Thor Hushovd thanked his Cervélo teammates for helping pace him over some tough Pyrenean climbs Tuesday on his way to regaining possession of the coveted Tour de France green jersey.
Hushovd started the 199.5km 16th stage from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Pau, the third of four days in the Pyrénées, with a two-point deficit to rival Alessandro Petacchi of Lampre.
And despite failing in several attempts to join a nine-man breakaway that went on to finish nearly seven minutes ahead of the main peloton, Hushovd hung on to contend the sprint points still remaining at the finish.
Hushovd, a two-time green jersey winner, was the first of a 49-man group to cross over the line 6:45 behind stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox), thus picking up six points for his 10th place.
Petacchi, who has won two stages this year, struggled from the start of the stage, which began almost immediately with the 11km climb to the summit of the Col de Peyresourde.
In the end the Lampre rider was left battling to stay within the time limits with the sprinters and other non-climbers among an 84-strong gruppetto that finished 34 minutes in arrears.
Petacchi’s day was made even more uncomfortable with the news that he is being investigated in Italy for alleged doping practices.
Hushovd now has a four-point lead on the Italian, but he still believes their points classification duel will go all the way to the Champs-Élysées in Paris on Sunday.
“It was an important day,” said Hushovd. “I knew it was a good chance to try to get some more points and the team did a great job helping me get over the climbs.
“With the breakaway up the road, we knew there were some points waiting at the finish line. It’s important to take as many as you can whenever you have the opportunity.”
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia), the winner of three stages, is third overall on 162 points and still mathematically in contention.
However, Hushovd said he will pay more attention to Petacchi.
“Petacchi is my most dangerous rival but I’m feeling better as the Tour goes on. I think I have a good chance to win another stage. I would love to win on the Champs-Élysées.
“The green jersey always comes down to who is the strongest rider over three weeks.”