Norway’s Thor Hushovd had to search hard for words to describe his feelings at joining the pantheon of cycling greats to have won the rainbow jersey at the world road race championships.
Hushovd, a classics specialist who has stage wins from all of the grand tours and two Tour de France green jerseys, came into Sunday’s blue-ribbon event of the competition with only two teammates for support.
But the 32-year-old showed that it is experience, not just numbers, which can hold the key to success in the biggest one-day race of the year.
After being left behind in the race Hushovd had to dig deep in the closing stages to help close a gap, which set up a 20-man bunch sprint in the final 150 meters of the uphill home straight.
“In a big race like this you have ups and downs but you have to hold on and believe that you can go all the way to the finish,” said Hushovd.
“It’s in races like these that your experience really matters and can make the difference.”
Asked for his reaction on the finish line, Hushovd was stuck for words.
“It is really nice, I did not know what to say after passing the finishing line,” said the Norwegian, who admitted he had kept his celebrations till the very last moment.
“I didn’t want to take any risks by starting to celebrate before the finish line, where somebody could come and get the jump on me. I wanted to make sure I had passed the line.
The only downside to Hushovd’s special moment on the podium was the fact organizers played an abridged version of Norway’s national anthem.
“It’s just a shame they messed up with the national anthem,” he said.
Despite coming into the race as a contender, Hushovd was not expected to last a pace dictated by the numerically superior European teams from Spain, Italy and Belgium, who all had nine riders apiece.
Norway has few competitors qualified to take part in the championships.
The only thing in Hushovd’s favor was the slight hill leading to the finish line, the kind of terrain on which the classics specialist can produce the optimal combination of power and speed.
After harboring doubts about his ability to negotiate the circuit’s climbs and go on to the finish with the leaders, Hushovd admitted he had been given hope by the under-23 men’s race, which ended in a bunch sprint victory for Australian Michael Matthews.
“When I saw the course I kind of got surprised at how hard it was, so then (I thought) it’s for the climbers, and then I saw how the under-23 guys were riding and then I thought maybe it’s a sprinter’s course anyway,” he said.
“But it was a really tough one today. I think all of us, we are good sprinters but we are not pure sprinters, so we just had to hang out there (so) we could make it.”
“I just told myself don’t make mistakes and don’t mess it up. I said it to myself 100 times. I think it was still a perfect race.”