Ryder Hesjedal looked down the starting ramp, seconds before starting the final stage, the individual time trial, and he knew he had to ride the race of his life if he hoped to win the 95th Giro d’Italia.
The Victoria, B.C. native had already made history as the first Canadian to ever wear the maglia rosa, or pink jersey, not once, but for five days during the middle stages of the three-week grand tour. Waiting for officials to give the final signal on the ramp, he prepared to launch himself along the 28.2 km course, trailed by the race leader, Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha. He was in second place in the general classification, and he had to close down a 31-second gap to the Spaniard. Leaving Milan with the victory was the only thing on his mind.
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Hesjedal, riding his Cervelo P5 time trial bike, was the obvious favourite, of the team and the thousands of fans lining the route through the centre of Milan. Garmin-Barracuda’s management sat in the team car, driving closely behind him shouting instructions and words of encouragement through a bull horn along the course.
“The mind is a strong thing and I was completely committed to having a great time trial,” Hesjedal said. “It unfolded perfectly. It was only in the last five kilometres that I heard that I was the virtual leader on the road. I was not to take any risks in the last few corners and I would be home. No information could have made me change the way I rode. If I was ahead or down on Rodriguez at any point, I was riding to my maximum ability. The team was there and it was encouraging to hear the director motivating me at certain moments.”
He had the ride of his life. After 91 hours 39 minutes and 2 seconds in the saddle, racing on a course that 2011 world champion Mark Cavendish called “diabolical,” the 6’2″ Hesjedal had squeezed out a 16-second advantage to win the overall victory. It was one of the smallest margins in the Giro’s history. Not that the margin mattered. It could have been one second for all Hesjedal cared. He was the champion of the Giro d’Italia, and the most talked about pro in the cycling world.
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How he managed to sleep the night before the finale is a mystery. The television pundits and the cycling press said his time trial strength meant the Giro was his to lose. And, during the final week, media interest was gathering…
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