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An interview with Edvald Boasson Hagen, August 24, 2007

Cruising into the ProTour, Norwegian style

Edvald Boasson Hagen is fast becoming one of the most watched under 23 riders in the peloton. Just two years into his career he has 19 wins, a contract with T-Mobile, and is a hot favourite for the U23 world road race title in Stuttgart. Cyclingnews' Paul Verkuylen caught up with the Norwegian native from Rudsbygd in the Lillehammer Fylker a few days before he was due to travel to the inaugural Tour of Ireland.

Edvald Boasson Hagen
Photo ©: Stephen McMahon
(Click for larger image)

Edvald Boasson Hagen stormed onto the scene in 2006 at 19 years of age, and during his first season in the under 23 ranks he racked up eight wins including three stages of the Tour de L'Avenir. This year, the Norwegian champion topped that performance, scoring a dominating win in Paris-Corrèze, which saw him take both stages and the overall, as well as overall wins in the Ringerike GP and Istrian Spring Trophy and stages in the Tour de Normandie and Tour de Bretagne.

Boasson Hagen's performances have not only gained the eyes of the T-Mobile team, which he will join for the 2008 season, but also the attention of his countrymen in Norway.

If you were to ask any Norwegian in the street 10 years ago who their most famous sports person was, 9 out of 10 would have said eight time Olympic gold medallist in cross country skier, Bjørn Dæhlie. Although that name is quite possibly still the best known sports person in the country today, cycling has fast become one of the main summer sports in the country, thanks to the success of riders such as Thor Hushovd and Kurt Asle Arverson.

During the month of July, most Norwegians are out celebrating the summer months drinking ute øl (beers outside) and eating prawns after a long and cold winter, but these days, many of the 4.6 million inhabitants of the Northern European country are also glued to their TV screens willing their favourite rider to a stage win or two of the Tour.

"I don't like to anticipate my chances to win but I always try to do my best."

- Boasson Hagen plays down his chances for winning the U23 World title.

Thanks in part to the attention brought to the sport by the Tour successes of Hushovd, a new crop of youngsters began cycling, and one new talent stood out from the pack. Edvald Boasson Hagen hails from Rudsbygd, a small town 200km from the nation's capital, Oslo, in the Lillehammer region. It's an area better known for hosting the winter Olympics in 1994, where the aforementioned Dæhlie took two gold and two silver medals.

Indeed the 20 year-old, began his sporting career following in the tracks of his country's best cross country skiers. "I practised cross country skiing until I was 15 years old, and took part in several races," Boasson Hagen said of his background. But it wasn't long before cycling became his main focus due to the results he was achieving in the national-level events.

Winning stage six of the Tour de Bretagne
Photo ©: Fabrice Lambert
(Click for larger image)

"I competed in both skiing and cycling, and at that time, it went quite well in both sports, but as I grew older I achieved better results in cycling than in cross country skiing. Then it was an easy decision to make."

Boasson Hagen admits that he "never had any special role models" growing up, and cycling was just a fun pastime that he seemed to enjoy. But he does see that riders like Thor Hushovd have had a positive impact on the sport in his country and has served as a "big role model for many young riders in Norway".

The positive impact of Hushovd no doubt was a catalyst for many Norwegian companies to invest in the sport and the future of Norwegian cycling. One such project was the brain child of Gino Van Oudenhove, a Belgian who travelled to Norway eight years ago at the request of Sandnes Sykleklubb after helping out some of their riders during their stay in Belgium.

In 2004, Van Oudenhove approached the Norwegian cycling federation with a plan to start a development squad for up and coming U23 riders. The federation didn't have the budget for the squad, but another cycling enthusiast, Birger Hungerholdt, the man behind Team Krone and Team Ringerike as well as the Ringerike GP, stepped up to the plate and Team Maxbo Bianchi was born.

Boasson Hagen at the head of the race
Photo ©: Stephen McMahon
(Click for larger image)

Boasson Hagen was a member of this team during his first year in the under 23 ranks, and under the guidance of Gino and Birger quickly developed into the country's most promising talent since Thor Hushovd. Boasson Hagen is appreciative of the opportunity which Maxbo Bianchi provided, stating "I would never have been where I am today, if it wasn't for them."

Another major factor in his development was the experience and knowledge that was passed onto him by 2003 national champion, Gabriel Rasch, who earlier this year also signed his first ProTour contract with Credit Agricole at 31. "Gabba (Gabriel) has helped the team a lot. His experience has played an important role during our success."

Boasson Hagen could have turned professional after his successes last season, but showing maturity beyond his years, he decided to stay on for one more season with Maxbo Bianchi to develop more before taking the step up to the ProTour. "I didn't want to move too fast, and I also had a very good time at Maxbo. I felt that I still had a lot to learn from my team-mates," he explained his decision.

Boasson Hagen won stage one
Photo ©: Fabrice Lambert
(Click for larger image)

This year Boasson Hagen has again gone from strength to strength. In the early part of the season he won a stage of the Tour of Normandy followed by two stages in the Le Tour de Bretagne before dominating his home country race, the Ringerike Grand Prix, winning four of the five stages, as well as the overall.

Now in the second part of the season, Boasson Hagen, along with the rest of his team, is sharpening his form for the world championships in Stuttgart, the major target of the season. Not wanting to jinx himself for the event, Edvald is playing down his chances. "The course is quite heavy, with lots of steep hills. I don't like to anticipate my chances to win but I always try to do my best," he said.

Coming off his stellar win in the Paris-Corrèze where he took both stages, Boasson Hagen is currently racing in the inaugural Tour of Ireland in preparation for the World Championships. With his results this year, it's likely that he will be one of the most watched riders in the road race in Stuttgart. If he pulls off the win, he will become the second rider in two years who wins the worlds before starting their ProTour career with T-Mobile after German Gerald Ciolek won the event last year.

The Norwegian is excited about the years to come at T-Mobile, citing a training camp with the team for his decision to sign with them next year. "I am looking forward to be with the team, where I believe I can learn a lot. I joined the team on a training camp in March, and they seemed to be really nice and to have a lot of experience."

Boasson Hagen rides in Ireland
Photo ©: Stephen McMahon
(Click for larger image)

Boasson Hagen is still very much finding his place in the peloton, and is not sure which discipline is best suited to his riding style, but at just 20, his career can take any number of different routes. "We haven't worked out any program yet, but time will show in what discipline I will achieve my best results. I haven't attended that many big classics or stage races, so only time will tell," he said.

One thing that is for sure, Norway will have a lot to celebrate if Boasson Hagen, who was born on a day of national celebration, the 17th of May (Constitution or National Day), lives up to the promise that he has shown so far. That day may come as sooner as September 29, when he will be lining up for the under 23 men's roads race world championships.

[On May 17, 1814, Norway got its Consititution, and the day is celebrated with parades, flag-waving, games and other festivities. In other words, it's a big deal. It's understood that Norwegian adults may have a drink or two on the night beforehand.]

Footnote: The day after this interview appeared on Cyclingnews, Boasson Hagen bagged a win in stage 4 of the Tour of Ireland, leading home a group of 41 and finishing in front of established sprinters such as Bernhard Eisel (T-Mobile) and Unibet.com's Baden Cooke.

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