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There’s only one race that Thor Hushovd wants to win, and that’s Paris-Roubaix.
The former world champion doesn’t hesitate when he says that the Hell of the North is his top goal for the upcoming spring classics campaign, but he insists he is “not obsessed” with the cobblestone classic.
“It’s not an obsession, I just want to really win that race,” Hushovd explained to VeloNews.com. “I have had a few major goals in my career and I’ve been lucky enough to achieve many of them. What remain are a major classic and the Olympics. And if I had to choose one classic I want to win, it’s Roubaix.”
His high-profile move to BMC for 2012 will put him center-stage for the cobblestone classic.
With the spring classics season officially opening this weekend with semi-classics Omloop Het Nieuwsblat (the former Het Volk) and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, many are wondering how Hushovd and new BMC teammate Philippe Gilbert will manage their classics ambitions.
The pair insists there is no conflict over their respective ambitions. Both want to win and expect to win, but they are close friends and often train together from their European home base in Monaco, and promise to divvy up the monuments between them.
The choices are obvious, with Gilbert naturally drifting toward the hillier classics such as Liege and Lombardia while Hushovd takes on the more punishing courses at Flanders and Roubaix.
The one point of conflict could be Milan-San Remo, but Hushovd says having the two superstars share the leadership duties in any race will only enhance their team’s and individual chances.
“Philippe can attack on the Poggio and I can sit in on the bunch. If he stays away and wins, that’s great. If he’s caught, then that means I won’t be doing the chasing and I can be fresher for the sprint,” he said. “Having us both in the race is a benefit, not a problem. We are good friends. We understand each other and we communicate.”
Gilbert says he will make a run for Flanders this year, meaning that he and Hushovd will likely play a similar San Remo strategy at the Ronde, but the world No. 1 says there’s no way he will race Paris-Roubaix, at least not for the next several years. That means Hushovd is BMC’s leading captain for his favorite classic.
“It’s the hardest one-day race out there. I just love Roubaix and the whole history behind it,” Hushovd continued. “It was one of the few bike races that I could watch as a kid on TV back in Norway. I remember the mud, the dust, the cobblestones, the crashes, bikes breaking. I won the amateur version in 1998. That gave me a taste.”
BMC brings perhaps the strongest classics lineup to the monuments this year. Hushovd and Gilbert will be the team’s clear leaders, but behind them is tremendous depth with other potential winners, including George Hincapie, former Flanders champion Alessandro Ballan, Marcus Burghardt, Greg Van Avermaet and workers such as Quiziato.
All of those riders, including Hincapie, say they will work for BMC’s frontline leaders, but anything can happen during a race and there might be unseen scenarios opening up to allow one of the team’s wild-card riders to stay clear in early moves. Having such a deep team will force the others to chase, allowing Gilbert and Hushovd to pounce at the decisive moments; or at least that’s what team brass is hoping for.
“We will be among the strongest teams during the classics; just look at the names,” says BMC sport director Fabio Baldato, no slouch during his day on the cobblestones. “With Philippe and Thor, we can expect to win just about every classic we start. Everyone will work together so the team wins. Whoever that might be doesn’t matter.”
Hushovd has been nipping at the edge of Roubaix success the past several years. Last year, Hushovd was hoping to fulfill a dream of winning Paris-Roubaix while donning the world champion’s rainbow jersey.
Instead, Garmin-Cervélo played a wily team tactic, putting Hushovd on pre-race favorite Fabian Cancellara’s wheel and allowing Johan Vansummeren to make a go. Vansummeren was strong enough to stay clear, giving Garmin an emotional and elusive classics victory, but leaving Hushovd with a bitter taste in his mouth.
Hushovd, however, said his best chance to win was in 2009, when he was flying in Cervélo’s first year, but crashed late in the crash to lose position to eventual winner Tom Boonen.
With such a powerful squad at his disposal, Hushovd knows that this year could be his best chance ever. He also knows that there’s no hiding on the cobblestones.
“Of course, I would like to win Roubaix, but I will not freak out if I do not win it,” he said. “If I am not able to win it, it is because I am not strong enough.”