When Thor Hushovd was left out of the Garmin-Cervélo squad for the Vuelta a Espana, the controversy was obvious – a defending world champion denied the chance to ride the prime preparation race for his title defence.
Hushovd’s omission was met with a strong reaction from riders on Twitter, with messages of support for Hushovd and criticism of Garmin being expressed by a number of riders and ex-pros, including Cancellara, O’Grady and Lance Armstrong.
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Now, as riders prepare to take on the Vuelta in Spain, they have been voicing their support for the rainbow jersey incumbent.
“I don’t normally get involved in this side of stuff, but I can’t bite my tongue. I’m just really disappointed that the world champion can’t race the races he wants to,” Stuart O’Grady (Leopard-Trek) told Cycling Weekly on Thursday afternoon.
“I know what it’s like to sacrifice for teammates and the team should be honoured and proud to have the rainbow jersey.”
“I know that if I was world champion and if I couldn’t race the races I wanted to to prepare to defend my jersey, I’d be really pissed off,” he continued.
“Especially someone of Thor’s characteristics – he’s one of the nicest guys in the peloton. He’s sacrificed a podium at Paris-Roubaix for a teammate. He’s finally got the rainbow jersey and given it some class this year with everything that he did in the Tour. I feel really sorry for Thor.”
Cancellara weighs in
Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek), for whom Hushovd is a top rival in the spring classics, expressed similar sentiments: “Not selecting a rider just because they are leaving is just not something that you should do. Anyone could do that: Stuart [O’Grady] is leaving us next year, but we’re not going to not select him because of it,” he said.
“It’s a matter of basic respect, they’re disrespecting him. He has given so much to the team over recent years, probably more than the team has given to him, and this is no way to repay him.”
Garmin-Cervélo have been keen to move on from the issue, although they are clear that the decision is, as expected, motivated by the desire to bring through younger riders in the wake of the announcement of his departure.
“It was a tough decision. We have new young riders that we need to develop – younger sprinters and riders for flatter stages,” team Director Sportif Bingen Fernandez told CW.
“But we’re trying to develop the team for next year and we’re trying to help the guys that we’ve got. It’s better we don’t think about it too much because the decision has been taken.
“I don’t think he has a problem with preparing for the Worlds. He has different races [the Tour of Britain – ed] but he has races. I hope the best for him and hope he can get fit for the worlds and again try to win.”