Vuelta a Espana

Vaughters leaves world champion Hushovd off Garmin’s Vuelta squad

Reigning world champion Thor Hushovd will not be racing the Vuelta a España with Garmin-Cervélo, a decision that team boss Jonathan Vaughters strongly defended for "what's best for the team."

2011 Tour de France, stage 15, Thor HushovdReigning world champion Thor Hushovd will not be racing the Vuelta a España with Garmin-Cervélo, a decision that team boss Jonathan Vaughters strongly defended as “what’s best for the team.”

A disappointed Hushovd confirmed to Norwegian reporters Thursday evening that he would not be selected for the Vuelta. On Tuesday, Hushovd penned a multi-million-euro deal to move to BMC for the 2012 season. But he hoped to finish off the year with Garmin-Cervélo by racing the Vuelta as part of his preparations for a defense of his world title in Copenhagen on September 25.

Although Garmin-Cervélo’s final nine roster has not been finalized, Vaughters notified Hushovd earlier this week that he shouldn’t plan on racing in the Spanish tour. Speaking to VeloNews on Thursday, Vaughters said he must place team interests ahead of those of individual riders.

“When you have a team as deep and talented as ours, roster decisions are very difficult,” Vaughters told VeloNews by telephone. “While our Vuelta team is not quite yet final, it’s going to be built around Dan Martin and Heinrich Haussler.”

Hushovd’s name appeared on a preliminary start list revealed by Vuelta organizers Thursday, but Hushovd and his trainer, Alte Kvalsvoll, each confirmed to the Norwegian newspaper VG that Hushovd would not race with the U.S.-registered team in the season’s final grand tour.

Hushovd could not be reached by VeloNews on Thursday evening for comment, but he told Norwegian journalist Anders Christiansen that he will not ride the Vuelta as he had hoped. Hushovd later reconfirmed the news to Norwegian television on Thursday evening in Europe.

“I am disappointed and surprised,” Hushovd told VG. “It’s not the optimal preparation for the world championships.”

Since it moved to September on the racing calendar, the Vuelta has become the preferred preparation for world champion contenders and the road to the rainbow jersey often goes through Spain. Most riders want to race part or all of the Vuelta at “race speed” to arrive at the worlds in top racing form.

In fact, every world champion since Oscar Freire won his second of three titles in 2000 has raced at least part of the Vuelta.

Hushovd believes he has a good chance to defend the world title on the sprint-friendly course in Denmark, but his trainer Kvalsvoll said it will be difficult to find other events to mimic the intensity, distance and level of competition that the Vuelta provides.

“It’s horrible,” Kvalsvoll said. “You cannot do this to the world champion. It’s very strange that they do this.”

When asked if Hushovd was left off the Vuelta squad because he is leaving Garmin at the end of the season, Vaughters insisted it was not some sort of personal vendetta against the popular Norwegian.

“That’s a fair question. I have a lot of respect for Thor. He is a gifted athlete,” Vaughters said. “Like the Tour de France, we had 15 guys who could have done and deserved to do the Vuelta this year. So roster selection was very difficult. At the end of the day, the Vuelta team will be, for the most part, riders who didn’t get to do the Tour and young riders we want to continue to develop for the future.”

The decision will likely draw flack from Hushovd fans, but Vaughters insisted it was not a decision he took lightly, saying he must strike a balance so that all the team’s riders get a chance to compete in the season’s most important races at some point during the season.

“Every roster decision I have made this year has been very difficult,” he continued. “From Paris-Roubaix to the Tour de France, there has been someone who was disappointed. That’s what happens when you have a team that’s so deep in talent. No one’s gotten the perfect race schedule that they would have liked this year.”

Vaughters cited the cases of Daniel Martin and Johan Van Summeren, two riders who had strong results ahead of the Tour de France — Martin had won the Giro di Tuscana and Van Summeren was the defending Paris-Roubaix champion — but he overlooked them to make room for others he decided would perform better at that moment. Both of those riders will be in the Vuelta.

Vaughters insisted that Hushovd will have plenty of race days in his legs ahead of the worlds to arrive in Copenhagen in good shape. A rough schedule for Hushovd includes the Vattenfall Cyclassics (Aug. 21), the GP Ouest France-Plouay (Aug. 28) and the Tour of Britain (Sept. 11-18).

Whether that’s enough to satisfy Hushovd going into Copenhagen remains to be seen.