I woke up early on the 12th of June. It was a cloudy, rainy day, and I went for a little walk around the hotel before breakfast. We had a hard day ahead of us – starting straight into a big mountain – and I was a bit nervous. I’ve never liked stages like this: A big climb early and more than 2000m altitude gain. Plus, I’d just come back from a crash where I suffered a broken collarbone, and my form wasn’t good yet. So I’m sitting at the hotel with my breakfast and coffee when I see an ashen, nervous face coming into the hall. It was obvious that Mister João Correia was just as anxious about the day’s ride as me.
We started in a lovely little town called Ascona, well up the valley, where it’s placed in the end of Lago di Maggiore. A breakaway went and things looked to be going well for us. But some teams weren’t happy with the break and went hard up the Simplonpass.
We suffered a lot – me, João and at least half of the bunch. A few kilometers from the top, I saw João coming back through the peloton like a rock. I passed him, and said straight out: “If you lose my wheel I will smash you.” Of course, he couldn’t reply, considering the state he was in. I did not see him for at least an hour after this.
I was sure he was gone from the group, and afraid he’d stopped the race. But in the valley of the other side of the mountain, João passed the bunch with four or five bottles at his back. We went really fast, so I was surprised see him moving up. Always a great teammate, he wanted to give his last to us.
Unfortunately, he cramped halfway up through the peloton and didn’t make it. With his legs off the pedals – stiff as a piece of oak – he came back as fast as I moved up… still with all the bidons on his back. He was unable to touch the pedals, and when I passed him he was screaming out of pain. I was sure that he would never finish this stage, especially since we had another hard hill before the finish. But I was wrong.
After a while – I mean a long while – João walked onto the bus. He was all wrapped up and there was blood everywhere. There had been a crash on the final descent where one guy wrecked into a house and was badly hurt. There was an ambulance waiting at the turn, so when João came a bit too fast into that corner, he went straight into the ambulance stretcher! He told me after that he was sure at that moment he broke his leg. Instead, he stood up and finished the stage. Well done, my friend! He didn’t even finish last on the stage. That honor belonged to a rider he’s still managing today, Laurens ten Dam, who was laying in the stretcher João crashed in to, and was DNF on the results.
Thor Hushovd is widely considered the greatest Norwegian cyclist of all time. A multiple national champion, he also won the green jersey twice at the tour de france as well as multiple stages in all three grand tours. In 2010 he won the world championships.