Thor Hushovd made cycling history on Sunday when he claimed Norway's first-ever men's elite title at the world road race cycling championships in Australia.
Hushovd, the Norwegian champion, dominated a bunch sprint at the end of a thrilling 267.2 km race, beating Denmark's Matti Breschel and Australia's Allan Davis.
Breschel went one better than his bronze in 2008 to pick up the silver medal while Davis gave the hosts a consolation bronze, their second consecutive medal after Cadel Evans's triumph last year.
Hushovd, a one-day classics specialist who is known for his ability to climb and finish well on uphill sprints, waited until the final 150 metres of the 750-metre home straight before unleashing a powerful sprint.
Afterwards he could not quite believe his achievement.
"It's hard to understand I've won the worlds. It's a dream, it's unreal," said Hushovd, who becomes the first rider from the Scandinavian country to win the coveted rainbow jersey.
"This has to be the best moment of my career."
The elite men's event broke with tradition by starting and finishing in two different locations, and shortly after the start in Melbourne a five-man attack formed.
The group contained no contenders but the peloton had to up the pace to bring down a lead of more than 20 minutes. If they had been lapped by the leaders on the 15.9km circuit in Geelong, they would have been disqualified.
Thankfully for race organisers the potential disaster was avoided and the star-studded chasing peloton continued to increase the pace and eventually pull in the tiring leaders.
With five laps to go Italian Matteo Tosatto's acceleration on the main climb split the group of favourites, leaving Hushovd, Swiss contender Fabian Cancellara and several other contenders behind.
For the next four laps attacks came and went and when Gilbert made his move on the 11th and final lap it looked like a winning tactic.
However the Belgian, battling alone into a headwind, was caught less than 3km from home as a small group of chasers, including Evans, was itself reeled in by a group in which Hushovd was helping drive the pace.
Gilbert had to regroup, and hope to sprint well, but he said: "I just had nothing left in the end when it came to the sprint, I'd given everything I had."
Australia had produced spot-on strategy by sending the versatile Evans up front and leaving Davis behind in the event of a bunch kick, but once a group sprint looked on the cards the Aussie dynamo simply could not better Hushovd.
The Queenslander was quick to share the plaudits, but said he may have done better had he not dropped his gear down a cog in a bid to produce more power.
"I was the only one on the podium but it was a huge team effort out there today," said Davis.
"Tactically, the team raced brilliantly. My card was to wait and wait for a bunch sprint but after 260 kilometres and on an uphill sprint, it's not easy."
He added: "I had quite a fast cadence and decided to go down a cog, and I knew straight away there was no way I was going to pass Hushovd."
Once inside the final 150 metres Hushovd blasted his way up the inside of the barriers and with no-one on his wheel the big Norwegian moved past Breschel with ease to win by over a bike length.
A disappointed Breschel lamented the fact he had uncorked his power a shade too soon.
"I was on (Greg) Van Avermaet's wheel and when I came off it I went with everything I had. Then I saw Thor come past me with 50 metres to go," said the Dane, who has promised to make amends when Copenhagen hosts the event next year.
"It was a pretty long sprint, uphill and after 260 km it's hard."
© AFP 2010
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.