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Norwegian road race champion Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) was unable to deliver the goods but the Arctic Race of Norway got off to a proper start on Thursday: cold and gray. Kenny Robert Van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM) barreled to the line in Bodø, where rain and temperatures just above 50 degrees Fahrenheit greeted the peloton.
“I was a bit surprised to see so many spectators on the road despite the cold,” Van Hummel said in a press release.
It was a stark contrast to the sizzling Tour de France weather last month. In fact, instead of skinny climber types, the hard men who usually shine in the classics dominated the day.
Belkin’s Sep Vanmarcke, who finished second in Paris-Roubaix, and his Norwegian teammate Lars-Petter Nordhaug remained free with around five kilometers to race. Hushovd tried to give his fans reason to roar but Vacansoleil, in desperate need of wins with its sponsorship running out, shot ahead. Van Hummel muscled up the left and his teammate Barry Markus snapped up second.
Despite the weather, the four-stage race does hold some connection to Le Tour. Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which organizes the Tour de France and other races such as the Tour of Qatar, announced the Arctic Tour in March.
“Driven by the great success of Norwegian star riders, the growth of cycling in Norway has been spectacular over the recent years,” ASO said in a press release at the time. “Norway is boasting one of the most iconic coastlines worldwide, which are truly ideal for staging a spectacular cycling stage race.”
Despite the grayness, the stage was spectacular today. The peloton raced around Nordland’s green mountains and the Skjerstadfjorden fjord. The inlet opens to the Norwegian Sea, which the riders cover by plane to arrive at the start of stage 2 tomorrow in Svolvær.
The sea is also home to Norway’s gold mine, the largest gas and oil producer per capita outside the Middle East. The petroleum industry accounts for a quarter of the country’s GDP and also funds ASO’s trip north. Three counties — Nordland, Troms, and Finnmark — contribute money, but the Arctic Race of Norway’s main sponsor is Energy Company Statoil. According to Forbes, Statoil is the 26th largest company by profit ($12.4 billion) in the world.
Cycling visited Oslo, home of Statoil’s international office, in 1993 for the world championships. That was in the southern half of the country; the Arctic Race of Norway is the first stage race to be contested in the Arctic Circle, 66.56 degrees north of the equator. Instead of shorts and unzipped jerseys, the riders raced in full-fingered gloves and layers today.
The never-setting sun this evening will remind the 116 riders (down from 119 at the start) it is summer in the Arctic Circle. The popularity of cycling, the northern country’s uniqueness, and of course the money is just what ASO was looking for when it expanded its race program. Van Hummel’s thankful for it — the Arctic Race of Norway allowed him to snatch his first win in 15 months and earn the blue-orange leader’s jersey.