Ryder Hesjedal became the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour when he snatched victory in the Giro d’Italia on Sunday after faultless riding in the final time trial.
The 31-year-old, who rides for Garmin-Barracuda, overturned a 31-second deficit on the final day to leave Spain’s long-time race leader Joaquim Rodriguez in second overall and Belgium’s Thomas de Gendt third.
“I didn’t really think I was going to win until about 5km to the finish,” Hesjedal, who was in tears on the final podium, told reporters. “It’s hard to describe, this is a dream come true, since the first day I pulled on the pink jersey I believed I had a chance in this race.”
Hesjedal ended up triumphing by 16 seconds after being sixth quickest on the final stage through the streets of Milan, won by Italy’s Marco Pinotti.
It was a rare example of the pink jersey changing hands on the final day and was the first time since 1995 that there was no Italian on the Giro final podium.
Garmin-Barracuda’s best previous Grand Tour result was fourth overall in the 2009 Tour de France for Britain’s Bradley Wiggins.
Fourth spot was also the previous best placing for Canada in a three-week stage race, taken by Steve Bauer back in the 1988 at the Tour de France.
In a ding-dong battle with Rodriguez for the overall honor, Hesjedal moved into the lead on stage seven, but lost it four days later when the Spaniard attacked on an uphill finish in Assisi.
Hesjedal then returned to the top spot with a late attack at Cervinia on stage 14, but faded when Rodriguez regained the lead with another final-kilometer charge 24 hours later.
With less than a minute between the two top riders as they went into the third week, not even two mammoth stages in the Dolomites on Friday and Saturday seemed able to create a decisive gap.
Only Sunday’s final time trial produced a definitive victory for Hesjedal.
“I had to take a lot of risks strategically, but it’s been worth it. I’ve been riding my bike for a long time and had a lot of not-so-good moments,” Hesjedal said. “This is just the result of working hard and the team’s been behind me 100 percent, and I’ve just thrived off that support.”
After seeing off some huge pre-race favorites such as double Giro winner Ivan Basso and Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck, Hesjedal would not be drawn on if he would race in July’s Tour de France.
“I just want to enjoy this Giro win for now,” Hesjedal said after the fourth victory of his professional career. “We’ll wait and see.”
De Gendt took a surprise podium spot after his spectacular lone mountain victory on the Passo del Stelvio on Saturday to leave Michele Scarponi, promoted as winner last year after Alberto Contador’s drugs ban, in fourth.
Katusha’s Rodriguez gained little comfort from winning the points classification ahead of world champion Mark Cavendish, while Italy’s only cheer on home soil was Matteo Rabottini being named King of the Mountains and Lampre ISD winning the team points race.