July 7, 2011

Thor Hushovd sprinted to third in Thursday’s 226.5km sixth stage from Dinan to Lisieux and successfully defended the yellow jersey.

The reigning world champion made it up a short, but steep climb with three kilometers to go on wet, rainy roads to be in ideal position to challenge for the stage victory, but compatriot Edvald Boasson-Hagen had enough to fend off his fellow Norwegian Hushovd. Matt Goss came through second and Hushovd took consolation with a fine performance in the yellow jersey.

“It was very important to keep the yellow jersey today, because I also want to win a stage. I would like to win a stage before I lose the yellow jersey. Yesterday, I was very tired from the effort (Tuesday), and today was an ideal stage for me. It was a stage that I wanted to win,” Hushovd said.

“I am feeling good. I can feel the legs are coming around, but the effort of keeping the yellow jersey probably kept me from being at my best to have that little extra that I needed to win the stage. I was there and I felt like I could go for the win, but I am happy with my performance.”

With the third-place performance, Hushovd easily defended his yellow jersey in another hilly stage on narrow roads marked by wind and rain. An early breakaway peeled off the front early before Garmin-Cervélo put men on the front to control the pace. Other teams pulled through to help control the pace in the longest stage of the 2011 Tour to set up another bunch sprint finale. Hushovd will carry a one-second lead into Friday’s seventh stage to Australian Cadel Evans.

“I hope to keep it to Super-Besse. The team used up a lot of energy to control the stage early when the breakaways went away and we finally got some help from some other teams. It’s always extra work to have the yellow jersey, but it also gives you extra motivation,” Hushovd said.

“It was more relaxed today in the stage. It was windy and on small roads, also some heavy rain. It takes a lot of energy out of everyone. Tomorrow we can see a normal, typical Tour de France and then we can look ahead to the Massif Central. The team has been very supportive of me. They have been working very hard since I have taken the yellow jersey. I could not ask for more and I’m really proud of how we are riding.”

The strong performance marks another top-notch day for the Argyle Army, which has defended the yellow jersey since winning the team time trial on Sunday and backing that up with a stage victory by Tyler Farrar on Monday.

Julian Dean, the veteran New Zealand sprinter who helps set up Hushovd and Farrar in the bunch sprints, said the team is riding high from its early successes in this year’s Tour. Dean has been with Garmin-Cervélo since 2008 in what was the squad’s first major push into Europe and has been one of the anchors of the team, appearing in all four Tours that it has started.

Last year, Dean rode to two second places and one third in the sprint stages, but is focusing his efforts on helping Hushovd and Farrar delivering stage victories. And he was right there in the heat of the battle again Thursday.

“You don’t get the number of podium finishes we’ve had at the Tour de France without being a great team,” Dean said. “Cycling is such a tough sport and nothing is more important than consistency. We knew eventually the wins would come.”

Garmin-Cervélo team manager Jonathan Vaughters also said the team is savoring its early Tour successes, but certainly isn’t forgetting about the larger goals of the three-week race.

“Our success is huge. We’ve been trying a long time to win a stage at the Tour de France, and we finally did it in style. To do it twice and have the yellow jersey, that’s as good as it gets,” Vaughters said. “We are sticking to our of taking this Tour day-by-day. This is a long, hard, dangerous Tour, so we want to be patient. We’re satisfied with how things have gone so far, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop fighting. There are a lot of opportunities still to come in this Tour.”

The 98th Tour de France continues Friday with the 218km seventh stage from Le Mans to Chateauroux. Although there are no rated climbs, the course rolls up and down past wide-open wheat fields and vineyards of the Loire Valley. The straight-on and flat finale should produce another bunch sprint, with chances for Farrar and Hushovd to fight for victory yet again.

More photos from the Tour de France:
[flickr-gallery mode=”tag” tags=”2011, TDF” tag_mode=”all”]