Defending champion Thor Hushovd cycles for Norway in the Arctic Race 2014. Photo: Terje Bendiksby / NTB scanpix
The Arctic Race of Norway, and one of professional cycling's most gruelling challenges, returns for its second edition on Thursday.
The four-stage event runs from 14th to 17th August and starts in Hammerfest on the island of Kvaløya.
The finish line is in North Cape (Nordkapp) on the island of Magerøya, 204km north of Hammerfest. Part of the stage one route will include taking the underwater North Cape tunnel and overcoming three uphill climbs.
Last year's winner, Thor Hushovd, returns to defend his title. This is the Norwegian's final race on home soil before he retires from the sport.
Hushovd can expect strong challenge from other Norwegian riders.
Lars Petter Nordhaug is tipped for success by many and the cyclist from Tønsberg is a future star.
Cycling expert Mads Kaggestad believes the 30-year-old will be wise to use the stage ride in North-Norway to show himself. Kaggestad said to NTB: “For Lars Petter it is of course important to achieve something. The ride has a tougher profile this year. I believe in a new Norwegian winner, and Lars Petter will be my favourite."
Other notable Norwegians taking part in the Arctic Race are Alexander Kristoff and Marcel Kittel. The riders hold six stage victories between them from the Tour de France this year.
Kaggestad believes, however, that the two “sprinter cannons” will get a hard time in the opening stage on Thursday. This stage has its finishing line on the Nordkapp plateau itself - the northernmost point of Europe's mainland.
He said: “The last hill will be very tough. The top is coming only seven kilometres before the finishing line, which means that riders good at climbing will attack.”
There will also be a climb in the third stage that finishes with a 6.9 kilometre long ascent up to the “Kvænangsfjellet” mountain in Troms.
Kaggestad says: “I believe the ride will be settled there.”
Kristoff is confident going into his debut Arctic Race and about racing his rival Marcel Kittel. The Norwegian said to NTB: “I don't feel any pressure on beating Kittel, because I managed so well until now this year. He showed that he is somewhat faster than me, but I think that I can beat him on a good day.”
Stage two of the Arctic Race will begin in Honningsvag and finish in Alta.
Stage three, and perhaps the most difficult stage, starts in Alta and finishes in Kvænangsfjellet.
The final stage begins and ends in Tromsø.