BMC's Thor Hushovd announced his retirement in a press conference today from a hotel in Oslo, where Norway's most famous cyclist announced his plans to stop after the 2014 season. Hushovd cited lack of motivation and opportunity, partly stemming from a bout with mononucleosis, and partly just where he's at in life.
The mono thing took hold early in 2012, shortly into his contract with the newly-assembled BMC, and has dogged his form repeatedly through his three years with the squad. He went winless in his first season, rebounded last year to take eight sprints and the overall title at the Arctic Tour of Norway, and showed some decent form this spring when he finished 19th at Paris-Roubaix. But he is again suffering from effects of the virus and will not take the start at the Norwegian championships this weekend in Eidsvoll. Hushovd is a three-time national champion, and has worn the jersey this past year.
The 36-year-old sprinter/classician/stage hunter extraordinaire is reaching the end of his deal with BMC this season, and doesn't see any enticing prospects on the horizon -- another factor in his retirement. He mentioned in his press conference that he has had several contacts from teams but none that interest him. Tinkoff-Saxo were mentioned by Procycling.no, and Hushovd said that he would be tempted to continue if lured by the new team being created by car racer Fernando Alonso, but apparently that isn't in the works. No existing offer could overcome his waning interest in continuing, with the virus holding him down and the temptation to spend more time with his young family.
Hushovd hopes to go out with a bang, targeting the World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain as his final race. The Grimstader won't come in as anyone's favorite, but he's made a pretty good career of being a guy you overlook at your peril. Hushovd owns ten Tour de France stage victories, including a handful from the heroic category involving long breakaways and climbs over summits that the chasing peloton might have mistakenly viewed as beyond his ability. Sure, Hushovd has been a sprinter throughout his career, and can still wind it up pretty good. But he hasn't been a pure sprinter in the Cavendish/Kittel mode, but rather in the Boonen mold of larger riders with massive wattage spikes when called upon.
Hushovd's versatility was shown in two maillot vert campaigns, 2005 and 2009, the latter against an ascendant Mark Cavendish. Being the type of consistent finisher for whom the green jersey was created, Hushovd rode a single uphill stage win in Barcelona to the title, against Cavendish's campaign of six sprint victories. Hushovd was a regular competitor for the maillot vert, coming second twice and third once. He also wore the maillot jaune on several occasions, thanks to his abilities in both sprints and prologue stages.
Just over a year after his last green jersey win, Hushovd showed his power abilities -- not to mention his veteran savvy and timing -- in the false-flat sprint to the world championship in Geelong, Australia. This was the crowning moment of his career, coming amidst a period of transition for the "God of Thunder" (the nickname given to every Norwegian named Thor who ventures abroad). That title was earned while riding for Cervelo Test Team, and worn in his one season for Garmin-Cervelo, his last team before BMC. However, Hushovd will always be best known in the colors of Credit Agricole, the now-defunct French squad where he rode for Roger Legeay and established himself in the language and culture of French cycling. His nine seasons with Credit Agricole were his athletic peak years, if not his most glorious. Arguably Hushovd's golden season was 2009, his first one outside France, which not only included the maillot vert but a spectacular run at his beloved Paris-Roubaix where he ended up third, largely thanks to a wipeout in the Carrefour de l'Arbe secteur.
With both Garmin and BMC Hushovd targeted the Hell of the North rather outspokenly, and might have had a real chance to win in 2011, had it not been for his teammate Johan Van Summeren's brilliant attack. Fabian Cancellara was the dominant defending winner, and Garmin famously surrounded Cancellara throughout the day, particularly with Hushovd on his wheel. Van Summeren not only put pressure on Cancellara by riding out the earlier break, he had the strength to attack for the win, to the mixed emotions of his Norwegian teammate. Hushovd was actually second in 2010, his highest finish, but far behind Cancellara. All told, 2009 was his best bid for Cobbled glory. His one-day palmares include Gent-Wevelgem and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Hushovd will not race the Tour de France this July.