As he nears the end of a sterling career, it would be easy for Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) to quietly fade away and rest on the expansive resume he’s compiled over 14 seasons as a professional. Instead, Hushovd, 36, remains concentrated on the races he’s yet to win.
The former world champion has ridden two lamentable seasons in a row now. His 2012 campaign was impaired and cut short by a virus and he didn’t notch a win; last season his main goals eluded him, though he rode to eight wins. Perhaps it’s unfair to eschew the efforts, but that comes with the weight of results. Hushovd is a former yellow jersey wearer, the 2010 world champion in the road race, a 10-time Tour stage winner, and two-time green jersey.
He will head into the 2014 season rested, and with an opportunistic eye. In other words, he won’t put all his eggs into the Paris-Roubaix basket. If he thinks he can win one of the early cobbled races, he’ll go all-in for it. Hushovd knows time is running out.
“I would like to be ready from the beginning. Try to win races. Just take every race as an opportunity. The main goal is the classics, like every year. I just want to see how my form starts,” he told reporters on the team’s media day earlier this week. “If I can win a nice race at the beginning of the year, that’s good. It’s better to take what you can than try to go all in for Roubaix and then miss out there.”
And he would know. Hushovd has missed out at Roubaix, the race he has said he values over all others, finishing second, third, and eighth.
He will line up in February at the new Dubai Tour, and race a full northern classics calendar from there. He’s on the long list for the Tour de France after skipping it last season. Prior to that, he’d ridden 11 Tours in a row.
“I’ve been quite good. I had a long break, which I like to have really to get recovered,” he said. “I haven’t been sick or injured. It has been perfect. I’ve done a really good block of work.”
His targeting of smaller races marks somewhat of a change for the Norwegian. “I think I changed this when I was sick. I got forced to be out almost for one year. Then I saw you cannot take anything for granted … you just have to take the chances,” he said. “When you suffer on the bike and you don’t know the reason, you have time to make some opinions of sorts.
“I thought like this last year, too. I got a few wins in smaller races, which I won by sometimes small gaps. That was just a big hunger to win. And that I got back … when I saw I had a chance, I wanted to win.”
As far as the Tour, he’ll be looked at to shepherd team leader Tejay van Garderen when the race hits the cobblestones on stage 5. Hushovd, of course, could win that stage on the right day, and he knows it.
“It’s still the biggest race in the world, and I think I have something to do there for myself and also support Tejay there for the GC,” he said.
Motivation, then, isn’t a problem.
“I just ride my bike. Be outside. Stuff like this. And then just part of it is winning. That’s what I have something deep in my head. I love to win bike races, to have goals and achieve them. That’s just a big part of it,” he said. “If I don’t have regrets after 15 years, it’s been too easy. I achieved a lot of things. I would never expect that I’ve won so many races, and done what I’ve done. Overall, I’m really pleased with what I have done.”