“I just keep digging deeper and deeper and getting rewarded,” said Ryder Hesjedal at the finish line.
The biggest reward: his first Grand Tour overall victory, the first grand tour for a Canadian, the first grand tour for Garmin-Barracuda. Hesjedal has won the 2012 Giro d’Italia on the final day, besting a gutsy Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) by 16 seconds and yesterday’s Stelvio hero, Thomas De Gendt in a dramatic time trial around Milan.
Hesjedal was installed as Garmin’s Giro leader many months ago and now that dream has come true. “Ever day I rode, it was about the Giro,” said Hesjedal. “To be standing here is just unreal. ”
Almost every race expert had Rodriguez losing major chunks of time to Hesjedal in the 31.5k time trial. The little Spanish climber lost his 31 second buffer after the first time check but battled like a champion over the second half of the course to make it agonizingly close.
That’s an even more amazing performance against the clock when you consider he hit a crash barrier this morning while pre-riding the course. The 16 second margin of victory is the closest since 1948. Putito can be justifiably proud of his efforts. The sight of his little daughter and son with him on stage in their Purito t-shirts on a sweet moment. He and De Gendt kicked last year’s winner Michele Scarponi off the podium so there were no Italians on the final stage.
If Hesjedal thought winning the Giro was “unreal” then third place finisher De Gendt was even more struck by the circumstances. “It’s a little bit surrealistic. It’s very strange for me — it’s only my 2nd grand tour,” said De Gendt. “My legs weren’t that good with a possible top three place, I went full gas from the beginning. I went a bit over my limit but okay.” More than okay, welcome to the big leagues, Tommy. Your salary just went up significantly.
Coming into the Giro, Hesjedal was listed as a contender, then after two weeks a serious one and in the final week, the rider everyone feared. While Ivan Basso, Scarponi and Rodriguez hoped he’d fade or have a bad day in the Dolomites, it was Basso who had his difficulties. The top climbers in this year’s Giro spent plenty of time behind the Canadian’s wheel.
Hesjedal showed an almost scary calm as he went from challenger to champion. Even after the stunning win, he struggled to come to terms with the accomplishment. “I look up to these guys, they’re champions,” said Hesjedal. “To be even in it and marking my mark … this is going to soak in for a long time.”
A special chapeau also to new Garmin-Barracuda director sportif Charlie Wegelius. This time a year ago he’d just finished helping UnitedHealthcare teammate Rory Sutherland to a seventh overall in the Tour of California. Brought in by Garmin for his expertise in the Italian races, he helps guide Hesjedal to victory in his first grand tour on the job. That puts a smile on a man’s face.
The former mountain biker had to fight for every second to win the Giro d’Italia. “My legs have been burning since day one,” said Hesjedal. Time to cool off with some cold champagne.