Thor is intimidating, and it isn’t just me who thinks it. The new, younger teammates at BMC felt the same way until they saw his humour. It was a less intimidating Thor Hushovd (I’m glad to say) who sat down with PEZ for a serious conversation.
PEZ: How’s the form for this time of year?
Thor Hushovd: I think I’ve done a good job in the winter. Obviously I’m really motivated to be a part of this team. I also know I have to work hard to have a high level to ride as one of the captains in the big races. I know I have to work harder and I think I’m at a better level this year, so things are looking good so far.
PEZ: January looking as good as December for training?
Thor: I think so yea. We had a good ten days here (Denia, Spain) in December, working very hard, and then I could go home to see my family for Christmas time. Now we have been here for two weeks and been training really hard; I can feel my level just getting better and better. Not too good because I want to be in my best shape in one and a half months time, but I still have a lot of time. I think January will be a better month than December.
PEZ: In 2011 we saw you take on some new challenges, what will we see in 2012?
Thor: It’s hard to say. I like to try new things, you know, to push the limits. One thing is you always try to win races and I realize I’m not as fast as I was back in the days. I see the younger guys coming that are faster, then I have to try a different direction. I would love to help Cadel Evans to win the Tour again, to defend his title. Also if I’m there in the Tour I have to do some things to make this happen.
PEZ: What about your own goals for the coming season?
Thor: My goals are the Classics, to win Milan-Sanremo, Flanders and Roubaix, those are the three main races I would like to win, where Roubaix of course is the biggest one.
PEZ: Do you think being on the same team as Philippe Gilbert will be an obstacle for your ambitions?
Thor: No, not all. To be with him I think it makes me stronger. He’s maybe the best rider in the world. If I want to be with him in the final to help him or have a chance to win, then I have to be more focused. He can also help me to stay focused, then of course I get a chance to win together with him. So it’s not that all the whole team will ride for him and then he’s going to win every race, we have teamwork. Look what happened last year in Paris-Roubaix, one of my teammates won and the same could happen this year, it doesn’t have to be me or Gilbert, it could be someone else. If he (another rider in the team) is following and gets in the front group, we can sit back and wait and if nobody chases…then BOOM done! It’s a victory for the BMC team.
PEZ: If Gilbert attacks in the last 10 kilometers would you chase or would you let him win?
Thor: Of course I would let him win. It’s so hard to win one of these races and if I can be part of a team to win a Classic, it’s perfect. I would love to help Philippe win Tour of Flanders. I know it’s a big dream for him to win this race, so I’ll do whatever I can to help him.
PEZ: Will he help you in Roubaix?
Thor: I don’t know if he will do Roubaix, anyway I know I will come to Roubaix like the other races: in form and in shape and I’ll be ready for the win. What’s going to happen? We will find out on the day.
PEZ: Is everything about preparing for that race; Roubaix?
Thor: No, not only. There are a lot of nice races out there. I would love to win a big Classic before the end of my career, and now I have three years on the best team in the world to reach that goal. I’m going to take that chance and if it happens this year, next year or in the third year? OK I have time. I’m still in the peloton and I’m still in races and that is important to me.
PEZ: Norway had a great season last year; there were more Norwegian fans in France than any other. Do you feel a difference in your country towards cycling?
Thor: Yes, cycling in Norway is very popular, it’s tremendous. Since I did my first Tour de France, back in 2001, there was almost no one there, but they started to show it on TV. I think it’s that Norwegians just love sports and when they see there are Norwegians there they just love to be part of it. They see the nice TV broadcasts and they want to be part of it and that’s why they come and support us.
PEZ: Do you see a great future for Edvald Boasson Hagen?
Thor: Absolutely, Edvald is not for the future, already he is a big rider. He has won some big races and I’m sure we will see a lot of him in the next ten years. If he develops in the same way he has done to now, then he can win some really big races.
Hushovd and Boasson Hagen.
PEZ: You have had a few fights (on the road) with Edvald, will we see the same in 2012?
Thor: It’s not a fight between me and Edvald, I just race. We are quite similar riders so we ended up last year to be in a few breaks together, but that just happened because we were both really strong and ready to go in the right breakaways. We have this kind of little battle, but there are 197, or whatever, other riders, so it’s not that I think about Edvald. Of course I would prefer Edvald to win a stage instead of a Spanish guy, an Italian guy or a French guy, not that I have anything against them, but that’s the way it is; I’m from Norway.
PEZ: Do you feel his breath on your neck now?
Thor: Yea, this I’ve felt for a long time. I won a lot of nice races and I’ve won ten Tour de France stages now. I think it’s good now for the sport of cycling in Norway that there is another one coming. For many, many years I was more or less alone out there with Kurt Asle Arvesen. Now there’s coming another one which makes the sport even bigger and that’s also what I want because I’m proud of the sport and I’m proud to show this sport to Norwegians. The Norwegian public didn’t know the sport ten years ago, and now…
The 2011 Worlds might have been a disappointment, but the 2010 Worlds in Melbourne certainly weren’t.
PEZ: The World championships in Copenhagen were a disappointment to you, how did you feel about the race?
Thor: Yea when I did the World championships in Copenhagen it was a big disappointment of course. I was riding there in good shape and was ready for a fight for a medal and I think I had the legs for it, but it didn’t work out as I was caught in a crash. If you are caught in a crash on a circuit like that and the race is going at 50 – 60 K’s at the front, then you can never come back. It was a bad day and it was hard for me to forget about it. When I look back to 2010 everything went on my side and in ’11 it didn’t work out. That’s the way it goes. I’m happy with 2010.
PEZ: What about the 2012 World Championships?
Thor: That’s a harder circuit for me, but we will see what happens. I have some goals before then.
Hushovd on the podium next fall in Valkenburg?
PEZ: What about the Olympics?
Thor: The Olympics for me as a Norwegian, like when I was a kid it was the thing I would look at on TV. It’s part of my childhood almost. Especially on the skis. I loved watching the Olympics on the skis, but now I’m part of summer sports with cycling, so to get an Olympic medal is a big dream for me and also a big goal for me this year. I’m afraid it’s my last chance, so there is pressure.
PEZ: How will you prepare for the Olympics while still riding the Tour with that ambition you have?
Thor: They are two different things, the Olympics are something that’s just coming for me. The Tour de France is the biggest goal for the team. It’s the main goal and I’m going to do 100% there for myself and for the team. Then I’m going to sort of switch off and find some form for that single day in London six days later. It’s not easy, but I think it’s important to have a race like the Tour de France and to have the legs to be good.
PEZ: Why did you go to a big team like BMC where you wouldn’t be the sole leader at the Classics?
Thor: I chose to go here because I saw a lot of good things from the team and that they look towards the future. I didn’t think just one or two years ahead. They have been building up this team from small, step by step and to be a part of a big team also gives you a lot of motivation. I’ve been with the pros now for 12 years. It’s good to find some big motivation and also I want to be part of a big team.
PEZ: Was there the possibility of you riding another year with Garmin?
Thor: I could have stayed there. They wanted to keep me, but you look at the plus and the minus and I ended up here and I have never regretted that I joined the BMC team.
PEZ: What differences have you noticed between the BMC team and other teams you have ridden for?
Thor: First it’s just a bigger team and also with the riders. It’s a stronger team and it’s just a bigger team. More people around, more staff, its more organized and really professional. They have a plan for every person, not only the leaders of the team, but for every rider, for every person on the team; the riders, the mechanics, the masseurs, everyone knows what to do and when it’s like that. Everyone is relaxed and I think that is an important thing.
PEZ: Did that surprise you?
Thor: It surprised me the number of people there were on this team. I know maybe half of the members. But that shows that they have big plans and they want to stay as one of best teams out there and that’s why they need so many people.
PEZ: What about the riders, your team mates, what do you think of them?
Thor: Obviously there are a lot of strong riders, especially if you look at the first part of the season, the Classics. There are a lot of guys that can win. You could say almost the whole team could win in the same way as Vansummeren did in Roubaix. I think because we are all so strong. Every race we go to we will have a goal and something to work for and that also gives us motivation.
PEZ: What is it like to ride alongside Cadel Evans?
Thor: It’s good. I’ve known him for many years and it’s nice to really get to know him. I look forward to race my first race with him.
Gilbert, Evans, and Hushovd.
PEZ: You are also riding with George Hincapie, what can you learn from him?
Thor: He’s incredible; he has a really big engine that can go and go for hours. One thing I can learn is that I have many years left. I see the way he goes and I think I can hang in there for a few more years.
PEZ: Will riding in the same team as Hincapie be a help, there won’t be any conflict?
Thor. No, not at all. I wish I had been with someone like him earlier in my career, but finally now we are going to have at least one year together. I’m sure he can teach me a lot. He has done many races, so if I need help he is always there. So I’m really looking forward to working with him.
PEZ: When you finished with Garmin did it leave a bitter taste because you wanted to ride La Vuelta, but they didn’t pick you?
Thor: No, I had my ambitions. I wanted to come to form for the Worlds in Copenhagen. The Vuelta is the perfect preparation for the Worlds, but now when I look back it was a very hard Vuelta and the riders who did this race ended up tired. I wanted to do that race, but there was no room for me on the team that time. I think it ended up better as I did a great eight days training in the Tour of Britain. It wasn’t a problem, sometimes you are not happy with a decision in a team of 30 riders, but it worked out well so there was no bad taste.
PEZ: Who would you say will be your biggest rival this season?
Thor: Cancellara is always there for the Classics and Boonen obviously. The whole Rabobank team is strong.
PEZ: Will it be strange being in the same team as the defending Tour winner; Cadel Evans?
Thor: Yea, the tactic is not set and anything can happen and when we come to the Tour de France. You have to take it day by day and see what happens. The team will also want a win early in the first week to have less pressure and maybe I have a chance to go there, or maybe Gilbert. In between we have to help Cadel to always stay at the front and not lose time or even gain time.
PEZ: Do you think Norway can have as good a Tour de France as last year?
Thor: Yes last year we had four individual stage wins. I was part of the Garmin team time trial win, so we were part of five stage wins,. For a little country with only two riders to do that two years in a row is not easy. I think France had one and Spain had one, so ending up having four or five isn’t going to happen many times.
Thor the God of Thunder speaks and we listen. He’s not so intimidating. Well, not sitting behind a desk, bit different on a bike though! Thanks for your time, Thor, and good luck.