Thor Hushovd's victory today in stage 3 of the Tour de Suisse marked the first chance for the Norwegian to raise his arms and show off his lovely prize from Geelong last fall. Hushovd's travails could easily invoke talk of a "rainbow curse" since we have that conversation on an annual basis, but all things considered Thor's jersey defense is shaping up just fine. First, let's look at just how low the bar is for World Champions these days:
2007-08: Paolo Bettini's first rainbow defense, dedicated to his fallen brother, saw him win Lombardia in his first post-victory race. Second one, he got hurt and did bubkis pretty much all year, apart from some late summer wins. But if you lump his two campaigns together, Bettini was a worthy Rainbow. Certainly when you end your first rainbow campaign with a second one, that's saying something.
2006: Boonen pretty much assured his place in the cycling hall of fame with repeated wins, including raising his rainbow-clad arms in Ninove. For a Fleming, there's nowhere to go from there but down. [D'oh.]
2005, 2002, 2000: Oscar Freire had a habit of scoring early season wins to stop his "drought" before it could get started. Sprinters usually do OK in this regard. Anyway, Freire won Vuelta stages, Brabantse Pijl and assorted other goodies, though his 2002 defense was pretty thin.
2004: Igor Astarloa gets some serious consideration for lamest Rainbow campaign, winning only a Brixia Tour stage in July and lurching his way toward two doping cases and eventual ignominy. No talk of a curse, he just didn't measure up. And I don't feel like speculating as to why.
2003: Mario Cipollini was hardly himself, winning only two early Tirreno stages and two more Giro stages in his Rainbow campaign. In hindsight, though, age was simply catching up to him, and it's not his fault that they couldn't rig the Worlds for him until 2002.
2001: Usually cited as the mother of all Rainbow Curses, Romans Vainsteins really wasn't especially bad in his title defense. First, he did win a couple minor races, stages of Catalunya and Tirreno. He was also third in MSR, third in Paris-Roubaix, third in the season-long world cup, second in the Cyclassics... all good results for a guy who wasn't a prolific Cipo-type sprinter anyway.
- 2010: Cadel Evans scores two wins, an epic Giro stage and La Fleche, which ended his "drought" in mid-April. He also took turns in rosa and jaune, and generally rode well until the later stages of the Tour. Oh, and before absconding to BMC he played a great helper's role to Philippe Gilbert on the latter's Shermanesque fall campaign.
- 2009: Alessandro Ballan wins the Tour of Poland to end his drought in August, after fighting cytomegalovirus for much of the spring. Not that he was a prolific winner before, but that's what you call a curse.
So where does Hushovd's rainbow campaign stack up? Let's rank the others first:
- Boonen '06
- Bettini '07
- Freire '00
- Freire '05
- Cipo '03
- Evans '10
- Bettini '08
- Vainsteins '01
- Ballan '09
- Astarloa '04
Right now Thor is in Vainsteins territory, but seeing as how he's peaking for the Tour, and he has a Scandinavian worlds coming up later, he could move up several places on this list before he's done.
File photo, Getty Images Sport