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Thunder and Rainbows: How Well Do They Go Together?

Quick little nugget today, lack of time... but now how do we rate Thor Hushovd's Rainbow defense? Statistics (feh!) say that today's Tour de France stage was his second win of the season, that he won a lovely if unimportant Tour de Suisse stage, placed 8th in Paris-Roubaix, has been an exemplary teammate, and has several high finishes in other Tour stages. Our eyes tell us that he's ridden an absolutely cracking Tour de France, competing in difficult sprint stages (4th in Stage 10) and stages owned by the climbers (Stage 1, third after Gilbert and Evans). Today's win officially venerates Hushovd's summer campaign, oriented at converting his speed and classics power into climbing ability.

If he has no more tricks up his sleeve, then that's what we will judge him by. How we judge him is another matter. To the flip!

Categorizing world champions, we have seen several stage-racer/climber types -- Evans last year, and guys like Lance, Olano, Bugno, Hinault, LeMond, etc. Nothing like Thor. Then there are the classics climbers, a fruitful source of rainbows: Bettini, Astarloa, Camenzind, arguably Brochard... not quite the same. Then there are the pure(ish) sprinters: Cipollini, Freire, arguably Vainsteins, Boonen could slot in here given how things were in 2006. Thor doesn't belon there either.

I think we'd all agree that his skillset is the classics and all-round riding with a fast finish. He compares well with past winners Ballan, Boonen, and Dhaenens, sorta well with Museeuw, Criquelion and Argentin. The importance of this point is that these guys don't necessarily get many chances to win. Classics are very fickle and few in number, compared to days when Oscar Freire can hop on his bike knowing he has a pathway to victory. A classics guy in rainbow is a heavily marked man, further pressured by the paucity of chances to "defend the honor of the jersey."

In that group I'd rank him behind Boonen and Argentin, both of whom won monuments while in Rainbow. Dhaenens developed heart problems (and passed away not long after), so his title defense was out of his hands. Ballan too got ill, though upon returning he won in Poland. Hushovd gets the nod over those guys... and over Museeuw, who won several times in rainbow but nothing bigger than Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Thor versus Criquelion is a tougher call. Criquelion won seven times, including La Fleche Wallonne; was second in LBL, sixth in Flanders, eighth in Amstel and 18th in the Tour. He won the Polynormande, which at the time was being contested by the likes of Hinault, Fignon, Madiot, and lord knows who else. I think I'd give the Lion of Lessines the nod over Thor.

So, fourth-best rainbow defense by a modern-era classics rider for Thor (so far). Not too shabby.