Boasson Hagen back on track with Classics ambitions ahead

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The last nine months have been something of a resurgence for Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data). After his career seemed to stagnate in the closing years of a contract with Sky, Boasson Hagen moved to MTN-Qhubeka in 2015 and got back to his winning ways. He won stages at the Tour des Fjords and the Tour of Denmark then won the Tour of Britain for the second time.

Boasson Hagen has started the 2016 season in similarly ominous fashion. After almost winning the Tour of Qatar, the two-time Tour de France stage winner had a very strong showing at the Tour of Oman, suggesting another good season lies ahead for the 28-year-old. Sophie Smith caught up with Edvald Boasson Hagen at the Tour of Oman to find out what lies ahead.

MUSCAT, Oman (CT) – Paris-Roubaix isn’t exactly a race you’d associate Edvald Boasson Hagen with but it’s the Classic he regards above the rest.

“I’ve never done really well in Roubaix but that’s the one I’d really like to do well in,” the Norwegian told CyclingTips. “I don’t know why.”

Boasson Hagen has never featured in the race. His best result was a 21st place at the 2014 edition and he hasn’t declared if he’ll even start the prestigious event let alone target it this season.

He can, however, look confidently ahead to the Spring Classics, which begin in earnest next week. The Norwegian has had a strong showing against likely one-day rivals, including compatriot Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), in the Middle East this month.

Boasson Hagen won the stage 3 individual time trial at the recent Tour of Qatar, propelling himself into the lead of that particular race. An untimely double puncture on the following stage would see him lose the overall lead in a race he would likely have gone on to win.

The reigning Norwegian time trial and road race champion made amends for his Tour of Qatar disappointment at the Tour of Oman with a strong win on the uphill finish to stage 2 last Wednesday. That victory landed Boasson Hagen the leader’s jersey in the six-stage race and while he would lose it two days later — to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) on the steep Green Mountain climb in the race’s queen stage — Boasson Hagen bounced back to win the very next stage (see video below).

The 28-year-old attributes his current form to a strong end to the 2015 season, in which he won the Tour of Britain, as well as time spent in the gym over the European winter. That gym work has helped with the explosiveness he employed to defeat Nibali and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) to line honours earlier in the week.

“I was getting quite good towards the end of the [last] season and I just carried [on] doing strength work,” he said. “I don’t count percentage of my form. It feels good now and I feel it’s getting better as well.”

Boasson Hagen’s ‘return’ to the winner’s circle with the newly minted WorldTour squad Dimension Data is not a surprise to staff and teammates backing the puncheur at suitable races.

They put Boasson Hagen’s win-less final term with Team Sky more down to his role within the increasingly Grand Tour-orientated outfit than anything else. Former Highroad teammate turned Dimension Data sports director Roger Hammond said the difference has just been one of support.

“He’s still the same guy I met in Highroad, it’s just he’s been given a team to help him win and he’s winning,” Hammond said. “These guys who win bike races are all supremely confident inside, it’s just how they show it on the outside. You can tell by looking in his eyes when he’s ready and when he is not ready.”

Boasson Hagen will enter this Classics season armed not just with confidence from performances in the desert but also a greater familiarity with the Dimension Data squad he joined last season. The team has accommodated a host of other new faces in 2016, including Mark Cavendish, who won the race title in Qatar, but by appearances all are already working harmoniously.

Edvald Boasson Hagen and Mark Cavendish line up on stage 4 of Tour of Qatar while in the leaders jersey
Edvald Boasson Hagen and Mark Cavendish line up at stage 4 of the Tour of Qatar, with Boasson Hagen in the leader’s gold jersey.

New team recruit Nathan Haas had no issue committing to the two-time Tour de France stage winner Boasson Hagen during the second stage in Oman (see video below) where Haas forwent his own chances of victory.

“He’s a real leader,” Haas said. “For me, you can’t recreate something but its similar feelings I get from all the stories you hear of the Cervelo Test Team.

“When I came in it was largely a team of people with superstar ability that was maybe not realised on other squads. They’re now all riding together with a cause and committed and you just feel this energy.

“I really wanted Eddy to win. It’s normally a stage I would have a crack on but when you’ve got this nice energy it’s something you don’t think about. I think it’s what is going to make us one of the biggest teams in the world.”

Boasson Hagen hasn’t embarked on any special recon trips for Paris-Roubaix as yet.

“But I’ve done it now a few times and know most of the cobblestone sections,” he said.

The Hell of the North is the ideal, however, the unassuming professional has kept his first major target of the season open, not pinpointing any one particular title focus.

“All the Classics are really big,” he said. “It’s good to have form.”

You can follow Sophie on Twitter @SophieSmith86.

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