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Tour de France

Wily Thor Hushovd uses a break to grab green en route to Mende

Angry with himself after botching the stage-11 sprint, the Norwegian infiltrates a break and grabs enough points to regain the green jersey.

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Before the start of Friday’s 12th stage, Thor Hushovd (Cervélo) was pessimistic about his chances for the green jersey. The Norwegian national champion was still steaming from blowing Thursday’s bunch sprint and ceding the points jersey to archrival Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre).

“I am happy to be back in the Norwegian champion’s jersey,” Hushovd told VeloNews before the start. “I think the green jersey might be finished for me.”

Six hours later, Hushovd was back on the podium, swapping his Norwegian national jersey for the green jersey after riding away with another mountain-stage coup to gain points against his sprinter rivals.

Hushovd bridged out to the leading breakaway in Friday’s five-climb stage across the Massif Central to contest for two intermediate sprints plum for the picking. Grega Bole, a Lampre teammate of Petacchi, pipped Hushovd for the first-place points, but Hushovd was second to gain four points and pull even with Petacchi.

Hushovd won the day’s second sprint to earn 10 points with his adventure and ended the stage with a six-point lead on Petacchi, 167-161.

“My legs felt good this morning and I wanted to try to see if I could get some points. I was still angry with myself about messing up the sprint Thursday,” Hushovd said. “It’s important to regain the green jersey. Last year, I won because I was the most consistent rider. I am proving that again this year.”

It’s not the first time Hushovd played down his green-jersey chances in the media only to go on the offensive. He played a similar card late in last year’s Tour when he was on the ropes against a spectacular Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia), who was en route to winning six stages in 2009.

Hushovd grumbled that his chances “were over” before going on a dramatic solo attack over the Alps in stage 17. He picked up 12 points that day, a difference that proved decisive when the green jersey was decided by 10 points.

Petacchi, however, won’t go down without a fight. The Italian sprinter has won two sprints and finished second Thursday to capture green. He could be back in green Saturday if the pack roars into Revel for a bunch sprint and he bests the struggling Hushovd again.

Hushovd, however, is looking forward to the Pyrénées, probably more so than Petacchi and HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish. Hushovd is one of the best climbers among the sprinters, and among the best descenders in the entire peloton.

Cervélo teammate Brett Lancaster said there might be more chances for Hushovd in the mountains.

“ (Saturday) we might see another sprint finish. It will be another good chance for Thor to try to win a stage,” Lancaster said. “This Tour has been very hard. It was tough in the Alps, it’s going to be absolutely brutal in the Pyrénées. There are a lot of tired people out there. Thor is good getting up the climbs. We’re not finished with the green jersey yet.”