Thor Hushovd looked like a rider out of casting central.
Big, brawny, blonde, and strong, the Norwegian cut a large swathe throughout his 15-year career. Even his first name evoked the hammer of the gods.
A world title, two green jerseys at the Tour de France, and 66 career victories made him one of the best and most consistent riders in the early 2000s. Seemingly built for the classics, Hushovd was never first across the line in one of cycling’s monuments. Podiums at Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix, and victory at Gent-Wevelgem were testament to his abilities.
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This week in Throwback Thursday, VeloNews editors James Startt and Andrew Hood take a look at what made Hushovd a unique rider:
When was the first time you realized Thor Hushovd was special?
James Startt: Well, that is hard to say, but the first time I really took note I would say was in the 2002 Tour de France. And it was not exactly because he won his first individual stage in the race this year. It was just how utterly courageous and resilient this up-and-coming rider was. Only a few stages earlier, Hushovd nearly finished outside of the time cut as he was suffering severe cramping. At one point, he even had to stop and get off his bike and stretch. And when he got back on his bike the crowd along the roadside just went wild. Nobody really expected him to finish within the time cut, but he just refused to give up. I remember I went back out to the finish line because I was just so impressed by the courage he showed.
But somehow, he did manage to finish within the time cut. And in bike racing terms, that is essentially the equivalent of getting a new lease on life. He didn’t squander it either, as he went on to win the penultimate road stage to Bourg-en-Bresse. It was just an amazing ride and one full of promise. And in Hushovd’s case, he more than fulfilled that promise over the course of his career.
Andrew Hood: One of the standout moments that made everyone realize how tough Hushovd really was, came early in the 2006 Tour de France. That was the year Hushovd won the yellow jersey in the opening prologue and then cut his arm in stage 1 on one of the PDM cardboard advertising boards held over the barriers by a spectator.
After losing the jersey on time bonuses to George Hincapie, Hushovd crossed the line and collapsed on the ground with blood gushing out of his right arm. He was flown by helicopter to the Strasbourg hospital, stitched up, and started the next day’s stage, only to recapture the yellow jersey in stage 3. Undaunted by the drama, Hushovd made it through that Tour, and promptly won the final stage on the Champs-Élysées — Norwegian tough.
What was Hushovd’s finest moment?
Andrew Hood: For me, it came during his green jersey battle with Mark Cavendish during the 2009 Tour de France. Cavendish was just emerging as a force in the mass sprints, and Hushovd needed to count on his all-around climbing skills to win what would be his second green jersey. Among the sprinters, Hushovd was perhaps the best climber of his generation. He could get over steep climbs to be able to challenge for wins and finish-line points that proved decisive more than a few times in the arc of his career.
In 2009, he grabbed the right wheels in a grueling stage across the Vosges to bound ahead of Cavendish in the green points competition. He attacked again in the Alps later in the race to score mid-stage bonus sprints after riding clear over early climbs to secure enough points to assure him the green jersey in Paris. That tactic proved decisive as Cavendish won two more stages in the closing days of the Tour, but those points earned in the mountains delivered Hushovd his second green jersey.
James Startt: Well, I would say winning the world championships in Geelong, Australia, in 2010. I remember chatting with my mentor Samuel Abt before the race, telling him I really liked the chances of Hushovd in Australia. No, he was not an overwhelming favorite, but he had just ridden a tremendous Vuelta a España, winning a stage and placing high several times. My predictions, at least this time, proved true. But more importantly, he proved to be a great world champion, winning no less than two road stages in the Tour de France the following year.
I know that Hushovd always dreamed of winning Paris-Roubaix, especially with the rainbow stripes on his shoulders. It was a dream that never came true. But he had a tremendous career, twice winning the green points jersey in the Tour de France, not to mention a stint in yellow in 2004, 2006, and 2011. All things considered, Hushovd had one pretty distinguished career.