LIEGE, Belgium (VN) – Lars-Petter Nordhaug (Sky) is a success story nearly 10 years in the making.
Nordhaug is Norway’s “other” rider. Thor Hushovd and Edvald Boasson Hagen might get all the attention, but this season Nordhaug is reminding everyone that there are other strong Norwegian riders in the bunch.
The Team Sky rider is enjoying a breakthrough spring, quietly picking up impressive results, including a win at the Mallorca Challenge in February, fourth at Critérium International, and sixth at the Vuelta al País Vasco.
“It’s been a great year; I have more confidence this year,” Nordhaug told VeloNews.com. “It’s not so easy to win, unless you’re someone like Edvald.”
The 27-year-old has been right in the mix through March and April, and his entire spring calendar was centered on the Ardennes, where the short, punchy climbs are ideal for his explosive style of racing.
At the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday, Nordhaug was poised for a run at the podium when disaster struck. With about 350 meters to go on the Cauberg finale, Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) was fading into the middle of the front group after pulling to place teammate Enrico Gasparotto in position.
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) swung right to Iglinskiy, but in doing so the “Little Prince” took out Nordhaug’s front wheel and both hit the deck.
“The big goals have been the Ardennes and especially Amstel; that went perfect for me until the last 300 meters,” he said. “I had the wheel of Gasparotto with 300 meters to go. I was in perfect position. That was a shame.”
Instead of sprinting for a place on the podium, Nordhaug slammed onto the tarmac, wondering what had just happened.
“I don’t know what happened. It looked like Cunego went to the right to start the sprint. He should have maybe looked first. He didn’t want to crash, and he didn’t do it [on] purpose. Sometimes that can happen,” Nordhaug said. “I think Cunego felt the same. He and I would have been pretty strong up there. It’s impossible to say how the results would have been, but I was there to have a good result.”
Nordhaug fell hard on his left leg and was unable to get across the finish line, just three football fields away, after racing more than 250 kilometers. What should have been the best classics result of his career ended with a trip to the hospital.
“I couldn’t stand on my leg, and we were afraid it was broken. In the end, it was just a really hard impact,” he said. “I felt like Mike Tyson punched me on my left leg.”
Nordhaug regrouped for Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne and went on a late-race attack with Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda). The pair hit the Mur de Huy with a 13-second headstart on the bunch, but that wouldn’t be enough to hold off Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha).
On Sunday, he’s hoping to be back in fighting shape to help lead a deep Team Sky squad into the classics finale at Liège. Rigoberto Urán crashed out of Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday with a heavy fall on his knee, so Nordhaug will try to step up if he’s fully recovered from his Amstel Gold Race crash. His result at Flèche would suggest he is.
He will take a racing break after the Ardennes to regroup for the remainder of the season. He’s not sure if the Tour de France figures in his future, something he says he’s not worried about.
“I don’t think about the Tour de France yet. I am just interested in the races that I have on my calendar,” he said. “We will see for the rest of the season. I will take a break after this and then another chapter starts.”
Nordhaug started the 2010 Vuelta a España, but the team pulled out following the tragic death of a team soigneur. Last year, he completed his first grand tour at the Giro d’Italia, riding into a few key breakaways along the way.
Nordhaug started his career as a mountain biker, riding to the silver medal in the junior world championships in Vail back in 2001.
After his experience in what he called a “bad racing program,” he left behind the dirt to start racing on the road with Maxbo-Bianchi in 2005. He won the 2006 Norwegian road title and consistently notched top-10s when his team earned invites to larger races.
Norwegian phenomenon Boasson Hagen was also on Maxbo at the time, but was picked up by High Road in 2008. Nordhaug stayed with the Norwegian continental team for two more seasons, finally getting a chance to move to the bigs with Team Sky’s inaugural season in 2010.
One factor that may have contributed to his recent success is his work with Team Sky coach Bobby Julich, which began last fall. Nordhaug said the former Tour de France podium-man has helped him lift his game this season.
“He’s helped me a lot. He’s my personal coach, and we work close together. There are so many things that he is helping me [with],” he said. “I got to know him last year. I was interested in working with him, and we started working together seriously in November.”