Ryder Hesjedal made history in 2012 as the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour title, claiming the Giro d’Italia’s maglia rosa while racing with Garmin-Barracuda.
He finished sixth in the final stage, a 28.2km individual time trial in Milan and 47 seconds ahead of overnight leader Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) to claim the overall title by a mere 16 seconds.
Now, seven years removed from his final season on the WorldTour, last racing for Trek-Segafredo in 2016, Hesjedal was seen at this year’s stage 17, taking in all the pageantry surrounding the high-paced sprint finish won by Alberto Dainese (Team DSM).
“I love it. I love Italy. It’s always special to be here. You know, when you are on the ground here it is just incomparable to just watching on TV. I know that more than anybody just to be here, being on the other side of the fence, as you say, is nice,” the former road pro told Cyclingnews and a few reporters nearby.
He said he had been to a couple of starts and finishes on his visit to the Giro, since “I have the time to travel. I’ve been taking it pretty easy the past couple of years.”
Hesjedal noted that the Giro was alway unpredictable, especially in the final week of racing. In 2012, Hesjedal produced an incredible performance in the Alps two days before the final time trial to set up his opportunity at success. He out-performed his fellow rivals in the GC, Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi, on stage 19 and finished second to stage winner Roman Kreuziger atop Alpe di Pampeago. That put him into position to secure the overall victory on stage 21.
“This race is always about the last week. You can have one good moment in the last week, or a bad moment to change everything. I know that quite well. We’ll see,” he said, avoiding a pick of a winner.
“I don’t want to jinx anybody. I think everyone tries to get through the best they can and there’s still a lot of pedalling still to go even though they are on stage 17 today, it sounds like it is almost over but it’s not even close. They know what’s ahead of them. There’s no way you stand on the podium at the end of this race and not be the strongest and most complete rider.”
What has been special for him on this visit to the Giro? He quickly countered that it was special to see fellow Canadian Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech) vault to the world stage and take three podiums, so far. The ProTeam has four Canadians on its roster this year, and Gee is the lone Canadian representative in Italy.
“A guy like Derek [Gee], coming right to the front of the Giro on his first crack at it. It’s awesome. I don’t know what else you can ask for a programme,” he said about the 25-year-old who has earned a trio of second-place finishes in the first two weeks.
“It’s been incredible, the whole programme. I was at the Giro start when Sylvan Adams [team owner] was walking around and trying to figure out how to get what he wanted going. And I saw that from the very beginning, getting the start in Israel, I was there. And to see the team now and see what it is doing and being a real good entry for Canadian talent. I’m cheering all the time for those guys”