World champion Thor Hushovd, wearer of the race leader’s maillot jaune for most of the opening week of this year’s Tour de France, says he’s fulfilled his main goal for the race by winning a stage in the rainbow jersey.
It’s the sixth year in the row that the Norwegian has picked up a stage win at cycling’s biggest race, and he now has nine of them to his name, including the Prologue to the 2005 edition.
Back then, Hushovd was riding for Credit Agricole, moving to Cervelo TestTeam in 2009 and then, with many of his team mates as well as the brand of bikes they were riding, to Garmin-Cervelo for this season.
While the 33-year-old looks certain to leave Jonathan Vaughters’ outfit at the end of this season, with BMC Racing and Saxo Bank SunGard two of the teams rumoured to be vying for his signature, he’s certainly giving the team something to remember him by.
Rather improbably, today’s victory came as the race headed through the Pyrenees, with the stage heading over the Col D’Aubisque today.
A big GC day tomorrow meant that the overall contenders were happy to let a break go, and Hushovd was one of the riders who managed to get into it.
“I’ve been finding it hard the last few days because I went really deep in the first week and spent a lot of energy,’ he admitted afterwards.
“This morning I felt much better and ended up going in the break. I did a perfect race tactically and I just managed to do everything good and I won on my own with the rainbow jersey, so it’s been an incredible day.
“I said throughout the first week that although I had the yellow jersey, I wanted to win a stage while wearing the rainbow jersey,” he continued.
“Now that’s happened. Now I’m content.
“You’ve got to seize all chances you get to win a stage and we’ve seen Tyler Farrar win a sprint, we won the team time trial and now this.
The unlikelihood of the scene of his triumphing on a day that took in one of cycling’s most feared climbs wasn’t lost on the world champion.
“I can’t believe that I’ve won a stage of the Tour in the mountains. I did a perfect ride over the Col d’Aubisque and afterwards I was strong on the flat and then I also did a good tactical race today.
Hushovd had been the first to attack on that ascent, the main one of the day, but was overtaken by first Jeremy Roy of FDJ and David Moncoutié from Cofidis as the road headed uphill.
On the long, 42.5km descent towards the finish in Lourdes, Hushovd used his considerable descending skills to catch Moncoutié but as the pair headed into the closing kilometres, with Roy in their sights, the Cofidis rider eased off.
“I understand what Moncoutié did today,” reflected Hushovd, who attacked the Frenchman with a little over two kilometres to go, closed the gap to Roy almost immediately then rode off for what was ultimately an easy win.
“When he [Moncoutié] and I came together he knew that normally I’d beat him in a sprint and that’s why I was riding a lot, to try and limit the distance to Roy, and then to jump to him at the end. When I dropped Moncoutié it was perfect,” he added.
It was the second day in a row that Roy had been caught inside the closing kilometres after being out in front, following yesterday’s Stage 12 where he led the Tour over the Tourmalet after overtaking Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas close to the summit.
Then, Roy’s consolation was winning the €5,000 Souvenir Jacques Goddet for been the first man over the fabled col, while today it was getting into the polka dot jersey as he made it to the top of the mountains classification ahead of yesterday’s stage winner, Samuel Sanchez.
Roy, however, was devastated to have had the stage win snatched away from him when it was seemingly his for the taking.
"The disappointment is too great,” he admitted. “I’ll find it difficult to digest. It doesn’t matter if you win by a little or a lot because it’s only the win that counts.”
The FDJ rider confessed: “I did not really care about the polka-dot jersey when I went in the break, I wanted the stage win. I know I’m not a great champion and I have to do what I can with my ability, so I try and it still failed.
Roy, who scooped his second combativity award of this year’s race, claimed that he found himself in the break today by accident.
“It’s crazy, I did not mean to [spend] the day up ahead. It just happened that way. I went to the front of the peloton just to be attentive and just as I got to the front the escape was given some room to move and I just happened to be up the road.
“Then the group was watching Moncoutié the most and this allowed me to go ahead on the [Aubisque] climb before he went on the attack.
“As for the descent, I was over a minute ahead so I thought it was possible,” said Roy.
“It was only in the valley that it became very difficult. Then, when I heard the gap was down to 30 seconds, I knew it was almost over. It was two against one, plus a headwind.
“And when I had to take the two climbs near the entrance to Lourdes, it crushed me,” he revealed. “I overcooked the engine. It would have taken a miracle for me to win, but it wasn’t to be this time.”
It was a happier day for another Frenchman, race leader Thomas Voeckler, who took the maillot jaune from Hushovd after himself getting into a break that stayed away during Sunday’s Stage 9.
Last time Voeckler wore yellow was in the 2004 race, when he spent ten days in the jersey before ceding the race lead to eventual winner Lance Armstrong.
Ably assisted by Europcar colleague Pierre Rolland, he fought hard to hold onto the jersey yesterday, but tomorrow could be another story as the GC battle intensifies. Today, however, like Hushovd, he benefited from it being a quiet day for the overall contenders.
“In the team every did their job perfectly and I’m most impressed,” said Voeckler, adding: “If I ever have to surrender the yellow jersey it’s no fault of my team-mates.”
Speaking of tomorrow’s 168.5km stage, he said: “I know the climb to Plateau de Beille because I’ve done it several times when I was racing as an ‘espoir’ as well as in the Route du Sud.
“I know it will be even harder to defend my yellow jersey than at Luz Ardiden, which was already very, very difficult. We’ll see what happens, it is certain that it would be possible if the pack is riding at a reasonable tempo, and if the attacks among the favorites are not launched until about three kilometers from the finish.
He added: “But they know that all the winners of the Plateau de Beille also won the Tour on the same year” – a reference to Marco Pantani in 1998, Lance Armstrong in 2002 and Alberto Contador in 2007 – “and they will certainly shake things up a little.”
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.