Thor Hushovd made cycling history on Sunday when he claimed Norway’s first-ever men’s elite title at the world road race cycling championships in Australia. Hushovd, the Norwegian champion, dominated a bunch sprint at the end of a thrilling 267.2 km race, beating Denmark’s Matti Breschel and Australia’s Allan Davis. Breschel went one better than his bronze in 2008 to pick up the silver medal while Davis gave the hosts a consolation bronze, their second consecutive medal after Cadel Evans’s triumph last year.
Hushovd, a one-day classics specialist who is known for his ability to climb and finish well on uphill sprints, waited until the final 150 meters of the 750-meter home straight before unleashing a powerful sprint. Afterwards he could not quite believe his achievement. “It’s hard to understand I’ve won the worlds. It’s a dream, it’s unreal,” said Hushovd.
Pre-race favourite Philippe Gilbert appeared to have the big prize sewn up when he attacked on the second last climb of the 11th and final lap of the hilly 15.9 km circuit in Geelong to open up a gap on his rivals. However the Belgian was agonisingly caught less than 3km from the finish line as a small group of chasers, including Evans, was itself reeled in by a group that contained all the podium finishers. With several pre-race favourites already out of the race or left trailing, a number of lesser-known riders saw their chance of glory.
Russian Vladimir Gusev attacked in the final two kilometers with Slovenia’s Janez Brajkovic on his wheel, and after they had rounded the final bend leading to the home straight Dutchman Niki Terpstra tried his luck. Terpstra burst for the finish line with a little over 500 meters to go, but he was soon swallowed up as the uphill sprint specialists moved to the front. Once inside the final 150 meters Hushovd blasted his way up the inside of the barriers and with no-one on his wheel the big Norwegian moved past Breschel with ease to win by a bike length.
Britain’s Mark Cavendish was one of several pre-race contenders who failed to last the pace, the Isle of Man rider pulled out late in the race as Italian contender Filippo Pozzato finished fourth, meaning Italy, three-time winners in 2006-2008, missed the podium for the second consecutive year. Former three-time world champion Oscar Freire was Spain’s best finisher in sixth, just ahead of Russia’s former two-time runner-up Alexandr Kolobnev.