Disappointing Tour de France for Norway
Despite promising young talent, no stage wins for Norwegian cyclists in 2016
Jo Christian Weldingh
There were great expectations in regards to the Norwegian cyclists in this year’s Tour de France. Four Norwegians were participating, which is more than in any major cycling tour since 1991. Norway’s biggest cycling stars Alexander Kristoff and Edvald Boasson Hagen were obvious choices for their teams, but the youngsters Vegard Breen and Sondre Holst Enger were also set to make their debuts in the world’s biggest cycling tour.
The Norwegians were not going for the overall win, but rather stage wins and possibly the overall points competition. Experts thought this could be the best Norwegian Tour de France in a long time, since Boasson Hagen and especially Kristoff, being a strong sprinter, could be capable of winning most flat stages.
Not strong enough
Disappointingly, at least to the Norwegian viewers and spectators, neither Boasson Hagen nor Kristoff were strong enough to secure a stage win in this year’s tour. Both were consistently outshone by Mark Cavendish from Great Britain and Peter Sagan from Slovakia, who won seven stages combined.
Boasson Hagen came close on stage 10, from Escaldes-Engordany to Revel, when he and five other cyclists broke away from the peloton, but came in third behind Michael Matthews and Peter Sagan. “It was a tough stage,” Boasson Hagen said after the stage. “My sprint was pretty good, but the others were stronger today.”
To be fair, Boasson Hagen’s chances for stage wins was limited by the fact that cycling is a team sport. On most of the stages, he was obligated to use his energy helping his team captain.
Alexander Kristoff, the biggest Norwegian hope this year, has put on a brave face during this year’s tour. “It’s a bit disappointing that I didn’t win any stages this year. Sometimes I was close and other times I made mistakes,” Kristoff said after the tour.
His tour started off the worst way possible with the injury of his most important teammate, Michael Mørkøv.
He improved later in the tour and won the mass sprint on stage 11, but Chris Froome and Peter Sagan had already broken away from the peloton, so he came in third. On stage 14 he came even closer, but Mark Canvendish’s sprint was faster. On stage 17, from Berne to Finhaut-Emosson, he thought he had won, but the photo finish showed that Peter Sagan had beat him by half an inch.
Even though Kristoff has reason to be disappointed, his performance overall was respectable. The fact that he finished in the top five six times proves that he really is a world-class cyclist. Mass sprints, where he usually gets most of his victories, are often decided by chance, and this year he was unlucky.
When Boasson Hagen and Kristoff didn’t perform quite as well as one could have expected, Sondre Holst Enger, the youngest cyclist in the tour at 22, surpassed everyone’s expectations. The young cyclist finished top ten on several stages and has really made his entry into the world of cycling. “I am very disappointed. Coming in as number six is good, but I want to do better,” he said, after coming in as number six two stages in a row. He is now seen as a future contender for the green jersey by members of both the Norwegian and the international press.
Bright cycling future
Cycling has become increasingly popular in Norway in the last 10 to 15 years, mostly because of improved television coverage and good results in the Tour de France. Thor Hushovd, Norway’s biggest cycling hero, won 10 stages in the Tour de France, in addition to two green jerseys and a world championship. He deserves some of the credit for the sport’s growing popularity over the last decade. Norway has one of the best U23 national teams in the world and potentially a bright future for the sport of cycling in Norway.
Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, but is currently living in Oslo. He has a BA in Archaeology from The University of Oslo and a BA in Business Administration from BI Norwegian Business School.
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 12, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.