LUSAIL, Qatar (VN) — The Edvald Boasson Hagen who shot to the top of cycling at 21 years of age is back to his winning ways with another win in the Tour of Qatar on Wednesday. Insiders say that he is now free from the shackles of Sky, where he had to work for much bigger stars.
The Norwegian won stages in the Critérium du Dauphiné and Giro d’Italia, Gent-Wevelgem, and the overall classifications in the Tour of Britain and Eneco Tour early in his career. After leaving HTC-Highroad for Sky, despite giving the British team its first Tour de France stage win, he appeared lost.
Since 2015, he has been with South African team Dimension Data. He won the Tour of Britain again last year and on Wednesday, the time trial stage of the Tour of Qatar. He holds the GC lead with two days to race.
“In Sky, he had to work a lot, and they wanted him to develop into another type of rider, but now he’s developing back to where he was before,” Norwegian Ronde van Vlaanderen and Milano-Sanremo winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) said.
“You see that he has his power back, he was up there in the echelons in the last two days, and he’s sprinted well. It looks like the good ol’ Edvald Boasson Hagen that we remember from a few years ago has returned.”
Boasson Hagen won the 11-kilometer stage by 25 seconds over Dutchman Jos van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) and moved into the lead with 26 seconds on teammate Mark Cavendish. The two raced together at teams HTC-Highroad and Sky.
“He’s the same rider as he was at HTC. He’s never changed as a rider, it’s just that he was a little bit in a service mode at Sky so you really didn’t get to see what he could do anymore,” Cavendish said. “He’s back in an environment where he can flourish as a racer.”
Not only does he have a free role, but he has responsibility. The now 28-year-old will need to arrange the sprints for Cavendish and take the lead in the classics.
“He’s grown as a leader. He’s one of the old guys in the team now, and for a quiet lad, he really motivates the other riders,” Cavendish added. “He knows how to ride in a unit, how to be a leader there and road captain. It’s good to see him grow in a leadership role.”
Journalists fear speaking to Boasson Hagen not because he is impolite, but because of his shyness and tepid responses that rarely exceed 20 words. “I don’t know if I really changed a lot, but I really had a good time in Sky, as well,” Boasson Hagen explained. “We aren’t riding for the yellow jersey win in the big tours so I have more freedom and opportunities.”
“He was a different rider in Sky, but he’s always been a good bike rider,” Dimension Data sport director Roger Hammond told VeloNews. “In Sky, though, he was surrounded by Tour de France riders, so what do you do? Here, we are focusing on him and giving him the same attention that Brad Wiggins and Chris Froome were getting for the Tour de France.”
Dimension Data not only worked for Cavendish in the last two sprint stages, but protected Boasson Hagen for the stage 3 time trial and the possible overall victory. Whether he can hold it for the next two days through the barren, sand-blasted plains remains to be seen. The Tour of Qatar continues Thursday with a stage through the northwest, just inland from Qatar’s vast natural gas fields and the Persian Gulf that separates the state from Bahrain.
“This race is far from over, but we have to be happy with this win and lead at the moment,” said Hammond. Cavendish added, “We are definitely in a strong position for Eddy’s overall win.”