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Tour de France News feature, July 7, 2008

Hushovd grabs sixth Tour stage in Brittany

By Brecht DecaluwÚ in Saint-Brieuc

A delighted Hushovd
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Besides Tour de France legends Lance Armstrong and Robbie McEwen, no man has won more stages in the Tour de France since 2000 than Thor Hushovd. With his six victories the Crédit Agricole rider now equals Tom Boonen in this statistic. For some reason it does seem like the 'bear from Grimstad' receives less media attention for his achievements in the Tour de France than Belgian glamour boy 'Tommeke' Boonen. Maybe this is because the winner of the green jersey in 2005 isn't the type of rider who shows up joking all the time, nor is he someone who's always looking for extra publicity.

In that sense Hushovd is a typical Scandinavian, and in Brittany the understated Norwegian found the ideal setting for the stage victory in the bunch sprint to Saint-Brieuc. Hushovd noted the strong winds and the rain showers that tortured the peloton in the West of France, and certainly pleased the local organizers and fans when he said, "I love Brittany. It reminds me of Norway."

The sixth stage victory for Hushovd was captured after a tumultuous and fast finale. The final kilometre in Saint-Brieuc was slightly downhill, with a ultimate uphill kink starting at about 300 metres from the finish line. Despite an attack from time trialist Fabian Cancellara under the red flag of the last kilometre, Hushovd remained cool and gambled that the peloton would bring the strong Swiss back. "When Cancellara went away you know it's always dangerous. I told Renshaw not to panic. With 450 metres to go we went. It was a perfect lead-out for me," Hushovd described the last kilometre.

"It was really hard, with the wind in the finale and in the climbs, but I knew it was a sprint that suited me well."

-Thor Hushovd describes the stage two finale .

The late catch of the last breakaway rider, Sylvain Chavanel, which wasn't made until just before the one kilometre to go banner, and a strong wind made the run-in dangerous, and several riders crashed as a result. "It was really hard, with the wind in the finale and in the climbs, but I knew it was a sprint that suited me well," Hushovd explained about the rollercoaster-like last kilometres. "My team-mates did a good job again, and especially Mark Renshaw. He was awesome and delivered me with 200 metres to go and then it was just up to me to do a sprint. Today everything worked out 100 percent," Hushovd employment explained.

Behind the Norwegian, there was an unexpected sprinter in second place. After a third place in stage one, Kim Kirchen went one better for second place in Saint-Brieuc. "I am surprised, but Kim Kirchen is an all-rounder. He's a good climber, but he also has got a lot of punch for a sprint like this," Hushovd praised the Luxembourgian rider from the Columbia team. Kirchen now holds the green jersey of leader in the points classification, but taking that tunic in Paris is the main goal of Thor Hushovd in this Tour de France. "Of course it is, but we're just in the second stage, but within the next few days it would be good to have the jersey," Hushovd smiled.

Thor Hushovd (Cr├ędit Agricole)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Hushovd will get competition in the points competition from Robbie McEwen, Oscar Freire, Erik Zabel, Robert Hunter, Baden Cooke and possibly Gert Steegmans and Mark Cavendish. All these sprinters have their own characteristics and the 30 year-old Norwegian stage winner acknowledges this. "I'm not a sprinter like McEwen or Cavendish. I've got more 'energy' in my legs, while they have more speed," Hushovd explained what type of sprinter he is.

More than just a sprinter, the mighty Thor has managed to win on all sorts of terrains. "It's true, as an amateur I could win time trials, sprints but also hillier races. In recent years I trained more specifically on the sprint as I realized that I can win more races that way. I'm still an all-rounder as I can do well in the sprint, but also in the Classics and prologues."

That last discipline has become as specialty of the Norwegian and it might have come as a shock when he heard earlier this year that the Tour organizers decided to skip the prologue this year. "It's was a big change when ASO decided not to have it anymore," the prologue winner from last year explained. "Nevertheless I think it's good to have a change once in a while, even though I like prologues. Then again, I won a stage so I'm happy," Hushovd said. The absence of a prologue sets the yellow jersey within the reach of a lot more riders, causing the race to be more nervous even though there were some time gaps in stage one. "It's still very nervous, especially because of the weather."

After the Tour de France, Hushovd could be participating in the Olympic Games, but it is uncertain whether the Norwegian will actually show up in China. "I'm 100% concentrated on the Tour de France. Then I'll recover to be as good as possible for the Olympics, although the course doesn't suit me to well. Actually the Tour de France is more important, because Cr├ędit Agricole pays me for that," Hushovd explains. When a journalist asked the Norwegian at the post race press conference whether the rumours were correct or not that he considered a boycott of the Games, Hushovd remained diplomatic. "Right now I'm fully concentrated on the Tour de France."

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