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TdF’11: The View From Oslo. Whatever Next?
The 2011 Tour de France held many key moments involving two Norwegian riders. Four stage wins, a sunny week in the Yellow Jersey, splashed with a few days in and around the white and green. This all added up to an historical display of powerful riding by the Vikings.


Contributed by Christian Miller (Norway)


Edvald Boasson-Hagen (53rd overall)

STAGE 6 – Eddy The Legs!
Boasson-Hagen finally achieved his life ambition of winning a stage in The Tour de France, and he did so in fine style. His Stage 6 victory was his most magnificent victory to date and a leap in the right direction towards becoming a great stage race rider in the next few years. Team Sky were quite brilliant in their deliverance and lead out for Edvald that day (especially Geraint Thomas) and the Eddy ‘the boss’ didn’t let them down at all with a flicking surge to cross the line first in the final metres. I predicted this for Edvald during this year’s Tour (see earlier article) and he has now more than proved his weight in scandium as a top team rider and occasional team leader at Sky-Pro Cycling.



His 6th place on stage 13 (won by Thor Hushovd) was also an early indication of his climbing ability and form as on finishing he had gained nearly four minutes on the peloton over a short 159 km (4 hour) stage. Personally, I think Edvald could have gained even more time had a thick mist not descended on his head at the top of Col d’Aubisque, making the downhill chase back to Hushovd, Roy and Moncoutie dangerously impossible for all riders in the little chasing group. Though whatever the stage result that day, it was an amazing day of work by Edvald and another full afternoon in the limelight on live TV.

Stage 16 – Eddy vs. Thor
What a day for Norwegian cycle sport! Could it ever get any better than this? Thor and Edvald totally spanked the peloton in a true display of power, courage and pedalling fluency. The result of the final sprint was the only mistake of Edvald’s Tour and he knows it. The split second hesitation in the last 300 metres allowed Hushovd to use all his split second experience and fly past, leaving Edvald without enough time to recover the ground lost before the line. A clever win by Hushovd who timed his launch to perfection and a silly mistake by Edvald which allowed it. Another 25 metres of Tarmac and Edvald would have pipped Hushovd for the win.



Experience though, as in most jobs, was the winner that day. However, I will not take anything away from a superb performance. A second place to your national team mate and current world champion during the Tour de France and also making it an historic Norwegian 1, 2 at the finish line is not a bad day’s work for anyone really! I should mention too that Canadian rider Ryder Hesjedal of Team Cervelo who was also in the break and sprinted to a courageous 3rd place that day is of Norwegian heritage and for the purposes of Norwegian cycling history we must declare the stage ended with a Norwegian 1,2 and (hey, why not?) 3!

Stage 17 – Eddy The Eagle!
24 hours later and Edvald wins again for Norway! This time in a totally different manner. He really proved he has genius on this stage by really showing the peloton how it should be done. A fantastic achievement to win a stage alone by a full 40 seconds and a pleasure to have witnessed his ride. I’m sure all readers here know just how incredible a ride this was over some high Alpine passes, through rolling forests and finally down onto the flat time trial like roads towards the finish.



Edvald displayed a total dominance that day and the overall agility of a complete road racer. The craziest thing I noticed after the finish was that he did not appear that much out of breath at all. He made it all look so easy. Like only a completely in form professional rider can. It was stage win number two for Edvald and Norway’s 4th of the race. A national record for Norway at the tour. It was now obvious to all how good this kid from the North has actually become this season and just how much raw power he can generate.

Stage 20 – Eddy The T.T. Specialist!
I would also like to take into consideration Edvald’s aggressive 12th place ride behind Tony Martin in the time trial of the 20th stage around Grenoble. This was probably the most intense stage of the entire race to watch and on the morning after two now infamous terror attacks in Norway. Previously Norwegian Eurosport had shown Thor Hushovd looking physically shaken and virtually moved to tears. His eyes were unusually sullen and his stroll of a ride summed up a nation’s feelings in a nutshell.



Edvald on the other hand (and dressed in the Norwegian TT national champion skin suit) stayed direct and focused. Throwing determined and controlled aggression into his solid performance. He did his countrymen proud by holding on to a Top 5 place for most of the afternoon. Giving a nation of wet-eyed Norwegians a glimmer of national pride and a hopeful glimpse at a brighter future.

Stage 21 – Eddy vs. Cav’
I’d say that being the only sprinter on the final stage to be able to go all the way with Mark Cavendish (OBE) to the line on the Champs Ellysйe on a day when Mark wants nothing more in his entire career than to win is a bit of a feat that deserves a big pat on the back. Edvald rode a beautiful race line into the final straight and amazed anyone who had a little flutter (bet) by surging manically for the win around Cavendish on the right. He nearly passed him too! To be fair to Mark his second ‘kick’ killed everyone stone dead but yet again Edvald had showed the world how much of an all round rider he actually is. I think deep down every aspiring rider wants to have this exact physical chemistry. As it is this type of chemistry and this type of chemistry alone that one day enables a person to win a race like the Tour de France. To win you must command every type of riding discipline and Edvald has proved he can certainly do that.



Edvald flies into Paris!
So evidently this was easily Boasson-Hagen’s best Tour de France performance to date. I can’t wait to see how his racing style develops next season in 2012. He must become a real contender in all the future grand tours he participates in. During his Eurosport Tour summary live interview in Paris Edvald said “I hope to improve next year”. I on the other hand know he will improve as he is a very exciting prospect and not just for Scandinavia but for the whole world of road racing. So the constantly grinning and often blushing Edvald has absolutely fulfilled all my expectations of him and ridden his best three week stage race to date. With two stage wins and two narrowly missed second places. 6th overall in the Points Competition (192 points), 53rd Overall on G.C and 6x Top Ten stage placing. I would say he had a very productive few weeks and showed plenty of maturity, mixed with occasional hints of brilliance and sheer dominance during this year’s Tour de France.



Eddy – Leader of Team Sky?
Some in England may declare that if the SKY team leader Bradley Wiggins had not retired so early on, that Edvald would never have had that chance to be so flamboyant in his riding style. I am a huge fan of Wiggins, I really am. Though I can never see him challenging Cavendish for a sprint on the Champs Elysйes or riding away over the Pyrenees and gaining a clear margin of over 8 minutes, or staying away and winning a stage alone in the way Edvald did so bravely on stage 17. Wiggins just does not seem to race with the same oblivious courage and thrill. I’m not putting Bradley down at all for his recent achievements, but I just prefer to watch Edvald race as he is far more exciting to follow on a daily basis.

Thor Hushovd (68th overall)
Never to be overshadowed by a younger rider Thor Hushovd ”Oksen” as he’s called in Norwegian (meaning “The Ox”) had another great Tour de France overall. He finished third on stage one and held the Maillot Jaune for a full week after taking it on the second stage at the Team time trial which was won somewhat unexpectedly by his team Cervelo-Garmin. His work on each flat and long-rolling stage was that of total calm and a rare performance not often seen by a reigning World Champion. He maintained a top 10 position on nearly every stage during the first week and restored a lot of confidence in the race organisation after negative TV reports around the globe showing Alberto Contador being jeered during the 2011 Tour opening ceremony and as defending Tour champion.



After losing the race lead to Thomas Voeckler on stage 8 and losing a sack full of time on the first mountain stage something quite unexpected happened. Thor Hushovd (sprinter?) won a Pyrenean mountain stage. His first ever.

Stage 13 – The Ox wins again! What? In Lourdes? Wow! Incredible!
His 9th in Tour history and surely his finest ever stage victory in any race to date. Stage 13 from Pau to Lourdes was an amazing day for Scandinavian riders and fans as the Norwegians Thor Hushovd, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Lars Bak of Denmark got clean away in an early break of 11 riders. The breakaway group built up a solid advantage of around 5’30 minutes with 60 km to go. Where, in a powerful display of acceleration Thor attacked alone at the base of the highest climb of the day the 16.4 km long, 1700 metre high Col d’Albisque. The attack drew Frenchmen Moncoutie and Roy along with him. This turned into a spectacular ascending battle between the three in form riders.

The commentators and fans were grinning like cats and slightly bewildered as just 24 hours before Hushovd had crumbled and lost quite a lot of time on Le Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden climbs slumping back to 59th position on overall G.C. The open thought amongst everyone was there was very little danger of him having any lead at all by the summit of the brutal 7.1% (in places) twister of a rat’s tail of a Pyrenean climb.



However by the top of the 1709 metre pass Thor was still third and still pedalling fluently behind Roy and Moncoutie just 2’30 minutes behind the two plucky French riders who with goat like spurting attacks had pedalled slightly up and away from Hushovd on the steeper inclines. Thor went over the high summit and immediately began hurtling down the final 45 km to the finish line below. Luckily for all three escapees a thick mist descended on the summit very soon after they left it and the road visibility went down by about 50%, making it nigh on impossible for Boasson Hagen and the rest of the chasing group and peloton (now at 8 minutes) to chase anything down at all. Thor began to grind ferociously and caught Roy (King of the Mountains) and Moncoutie before blasting away from both with about 3 km to go, crossing the line lengths ahead and roaring clearly in his native Norwegian tongue:



“JAAAA!”
After the finish it was huge grins from all and a beaming Hushovd told the Eurosport reporter just moments later ”Yes, It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done. But that was probably the best stage I will ever win and in the rainbow jersey too. I’m so happy, it’s crazy!”. Thor won the stage very convincingly over 8 minutes ahead of the peloton containing race leader Thomas Voeckler, The Schleck brothers and Alberto Contador. He was even more impressively a full 22 minutes ahead of Mark Cavendish who still retained the Green Jersey despite losing so much time but with Hushovd sneaking back up to 4th overall in the point’s competition.

As reported on the day Hushovd also became the first reigning world road race champion to win a stage of the Tour de France since 2002. The three Scandinavians finished 1st, 4th & 6th. Making it one of the most successful days of the 2011 race for the ‘crazy’ Vikings. After all they don’t call Hushovd ‘The Ox’ for nothing you know. Amazingly Hushovd the sprinter can now add a mountain stage of the 2011 Tour de France to his spectacular list of professional honours. I must say I’m not too surprised at these results. What did surprise me is that the stage win happened for Norway again and on the very next stage.



Stage 16 – Thor teaches the Kids!
Another fantastic breakaway by the two Norwegians Hushovd and Boasson-Hagen and this time accompanied by Ryder Hesjedal, Thor’s team mate and a descendent of Norway. The trio went on to create new Tour de France history. They finished 1, 2, and 3 with Hushovd taking the final sprint from Boasson-Hagen and Hesjedal third on the line. A fantastic day for Norway and Scandinavia. The reporters here were on fire, screaming, laughing, and almost crying with joy. I think this day will last in the memories of a lot of Norwegian cycling fans forever as when and how it will ever happen again is a mystery. A Norwegian 1, 2 with over an 8 minute winning margin. Incredible! Superb! I could re-write the live race reports of the day or I could simply tell you that there was an overwhelming feeling of joy here. Just one week before the terrible bombing in Oslo and the horrible massacre at Utшya, Cycle fans in Norway had actually been on their highest ever trip to cloud nine…..



Thor makes it to Paris!
On finishing another grand tour in Paris, Hushovd ‘The Ox’ had also managed to better his highest ever G.C. placing of 96th position overall. He finished the 2011 Tour de France in a valiant 68th overall and of course as leader of the winners of the Team Classification prize. He also claimed 5th spot in the Points Competition with an impressive 195 points. Two stage wins in his musette, 9x Top Ten stage placing, Seven days in the leader’s Yellow Jersey and another beaming farewell to fans in the Paris sunshine. I say give that man a good rest and he’ll be ready to defend that champion’s jersey in Copenhagen or at least he will give it and the others a jolly good bash!



The 2011 Non-starting Norwegians’
For the other Norwegian riders who did not make this year’s Tour de France for whatever reason, I will say how sad it was not to have more Norwegians participating in the race this year. Lars Petter Nordhaug, Alexander Kristoff and Kurt-Asle Arvesen could have helped to demonstrate some considerable dominance by Norwegian riders in this year’s event. Let’s just hope 2012 sees more guys included on the start line. You have to admit, they all deserve a chance!

INTERSPORT OSLO GP – 16th August 2011
This year’s Pro-Am event sponsored by Intersport Norway will take place in Oslo City centre using the usual cobbled/tarmac course finishing on Karl Johannsgate in front of the royal palace and national theatre. Past winners include both Thor and Edvald. So expect plenty of fireworks on the final 2-3 laps as the local Amateur’s and a handful of elite professionals try everything to spoil the local party. My money is on Hushovd this year, as it’s what the fans will come to see!
Newsflash!

* On completing this article the latest news is that the Oslo GP has been cancelled in 2011 due to a double booking of the University Square in the City centre! Cancelled? What? Why? If the event goes ahead (and it still might it sounds like local beaurocracy) A full race report and live pictures/video will be coming soon exclusively to Pezcycling!

OTHER NORWEGIAN PRO/AM RACES – July 2011:
Sшrlandsparken GP (27. July)
Sandefjord GP (28. July)
Grimstand Sykkelfestival (30. July)

THE CYCLING WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS – COPENHAGEN (KШBENHAVEN) September 2011

On this positive wave of predicting events rather accurately (lucky guesses? Not me!), I will say Edvald will stay towards the front of the pack at the 2011 World Road Race Championship in Copenhagen on September 26th and be a hidden threat in the levelled sprint finish which will inevitably occur on this year’s flatter course with all eyes and cameras on Cavendish, Petacchi, Greipel, Farrar, Freire and of course Thor Hushovd. If nothing else Edvald will be a marked man that nobody will write of easily during the last lap providing that all goes well both mechanically and physically up to the final sprint. You know something, on his day, he can just about sprint away from anyone that kid!

Hushovd on the other hand will ride low key events for a month to un-wind and regenerate such as The “Oslo GP” this August in front of a home crowd and come bouncing as and if there is one thing Thor will be ”up and ready” for this season, it will be retaining the crown. You see Thor enjoys wearing the rainbow jersey; it is as if he was born to be king.

Norway will have a small but powerful team at this year’s Pro- Elite event for men. This will make chasing breakaways and organising a sprint lead out very difficult and their only hope is go it alone or in pairs and be in the right place at the right time. Considering their team performance at last year’s race in Melbourne. I have no hesitation in saying “Watch Out, You may be in for another big surprise boys and girls!”


 

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