PINEROLO, Italy, (Reuters) – Edvald Boasson-Hagen is one of only two Norwegians in the Tour de France and the Team Sky all rounder kept up his nation’s remarkable run in this year’s race when he snatched victory in yesterday’s 179-km 17th stage from Gap.
Whereas 45 French riders started the Tour this year, none of them have so far won a stage — although France’s Thomas Voeckler holds the overall leader’s yellow jersey. In contrast, Norway’s two-man bandwagon again sparked jubilant celebrations back home as they have now won four stages over the past fortnight.
Following his success in the sixth stage in Lisieux, and countryman Thor Hushovd’s trailblazing rides during stages 13 and 16, Boasson-Hagen set his sights on victory after being involved in a 14-man breakaway near the 55km mark.
The 24-year-old from Lillehammer went on his own on the hill overlooking the Italian Alpine town of Pinerolo and perfectly handled the tricky descent to cross the finishing line first.
Yesterday’s ride helped to heal Boasson-Hagen’s wounded pride as he had been beaten on the line by Hushovd just 24 hours earlier.
“Finishing second yesterday… was very frustrating. It was so close yesterday that I wanted this badly,” said Boasson-Hagen, one of the most aggressive riders in the bunch.
Boasson-Hagen, whose Tour build-up had been hampered by a bout of shingles, beat Dutch breakaway companion Bauke Mollema by 40 seconds, Frenchman Sandy Casar finished third, a further 10 seconds adrift.
Following Hushovd’s two stage victories and seven-day reign as overall Tour leader during the early stages of the race, television audiences in Norway reached 41.3 pc for the event, organisers said.
Voeckler retained his overall lead but struggled during the winding and technical downhill ride towards Pinerolo. He skidded off the road three times on the way down.
“I led down the descent and tried to attack but I obviously overdid it a little and I went out. When you go off once, it affects your confidence and you keep crashing,” he said.
In the third instance, the Frenchman missed a turn and ended up in a private car-park. “Had I not acted as a mad dog I might have finished with the other leaders,” he added.
Voeckler reached Pinerolo 27 seconds behind the other Tour contenders and now leads Australia’s Cadel Evans by one minute and 18 seconds. Luxembourg’s Franck Schleck is third, 1:22 behind.
“Everyday I lose a couple of seconds. It will be hard tomorrow because if I cannot follow the others in a descent, I won’t be able to follow them on the Galibier,” he said.