Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen pulled off a fine solo win in the final stage of the Criterium de Dauphiné this afternoon, which covered 148km from Avellard les Bains to Sallanches, finishing with five laps of a circuit that included a testing Category 3 climb halfway round.
The Norwegian attacked on the last of those climbs just as it seemed that the breakaway he had been riding with was about to be sucked back in by the peloton, which had closed to within 30 seconds of the escapees, and kept his nerve on a tricky descent on slippery roads.
Boasson Hagen, who turned 23 last month and is widely tipped to become one of the sport’s big stars, has seen the start of his season disrupted by an Achilles injury, but proved that he has put that behind him, great news for Team Sky ahead of the Tour de France, which starts in Rotterdam in less than three weeks’ time.
The win caps a decent week for the British ProTour team, with Geraint Thomas, who is likely to be a key part of Bradley Wiggins’ plans to secure a podium place in Paris, displaying strong form to finish fifth in the points classification, riding well during the opening half of the eight-day race, with top-ten finishes in each of the first four days.
Afterwards, Boasson Hagen, winner of last year's Tour of Britain while still with HTC Columbia, said: "The plan this morning was that I should try everything to win this stage and the team did all they could to help me.
"They worked hard to pull back an early breakaway which was really important and I'm so happy that I've been able to win.
"I was feeling good and despite the conditions I was going down that final descent pretty fast - it's a great feeling and I'm thankful for all the help I've had from the whole team."
It was a good week too for another team making its ProTour debut this year, with Team RadioShack’s Janez Brajkovic, ably assisted by Chris Horner, claiming the overall win from a certain Alberto Contador by 1 minute 41 seconds, although the Astana rider had the consolation, if you can call it that, of taking the points classification.
The race hinged upon Wednesday’s 49km individual time trial from Monteux to Sorgues when a strangely out of sorts Contador, who had worn the leader’s yellow jersey since clinching the opening day’s prologue, finished 1 minute 46 seconds down on Brajkovic as the Slovenian posted the fasted time of the afternoon, ahead of Garmin Transitions’ David Millar and Boasson Hagen.
The Dauphiné, of course, is often used as final preparation for the Tour de France and while that race focuses on the Pyrenees this year to celebrate the centenary of its first visit there, it was the great cycling theatre of the Alps, the Alpe d’Huez, that yesterday provided as gripping a battle as has been witnessed in the Grand Tour as Contador and Brajkovic went mano a mano.
Several times the Spaniard attacked as he sought to shake off the 26-year-old Slovenian, but each time the Team RadioShack rider responded as their fight continued through the famous climb’s 21 hairpin bends.
As they entered the village at the summit together, you felt that Contador knew the game was up in terms of the general classification, but nevertheless he outsprinted Brajkovic to celebrate winning the stage in typical, pistol-pointing fashion – after all, whatever the race, a win on the Alpe d’Huez is something special, and unbelievably, this was the first time Contador has ridden the climb in competition, so a great win to add to the CV.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.