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By Andrew Hood
Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) heard the comments from arch-rival Mark Cavendish about how the big Viking needed to DQ the British sprinter to have any chance to win the green jersey.
The tension was ratcheting up even since the stage to Besançon when Cavendish was relegated for irregular sprinting in the bunch sprint for 13th place. That UCI jury decision essentially gifted Hushovd the green jersey.
But the Cervélo sprinter was too proud to take it that way.
In Wednesday’s five-climb “queen stage” across the heart of the French Alps, the Norseman went on an angry solo flier over two first-category cols so that there would never be an asterisk next to his green jersey.
“Maybe I was making a statement, but at least I’ve got more points in case something happens in the coming days,” Hushovd said. “If I win the jersey by 10 points, at least I can say I built a sufficient buffer on this stage to Le Grand Bornand.”
Not only did he scoop up 12 points in two uncontested intermediate sprints, he all but secured his second career green points jersey with just four days left to race. He widened his lead over Cavendish to 30 points, now 230-200.
Hushovd is no slouch in the mountains.
He already proved that on the stage to Colmar, when Cervélo teammate Heinrich Haussler won in a breakaway. Hushovd finished with the front GC pack, dropping Cavendish and narrowly regaining the green jersey.
Then came the polemic in the bunch sprint Besançon on Stage 14. Cavendish claims he was trying to slow down the bunch yet finish ahead of Hushovd to gain points, because their difference was five points.
But Cavendish was relegated, giving Hushovd a “free pass” on the green jersey.
On Wednesday, Hushovd was out to prove that the green jersey is earned on the road from Monaco to Paris, not just in the finish line sprints.
“That’s not the issue. That wasn’t the only reason to attack,” Hushovd said. “I wanted to have fun up there, get some points along the way and be prepared for the Champs-Elysées. I did that and it was an amazing day for me.”
In the opening 20km, Hushovd bridged out to a breakaway on the day’s opening climb on the steep and narrow Cat. 1 Cormet de Roseland and then used his superb descending skills to forge alone at the nose of the peloton.
He drove alone over the second climb, the Cat. 1 Col des Saisies at 56km, and the snagged the first intermediate sprint at 75.5km uncontested.
And then he surprised even more, clearing the short but steep Cat. 2 Araches climb at 111.5km to take the points at the second sprint at 126km.
Hushovd also revealed some deft bike-handling skills as well, when he avoided a spill when he came roaring into a corner too hot. He recovered without skipping a beat, sweeping through the corner like he was on a mountain bike.
Hushovd was eventually reeled in on the Col de Romme, even taking a pull for his attacking teammate, Carlos Sastre, before settling in for a bus ride to Le Grand Bornand.
More than the points, Hushovd was simply enjoying being at the top of his game in the most important stage of the three-week battle.
“I had an amazing day on the bike at the front,” Hushovd said. “I think it was the best day I’ve ever had on the bike.”
Follow Andrew Hood’s twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody.