Cycling: Rainbow warrior Hushovd takes title
Norwegian Thor Hushovd yesterday proved himself a true rainbow warrior when he outsprinted a 25-man lead group to take the elite world road race championship title in Geelong, Australia.
Named after the Norse God of war, Hushovd used nothing more than his tree trunk thighs and his innate ability to read a race to hammer his rivals into submission in the final 200 metres, easily sprinting clear of silver medallist Matti Breschel (Denmark) and third placed Allan Davis of Australia to claim his first rainbow jersey of world champion.
Former Tour De France green jersey winner Hushovd had earlier seemed destined to miss out on an opportunity to sprint for the title when he missed a large split in the peloton midway through proceedings.
The group contained many of the pre-race favourites, including defending champion Cadel Evans (Australia) and Ireland's Nicolas Roche.
"That big attack with five laps to go surprised us," said Hushovd. "I didn't know whether to go or not, but I saw Oscar Freire (Spain) and a few other guys sit back, so I stayed where I was.
"I had Edvald Boasen Hagen (a team-mate) in front, so I could sit easy in the bunch. I was worried, though, because, for a while, only Spain were riding with one or two guys. But then Russia and some other teams came along and joined in, so it was perfect."
Although the race eventually came back together on the final lap, Irish national champion Matt Brammeier almost turned the event on its head when he instigated a five-man move just a kilometre after the start.
Knowing they had an 83km ride along the coast to get to the finishing circuit in Geelong, Brammeier and his breakaway colleagues Diego Martinez (Colombia), Mohammed Said Elammoury (Morocco), Oleksander Kvachuk (Ukraine) and Venezuelan Jackson Rodriguez worked frantically to build up a massive lead before they hit the circuit.
"The plan was to get Matt up the road early in the race," said Irish team manager, Phil Leigh. "We discussed it in our team meeting and Matt was up for it. He was made for the flat run from Melbourne. He is a team pursuiter and he's an extremely good time-trialist. He was the first guy to attack, going from the gun. To go from the first kilometre and to stay out front for so long was unbelievable."
Although their maximum lead of 23 and a half minutes had been reduced by two minutes going on to the circuit, Brammeier's group came to within 50 seconds of lapping the field, an occurrence that would have caused chaos and may have seen just five riders finish the world championships if the commissaires had opted to disqualify those lapped.
Luckily for Hushovd, though, the undulating course soon wore out the early attackers and the last of them, Ukrainian, Kvachuk, was reeled in with two laps to go.
Despite several attacks from the Spanish, Italian and Belgian teams, including a final fling by Philippe Gilbert that just ended with 2.5km to go, the race came back together and ended with a 25-man sprint to the line easily won by Hushovd.
"The last lap was really hard, when Gilbert attacked," said the new world champion afterwards. "But I think the wind was too strong to stay out front alone. In the sprint, I just stayed focused and told myself not to make any mistakes."
Brammeier paid for his early efforts and was a non-finisher, while David McCann and Roche finished in a large group almost 15 minutes down in 68th and 97th place respectively.
"I was okay for about 200km," said Roche.
"I was in the right moves and riding well. Then my legs started to go about 20km later. I don't think it was from jet lag or anything, just from having a hard season.
"I don't have much left in the tank after doing two big Tours for the first time. The team want me to ride the Tour of Lombardy after this, but I think my season is over now."
Having just missed an earlier crash, McCann suffered an untimely puncture in the closing stages but recovered well to finish in the bunch.