Devon Kershaw Answers the Eternal Question: Who Would Win the Hushovd-Northug Cage Match?

Kieran JonesJuly 26, 20105
Devon Kershaw in the middle of a climb during a trip to Spain earlier this spring.

There are few sports that can challenge the intensity of cross-country skiing, but cycling is one of them. Anyone who has ever pedaled a road bike uphill–which includes almost all cross-country skiers–can appreciate the difficulty of the Tour de France, and as such, we decided to get some perspective on the race from Canadian Olympian Devon Kershaw. Kershaw himself is no stranger to the bicycle–he recently hosted an uphill race that included many members of the Canadian national team–and as an avid cycling fan, was willing to answer a few questions.

Editor’s note: Kershaw answered our questions prior to the completion of the Tour–hence the issues with tense, as the race wrapped up today.

FasterSkier: Can you make a few predictions about the Tour? Contador or Schleck?

Devon Kershaw: Without question it’s Contador. He looked like he had the Tour locked up a long time ago—after the Alps even. Even before he attacked Schleck’s mechanical, he was only down 31 seconds to the lanky Luxembourger, and history shows that in a head-to-head time trial anywhere at anytime, Contador is far and away the heavy favorite. Now after the Pyrenees, he’s in yellow and there is a 99.9999 percent chance he’ll win. Barring any major meltdown in the time trial, it’s a done deal. Schleck’s race was impressive though—a great fight by him and his Saxo Bank team for sure.

FS: If Petter Northug was to face off against Thor Hushovd, who would win? On a bike? On skis? In a no-holds-barred UFC style matchup?

KJ: Northug vs. Hushovd? On a bike, it’s a no brainer. Hushovd, of course. When you are a rider that can pump out over 1200 watts in a sprint, moving at over 70 km/h human powered—Northug would look like a young girl learning for the first time to bike without training wheels. It would be that bad.

On skis—even though Hushovd is Norwegian, and they are born with a natural affinity for the sport, Northug is the best in the world. Thor has spent too much time in the south of France, sipping wine and eating brie—he would look like pack fill in the senior category of an Ontario Cup next to the world and Olympic champion that is Northug.

UFC Octagon throw-down? Now it gets tricky. I’m going to go with Hushovd again, though. He had no problem bumping, nudging and fighting his way over the tarmac at 70+ km/h in a big pack of sweaty, hungry-for-victory bike racers. I also think he’s bigger in stature (muscularly, anyway), than Northug, and has eight years on him as well. You can never underestimate “old man strength.” That, and let’s be honest, if the rumors are true and Northug sleeps over 12 hours a day, everyday, and the rest of the time is spent training and playing online poker? That’s not badass. Have you seen most poker players? Not UFC contenders. Advantage: Hushovd.

FS: You’ve seen some good climbing out of Babikov, but what do you think is tougher: the final climb at the end of the Tour de Ski, or one of those Cat. 1 climbs in the Pyrenees? Could Ivan Babikov take those guys?

DK: I’d love to say that the final climb in the Tour de Ski is tougher, but that’d be a flat-out fib. Those HC and Cat 1 climbs in both the Alps and the Pyrenees make the bumps we glide over look like nothing more than a monadnock beside a big Himalayan peak. We lose—those cyclists are hardcore to the max. The fact that some of these beasts come after 160 km of racing, while we are scared about a 4 km climb coming after 6 km makes us skiers look pretty soft.

Babs is still the strongest and most naturally talented climber I’ve ever seen on a bike. He grinds the biggest, hardest gear and can just churn up the road when it angles up. It’s silly. It defies science and reason—but, a lot of things Babs does defy science and reason. I have no doubt had Ivan chosen cycling, you would have seen him in the high mountains mixing it up with the ProTour big boys. He’d have to give up candy, sugar, Red Bull, Coke, etc., first—too many calories—that’d be the only thing I don’t know if he would be capable of.

FS: There was outrage over Contador’s attack while Schleck was fixing his chain. Nobody stopped for you when your ski fell off in the Tour de Ski—do you think Contador made the right decision? Are there any unwritten rules like that on the World Cup?

DK: There was some outrage over the Contador attacking Schleck during a mechanical, yes. Do I think Contador made the right decision? Personally, with the history and tradition of cycling—no, I don’t. Attacking a rival in that situation is frowned upon in cycling. Contador was only 31 seconds back in the general classification. I thought he should have waited, then dusted him man-to-man. Even with 31 seconds, Contador was going to win the tour—he’s just that much stronger at the time trial—and there were still other mountain stages remaining.

Still, tell that to someone in that situation. Contador is tired. Then, all of a sudden your rival is standing with his feet on the ground instead of in the pedals. As a fierce competitor it’s natural to go for the jugular and attack. I can’t blame him for that, but in cycling, for some reason, that’s not tradition.

There are most certainly no unwritten rules in cross-country skiing on the World Cup. It’s every man for himself. Someone breaks a pole, falls, whatever—it’s fair game to exploit those misfortunes. Jeez, I’ve even seen people from the same team attacking up to catch their teammate who has a gap off the front in a mass start. It’s hilarious, actually.

FS: Canada vs. U.S.—Ryder Hesjedal or Levi Leipheimer, which one would you rather be a domestique for? And which one would make a better cross-country skier?

I’d rather be a domestique for Hesjedal, but that’s for patriotic reasons. I am really impressed with him, top-10 at the Tour de France is impressive stuff. He stepped up, and he’s a gutsy, exciting racer. Not afraid to get into the breakaway. Leipheimer is a great cyclist, but ask yourself this: when have you last seen him in a breakaway? When’s the last time you’ve seen Levi attack? It’s rare—sometimes at the Tour of California or Dauphine, but that’s pretty much it.

Who would make a better cross-country skier? I’d go with Ryder again on this one. He comes from a mountain bike background, where the races are shorter (1:40-2:00), and much more explosive in nature—hammer up hills, descend, at times without even pedaling. That, and he’s taller too. Have you seen Levi? The dude’s small.

FS: If you could wear one of the jerseys for a day, which one would it be? Sprinter’s? Climber’s? Overall GC? White jersey for best young rider?

DK: This is a no-brainer for any cycling fan. The Maillot Jaune. Yellow jersey hands down. Only one Canadian has ever worn it (Steve Bauer). It’s the most prestigious and elusive jersey in cycling.

FS: How long do you think you could hold on to the peloton in one of those Cat. 1 or 2 climbs?

DK: In the gruppetto (that’s where the sprinters hang out, at the back of the bus), I could perhaps hang on. In the peloton, when there are attacks going on, I’d last like 1 km. Maybe. In the break up the road? 100 meters.

FS: Where are the fans more rabid: the Holmenkollen, or the Alpe d’Huez?

DK: I’d have to say Alpe d’Huez. There are 40,000 or 50,000 people out at Holmenkollen—that’s a lot, no question. But there are over 750,000 people on the Alpe. There’s a reason why cyclists live in Monaco, drive Ferraris and sleep with the Olsen twins: It’s WAY more popular.

FS: Who from your team would you want as your lead-out man? Is there anyone who would deliver a headbutt for you?

DK: Even though he’s sketchy as all hell, and in all likelihood he’d make us both crash and take out half the field in the process more often than not, I’d go with the recently-retired Sean Crooks. He’s a scrappy racer, and he isn’t afraid to get in there and get his hands dirty. He’d deliver the headbutt and the knockout punch in a killer one-two combo. Now, I don’t know—I’ll get back to you.

FS: Who on the World Cup would be the most likely to assault another athlete with a pair of skis, Carlos Barredo-style?

DK: Haha, Barredo was classic. Using the wheel for a weapon. Firstly, no cyclist should ever attempt to fight. It’s embarrassing. What they do on the bike is impressive—they command fame, money, attention and respect for their exploits when on their steeds. Off the bike, with their cleats clapping around the pavement and their little arms flailing around in anger? It makes a hair-pulling, grade three cat fight look like Foreman vs. Ali. I laughed so hard when I watched that little tiff. It was awful.

Who on the World Cup would be most likely to assault another athlete? I don’t know—Legkov? He might not assault you, but he’d get the Russian mob to come to your house, burn it down, and wreak havoc on your family for generations.

In an actual fight, I’d say probably George [Grey] would kick anyone’s ass on the World Cup fairly easily, although he has a very cool head, so that situation would never arise.

FS: Ultimately, who are closer to society’s fringe? Cyclists, with their shaved legs and dubious dietary practices, or skiers, who do things like rollerski?

I’d say we—cross-country skiers—are closer to the fringe. Everyone knows about cycling. They shave their legs because when they crash at 90 km/h down a mountain pass, a mass of nasty hair mixed in with the ground beef that their thigh has become is a recipe for infection. Ask most people to jump out of their car wearing shorts and a t-shirt at 90 km/h if they want to have hair everywhere or not.

As soon as you do a parade in a full spandex suit, in the summer, you define “fringe.”

That, and you are absolutely right: rollerskiing? I’d bet 10 percent of Canadians could describe what exactly one of those things actually are. I’d bet only 3 percent of Canadians could tell you that there are no brakes on the things either.

Oh yes, no Olsen twins, no millions of dollars, no columns in the gossip mags—no, cross-country skiing wins hands down. We are the fringe. Boom.

Kieran Jones

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  • sailguy

    July 26, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Oh Devon. You get a lot of things right, but what patriot could forget Canada’s most famous cross country skier, Alex Stieda?

    Okay, Alex was the first North American to wear the yellow jersey and, if I remember correctly, lost it in in the afternoon time trial the same day. As a cross country skier, perhaps slightly less famous, but very memorable to anyone who saw him. Imagine team 7-11 cycling clothing, outrageous fitness and leg strength, and self-taught skating technique. Self-invented even….

    To be fair to Alex, in 1985 only elite skiers could get skating lessons. I had just learned the new offset (v1) technique from a national team member who came home for Christmas. And it is important to be fair to Mr Stieda, as anyone who can throw effective punches at 5o km/h in a criterium corner would destroy me in a cage fight 🙂 Besides, that cross country skiing experience was undoubtedly what lead to him getting a yellow jersey ….

  • Ndp

    July 26, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Great interview! If those Northug rumours are true, he just lost some massive badass street cred.

  • ben.arians

    July 26, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    I think Oystein “The Sausage” Pettersen would be a better match against Mighty Thor, the dude is built like a brick s***house. However, check out this video of cyclists fighting and keep it in mind when talking about how road cyclists would do in a fight (and probably most nordic skiers as well, to be honest).

  • Eric123

    July 27, 2010 at 9:41 am

    “I’d love to say that the final climb in the Tour de Ski is tougher, but that’d be a flat-out fib.—-We lose—those cyclists are hardcore to the max. The fact that some of these beasts come after 160 km of racing, while we are scared about a 4 km climb coming after 6 km makes us skiers look pretty soft. ”

    I dont’ want to open a can of worms here, but I have to strongly disagree. To put cycling into perpspective Lance Armstrong once said that running the last 5 miles of a marathon was the most difficult thing he had ever done- more difficult than any climb in the Alps- and that he suffered more than in any stage of the tour he had ever done. I think that pretty much says it all.

  • FasterSkier

    July 27, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Generally something you are not as good at, or not trained specifically for will be harder. So Lance running a marathon – even if he has done a bunch of running – will probably seem harder than cycling.

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