LOURDES, France (VN) – Thor Hushovd called his improbable stage 13 win in Lourdes, on the hip of the Pyrénées, his most important at the Tour de France to date. Previously an eight-time stage winner, Hushovd surprised his Garmin-Cervélo teammates and even scared director Lionel Marie, who followed him on the breakneck descents of the cols d’Aubisque and du Soulor Friday afternoon.
“Of all my Tour wins, I think this is the most meaningful — I wanted to win in the world champion’s jersey,” said Hushovd. “To do it like this, attacking up one of the most historic cols in the Tour, makes it even sweeter.”
After leaving behind the day’s long breakaway low on the hors categorie Aubisque climb, Hushovd faded behind Jérémy Roy (FdJ) and David Moncoutie (Cofidis) near the summit. He crested the intermediate peak of the Soulor, 33km from the finish, 1:45 behind Roy.
Hushovd is one of the best descenders in the sport, however, and set out in hard pursuit. Behind him, Marie’s white knuckles clung to the steering wheel of the Garmin team car.
“He was 104k per hour (65 mph) on the descent,” said the Garmin director. “Every curve I was afraid for him, but he did an incredible job.”
“I’ve always rode my bike like that, ever since I was a little kid,” said Hushovd. “And I’ve done a lot of skiing. One of the big advantages I have is being able to read the road well, whether it’s 50 or 100 meters in front of me.”
Hushovd rode the gap down and overtook Roy to win solo, his brilliant white uniform shining in the sun at the center of the holy city of miracles. Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughers said the win wasn’t a miracle, but confirmation after Hushovd spent a week in the leader’s maillot jaune and came close in a number of hilltop finishes in the race’s opening stages.
“That’s what he’s been after. He’s been frustrated by a couple of the uphill finishes that we set him up for,” said Vaughters. “(Thor) thought that was his last opportunity and he proved today that that was not his last opportunity.”
Vaughters has long been after a Tour stage win for himself and his the team. After a run of close calls dating back to his days as a rider, the stage 2 team time trial was his first and opened the levy for the American squad. In their fourth Tour, Garmin has won three stages thus far (one bunch sprint with Tyler Farrar), and Hushovd has worn the yellow and polka dot jerseys. But it was the rainbow jersey in which the Norwegian world champion most hoped to earn his first individual stage win of this Tour.
After his triumphant ride into Lourdes, Hushovd said he came through on his last opportunity.
“I used up a lot of energy defending the yellow jersey in the first week,” he said. “When you have the maillot jaune you must fight to keep it. I had it longer than I expected so that cost me; I used up energy. I knew today was a good chance and maybe my best chance and my last chance to win a stage in this year’s Tour.”
Despite feeling that Friday was a good chance, Hushovd’s teammates said that the stage including the 16.4km, 7.1-percent climb of the Aubisque wasn’t penciled in as a Hushovd day.
“I think it’s a surprise for everybody,” said David Millar. “He’s incredible. He’s the world champion and he proved it today. It was amazing. Typical Thor.”
Hushovd even surprised himself. “I felt really emotional coming over the finish line because I didn’t imagine I could attack and climb over the Aubisque and then win on my own with the rainbow jersey,” he said.
Ryder Hesjedal called the performance “amazing,” but echoed Marie and Vaughters.
“Surprised? He has the jersey. He’s the world champion. I told him, ‘Man, you need to enjoy the moment. You have the jersey, you are the world champion,’” said Marie, who cheered the Norwegian through the final kilometers. “No. Thor is always exceptional in the Tour de France.”
Vaughters said an audacious attack like Hushovd’s was the way a world champion should ride. In controlling the peloton over the race’s opening week and earning three wins, the Garmin squad is riding like the team of a world champion. Flying high with the Tour barely halfway complete and already his biggest success, Vaughters looked ahead to more stage wins and a run at the GC with Tom Danielson.
“Hopefully we have more fun to come,” he said. “It’s been a great Tour for us; you certainly couldn’t ask for more. No doubt about that.”
Marie said Hushovd could forget the worries of a difficult spring classics season and enjoy the biggest win of his career on the French stage.
“I’m sure he was frustrated before in the season,” said a smiling Marie. “But now you forget everything and drink champagne.”