their way up the 700-metre long finishing straight, Davis looked strong but Hushovd came down the barrier without traffic to take the title.
"I'm over the moon...I got on Matti's wheel and in last 500m I saw Thor come and decided to stay on Matti," said Davis.
The early break
The race came close having a completely different ending, after a break of five gained over 23 minutes on the 82 kilometre opening segment from Melbourne to the finishing circuit in Geelong. The break came within 50 seconds of completing a lap before the peloton entered the circuit, which could have caused serious complications for the commissaires.
"The [slow start] changed nothing – slower or faster," commented Hushovd. "But I was really scared on [what would happen] if the [breakaway] lapped us. I didn't know what the rules were if a breakaway lapped the field."
The five riders - Diego Alejandro Tamayo Martinez (Colombia), Jackson Rodriguez (Venezuela), Mohammed Said Elammoury (Morocco), Oleksandr Kvachuk (Ukraine) and Matthew Brammeier (Ireland) - attacked before the race had cleared Melbourne, and their lead began to mount rapidly.
As the race went by the You Yangs mountains, with 30 kilometres still to go to Geelong, the gap was approaching 23 minutes – it would reach a maximum of 23:30 - and the U.S. team finally went to the front to limit any further damage.
Onto the finishing circuit
Once the race entered the 15.9 kilometre circuit for 11 laps, that gap began to fall, with Belgium moving to the front for their man Philippe Gilbert. The Moroccan Elammoury dropped off the lead group after one lap, but the other four continued to work together steadily.
Initially, the gap came down slowly, with none of the teams willing to commit too many resources to the chase. With four laps completed, the gap was still 16 minutes, and it was starting to look like this break had a chance. However, a lap later the Spanish and Italian teams decided to get serious, and they quickly knocked four minutes off the lead.
The higher pace was having an impact on the peloton, with riders falling off the back on the climbs. With 100 kilometres of racing left the gap was down to ten minutes, and 31 riders had split off the front of the peloton, including defending champion Cadel Evans, Stuart O'Grady, Simon Gerrans (all Australia), Gilbert, Pozzato, Vincenzo Nibali, Matteo Tosatto and Giovanni Visconti (all Italy). Many members