Canadian Hesjedal gets historic Giro win

Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjedal competes in the 21st and final stage of the Tour of Italy (Giro...

Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjedal competes in the 21st and final stage of the Tour of Italy (Giro d'Italia), a 28.2 kilometre time trial around Milan, on May 27, 2012. Ryder Hesjedal created cycling history, the Garmin rider becoming the first Canadian to win the Tour of Italy. AFP PHOTO/LUK BENIES

Dave Pollard, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:50 PM ET

Step aside, Steve Bauer.

There's a new No. 1 Canadian Ryder in town.

Ryder Hesjedal became the first Canadian to ever win a cycling Grand Tour event Sunday in Milan, overtaking overall leader Joaquin Rodriguez of Spain in the final stage to step to the top of the podium in the Giro d'Italia.

"I can't even describe it," Hesjedal said during a conference call Sunday. "I think it's going to take a while to really sink in. It's just been kind of a whirlwind since finishing the TT (time trial). It's just incredible. I'm just happy I could pull it off and give everyone something to cheer about.

"Once I start to see my name on the list of the other riders who have accomplished this ... yeah, it's pretty amazing stuff. I'm just enjoying it right now."

The 31-year-old from Victoria, B.C., made up 31 seconds on Rodriguez in the time trial to win the 21-stage event by 16 seconds, cementing his place in Canadian cycling history.

For all the accolades he received during a storied cycling career, including a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics, Bauer, now 52 and out of the saddle for 15 years, never managed to win a Grand Tour event. His fourth-place finish in the 1988 Tour de France stood up as the best Canadian finish in a Grand Tour event -- the Tour of Spain is the other race in the big three -- until Hesjedal snapped the Giro's pink jersey away from Rodriguez Sunday.

Rodriguez finished second overall, followed by Thomas De Gendt of Belgium, 99 seconds behind.

Hesjedal, who wore pink after four stages of the Giro, managed just one stage win (the fourth, also a time trial) but consistently stayed near the front of the pack. Still, he knew he'd need to push himself to the brink of disaster in the finale to get past Rodriguez.

"He's lost some very big positions and stuff in time trials so far," Hesjedal said. "I know what that's like as an athlete and knew he would be putting up the biggest fight he's ever given. I knew he believed he could still do it. I had to attack every single metre of the course. That was a huge ride by him."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper congratulated Hesjedal, whose previous best finish was a sixth-place showing in the 2010 Tour de France, on his historic win.

"On behalf of all Canadians, I would like to congratulate Ryder Hesjedal for his amazing victory in the Giro d'Italia, riding for team Garmin-Barracuda," Harper said in a statement. "This remarkable win in one of bicycle racing's most grueling competitions is a testimony to Mr. Hesjedal's training, endurance, skill and competitive spirit.

"It is a particularly proud moment for Canada given that this is the first time in the history of professional cycling that a Canadian has won one of the sport's three grand tours."

Hesjedal's performance in the time trial, one of his strengths, became critical after he lost 14 seconds to Rodriguez in the penultimate stage Saturday. De Gendt won the stage but Hesjedal, getting no help from his rivals for much of the 219-kilometre leg that included a 23 km ascent up the snow-covered Stelvio, managed to keep Rodriguez in sight.

"Yesterday was very hard, I had to fight for this Giro at the end there," he said. "I had no one helping me and that's what makes this victory even more sweet. As we approached the last part of the Stelvio, none of my rivals were willing to work to conserve their positions. They felt I was the strongest and that was my race to lose, even though I wasn't wearing the pink jersery.

"Those are all tactics and situations. I had to save my own Giro in the last 5 km with a huge effort."

Hesjedal is expected to ride in the Tour de France next month -- he could be too gassed to make a serious run at the title, though -- but he still doesn't know if he'll compete in the London Olympics.

The Canadian team going to London hasn't been announced yet. Hesjedal wouldn't say he was a lock for the team, but did admit his win in the Giro "can't hurt" his chances.


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