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Hesjedal surprises ’em all; Cavendish misses out on points jersey; Urán best young rider; De Gendt?; Bravo Rogers!; Wiggins trains at altitude; What’s next?

Hesjedal surprises ’em all

Ryder Hesjedal’s name was barely mentioned at the start of the Giro d’Italia three weeks ago in Denmark. The organisers didn’t invite him to the press conference with the other ‘bigs’ and Italy’s leading sports newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport overlooked in its virtual GC following important stages.

This winter, Garmin-Barracuda’s manager, Jonathan Vaughters gave him the nod to lead its team in the biggest stage race behind the Tour de France. The Canadian focused on the goal. He edged closer and closer to the over lead following the two time trials. Come the mid-mountains down south, his rivals and the press could no longer ignore him.

“It’s been a lot of years of hard work, consistent work, improving all the time,” he explained in a post race press conference. “I think I showed my abilities in the Tour de France in 2010, riding in the GC. In my next Grand Tour, the 2011 Tour, I had some problems, but I showed my abilities in the third week.

“I had the opportunity to focus on this race 100 per cent, they said I’d be the leader for the GC, and I took it seriously. It doesn’t happen very often in a cyclist career. I came here with good legs, everyone in the team gave everything every day. That’s what it takes. That’s how I did it.”

The tall, slow-talking likable cyclist said one of his worst days was in stage 15 to Pian dei Resinelli, when he had to ride on his spare bike and lost 39 seconds to Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha). However, he gained confidence from wearing the pink jersey for four days and re-bounded in the remaining mountain stages.

Hesjedal gained 13 seconds on Alpe di Pampeago and lost two seconds on the Stelvio Pass to rival Rodríguez. In the time trial in Milan on Sunday, he made up his 31-second deficit and put in extra time to win the Giro d’Italia by 16 seconds.

“I never thought I’d win this Giro, but I was always focused on a good ride that would put me up there,” Hesjedal explained. “The day I put on the jersey the first time, I knew I was good and accomplishing something great, that pushed me even harder. … I knew in the third week, once I was doing the rides I was doing, it was possible.”

Top Canadian cyclist

Hesjedal’s feat, winning one of cycling’s Grand Tours puts him at the top of the list of Canadian cyclists. He related a story to explain the impact of his win at home.

“My friend told me that he overheard someone was in the bike section at a Canadian Tire [general] store asking where they could get the pink Garmin-Barracuda jersey!” Hesjedal explained. “Things have come a long way for Canadian cycling.”

Before Hesjedal, Steve Bauer was the reference point. He won the Dauphiné Libéré in 1989 and a stage in the 1988 Tour. He also wore the jersey for 14 days total in the 1988 and 1990 editions. Currently, four five Canadians ride for WorldTour teams: Hesjedal, Michael Barry (Sky), Dominique Rollin (FDJ Big Mat), Svein Tuft and Christian Meier (both Orica-GreenEDGE).

Giro welcomes first Canadian

The Giro d’Italia celebrated the first Canadian winner of a Grand Tour on Sunday in Milan. In the race’s 95 year history, only three times have riders from outside Eurasia won the race, 1987 with Ireland’s Stephen Roche and 1988 with USA’s Andy Hampsten.

“A Canadian winner like him wouldn’t be bad, honestly. No, not at all. Besides an international touch, he showed to be strong, to be there, to merit the win,” the Giro’s operations director, Mauro Vegni told Cycling Weekly.

“It’s good for the Giro to have an international win. We started in Denmark with an American, we continued and touched all the continents. To continue with a Canadian winner gives the race even more of an international feel.”

Cavendish misses out on points jersey

Mark Cavendish (Sky) fought through, but just missed out on the red points jersey in the Giro d’Italia. He placed second overall, one point behind Rodríguez’s 139 points.

He won three stages, but lost points due to crashes in two others and to placing second to Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini) in stage 18. His only hope was to beat Rodríguez and place top 15 in Sunday’s time trial.

“I knew it wasn’t really a possibility for a top 15, but I might as well give it a try. It’s disappointing, because we feel like we’ve done everything right for this jersey, but things were out of our control,” he said after his TT.

“Well, that’s life on the bike .I am happy for Rodríguez in a way, because it was tough for him to lose the pink jersey on the last day. At least he can stand on the podium with the red jersey.”

Watch a good interview that SBS did with Cav after the final TT of the Giro.

Urán best young rider

Sky lost the red, but took the white jersey of best young rider with Rigoberto Urán. The Colombian placed second ahead of team-mate Sergio Henao by 1’53” and seventh in the overall.

“He’s was fifth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège [last year], he’s a quality bike rider,” Sky’s team manager, David Brailsford said.

“The race can only have one winner, but as a young developing rider, you need to look for those little wins, sub-goals and keep motivated.”

The 25-year-old has completed five Grand Tours. His highest place prior to the Giro, was 24th overall in the Tour de France.

De Gendt?

Italian fans scratched their heads over the weekend. Most had never heard of Hesjedal or Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), who helped give the Giro d’Italia its first all-foreign podium since 1995.

“I knew him more as a time trail man than a climber,” Rodríguez said. “However, he was always there at the front and in the classification.”

De Gendt rode clear of his rivals on Saturday with an attack on the Mortirolo. He gained just over three minutes on his rivals and won the stage. He nearly took the pink jersey at one point, but still managed to give himself enough time to finish on the overall podium a day later.

“I don’t think anyone here was thinking about him! I was scared of him when he was taking off in the valley and it put me in a hard situation,” Hesjedal said. “Even if he trailed at 1’47” behind, I was still scared of him [in the TT]. He added more stress to the situation.”

De Gendt won a stage in Paris-Nice and held off Andy Schleck to win a stage in the Tour de Suisse last year. This year, he won another stage in Paris-Nice and on Saturday, one of the legendary stages in a Grand Tour. Every summer, he bases himself in Solda on the north side of the pass to train at altitude and has a good appreciation for the mountain.

He said on Saturday, “It’s amazing to be considered with the greats who’ve won on this mythical mountain.”

His next Grand Tour will be the Vuelta a España as he’s skipping the Tour de France to marry his fiancée.

Bravo Rogers!

Michael Rogers (Sky) won the Bayern-Rundfahrt in Germany over the weekend, his first stage race since the 2010 Tour of California.

He captured the win in style, too. In stage two, he escaped and won in a small group sprint. He defended his lead by winning the 26-kilometre TT on Saturday, placing ahead of team-mate Richie Porte.

Rogers said in a Sky press release, “It’s quite exciting times if we can achieve results like this coming off the back of quite an intense camp. I think that’s a sign of the team’s strength. I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing more of Team Sky riding on the front.”

He and Porte are expected to form part of Sky’s Tour team with leader Brad Wiggins.

Wiggins trains at altitude

Brad Wiggins is training to win the Tour de France in East Africa on Spain’s Tenerife island. He and some of his key Tour team-mates are based at a remote hotel at 2165m in the Teide National Park.

The location, with the ability to be able to train at sea level as well, has been the key to his success since last May. Since that time, he won the Critérium du Dauphiné, Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie, placed third at the Vuelta a España and second in the World Championships time trial.

“It’s so much easier for critics to start casting doubt rather than to appreciate what we are doing here and how everybody at Sky is working like dogs in a very focused way, especially up here on Teide. They don’t see how the modern sport is developing. They don’t want to,” he told The Telegraph.

“People will think what they will think but I’m not the slightest bit bothered. I don’t read the cycling press and I don’t Twitter anymore and let people know my business. I’m a cycling recluse really and love it.”

Wiggins, according to The Telegraph, will have climbed 100,000m by start of the Tour de France

“We knew in the 2010 Tour that I had struggled at the end of long climbs above 1700 metres and or when big efforts were required at altitude as riders attacked. So we have worked massively on that.”

He also gave an interview with The Guardian with Mick Rogers:

What’s next?

Many of the Tour de France favourites – including Wiggins, Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans – will race the Critérium du Dauphiné next week as a tune-up. Besides a chance to test against each other, they will be able to test themselves against the clock. The Dauphiné features a 53km TT, a good dry run for the Tour’s 41.5km TT on stage nine.

The stages:
Prologue, June 3, Grenoble ITT, 5.7km
Stage 1, June 4, Seyssins – Saint-Vallier, 187.0km
Stage 2, June 5, Lamastre – Saint-Félicien, 160.0km
Stage 3, June 6, Givors – La Clayette, 167.0km
Stage 4, June 7, Villié-Morgon – Bourg-en-Bresse ITT, 53.0km
Stage 5, June 8, Saint-Trivier-sur-Moignans – Rumilly, 186.5km
Stage 6, June 9, Saint-Alban-Leysse – Morzine, 166.5km
Stage 7, June 10, Morzine – Châtel, 126.0km

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