Victoria cyclist Ryder Hesjedal says his Giro d’Italia victory was never a sure thing, despite being the favourite going into the final stage of the three-week race.
Heading into Sunday’s leg, many experts thought Hesjedal would easily overcome his 31-second deficit to snatch the overall lead from Spanish rival Joaquim Rodriguez, who wore the race leader's maglia rosa for 10 days.
But Hesjedal, the superior time trialist, knew it would still be difficult to make up the time because Rodriguez had been focusing on improving his performance after some poor results in previous time trials.
“He’s improving in that discipline, he’s lost some high placing to that situation in the past, so I know how much that can motivate you,” Hesjedal said.
Hesjedal’s challenge became even more difficult when race organizers shortened the individual time trial by three kilometres because of road work.
“I knew it was going to be tough and I had to do a huge ride," he told CBC Radio on Monday morning.
But Hesjedal didn’t let the shorter distance stop him from making history. He completed the final stage in 34 minutes 15 seconds – 41 seconds ahead of Rodriguez.
“I didn’t want to let the opportunity slip through my fingers and I think I showed that on the race course.”
The 16-second margin of victory between the two was the second closest in Giro history.
"Hats off to him. He was a fierce competitor the whole three weeks and really made me earn it,” Hesjedal said.
With the title, Hesjedal became the first Canadian to win one of cycling’s three Grand Tour events, raising hopes of even greater glory in the Tour de France later this summer.
But fans dreaming of a Canadian at the top of the podium in Paris may have to wait until next year for a chance. With the Olympics just around the corner, and Hesjedal a possibility for the lone Canadian cycling spot in London, he may skip the Tour de France to compete in the Summer Games.
“I have a lot of decisions to make for the rest of the season, first with my team and then with the Canadian federation,” Hesjedal said. “There are a lot of goals I want to concentrate on.”