Hushovd won in his homeland

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UPDATED: Norwegian cyclist Thor Hushovd emerged victorious from the first annual Arctic Race of Norway over the weekend, winning the last lap and the overall event. He was clearly proud to share some of Norway’s most spectacular scenery along the way with fellow international cycling stars, and now organizers are setting their sights farther north.

Scenic Lofoten is at the heart of drilling debates in northern Norway. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Friday’s race around Lofoten passed by scenery like this, father west at Reine. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Hushovd had sent out a message on social media that he thought Friday’s venue for the race, Lofoten, is “the most beautiful place on the planet!” He went on to win that lap, too, before the race moved north of Lofoten to the stunning coastal areas of Vesterålen.

The Arctic Race of Norway started on Thursday in chilly and wet weather around Bodø, with Norwegian media reporting that Hushovd placed fourth in what was immodestly billed as “the world’s most beautiful bike race.”

It ran through Sunday, with three more stages west from Svolvær around the scenic archipelago on Friday, then from Svolvær to Sortland and Stokmarknes on Saturday and ending in Harstad on Sunday. Hushovd cycled his way to victory on the 156-kilometer stage from Svolvær, in sunny weather, calling it “a fantastic day, the most beautiful cycling race I’ve been in.” He later sprinted to victory again on Sunday in the last 155-kilometer stage from Sortland to the race’s end in Harstad.

Thursday’s opening race of 192.5 kilometers that started and ended in Bodø was won by Kenny van Hummel of the Netherlands, ahead of Vacansoleil (VCD) teammate Barry Markus. Hushovd, who cycles for BMC, said he was reasonably satisfied with his performance, while fellow Norwegian Lars Peter Nordhaug of the Belkin team won the combative red jersey. Norway’s two other cycling stars, Alexander Kristoff and Edvald Boasson Hagen, had to withdraw because of illness and injury.

Hushovd, who recently won a stage of the Tour of Poland, was back on his bike in Norway over the weekend. PHOTO: Szymon Gruchalski/tourdepologne.pl

Hushovd, who recently won a stage of the Tour of Poland, was back on his bike in Norway over the weekend. PHOTO: Szymon Gruchalski/tourdepologne.pl

Hushovd took photos from the window of his Widerøe airline flight over to Lofoten and told local newspaper Lofotposten that Lofoten “is the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited. There’s something about the rawness of the nature, and such spectacular mountains rising right out of the sea. You don’t find anything like it other places.”

The weather was improving also, which could make for some invaluable tourist promotion for Norway as the photos are published around the world.

Organizers of the first Arctic Race of Norway faced some logistical challenges after Thursday’s opener, as they had to ship all the riders, their bikes and equipment over the notoriously rough Vestfjorden. It went well, though, better than the political squabble that marred the opening ceremony. Government minister Trond Giske, who’s in the middle of the re-election campaign for his Labour Party, made an opening address, with his staff saying he’d been invited by race organizers. The vice-mayor of Bodø, Tom Cato Karlsen from the rival Progress Party, claimed Giske wasn’t invited, and was simply using the race for some political grandstanding even though he had refused to offer any government funding for it.

Karlsen ended up catching criticism for an outburst in social media, where he claimed Giske had no shame and that the Arctic Race “was no campaign arena.” Giske himself declined comment. Race organizers confirmed he’d been invited.

Organizers now want to mount a new race that would begin on Norway’s Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and then move south to Northern Norway, ending at Tromsø. “Everything is possible,” a proud race founder Knut-Eirik Dybdal told newspaper Aftenposten. “Tour de France started on Corsica, so why not?”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund