If you heard a loud and unsettling noise this morning at around 11 am, it was the sound of my head exploding with joy and pride as Canadian Ryer Hesjedal time-trialled his way into cycling history. He went into today’s time trial 31 seconds behind the leader, hammering his way through the streets of Milan to secure victory by a nail-biting 16 seconds.
Hesjedal was not only the first Canadian to win a stage of the gruelling 21 day Giro d’Italia, but today became the first Canadian to win any of the three Grand Tours of cycling – the Giro d’Italia, Vuelta d’Espana or Tour de France.
Not too shabby considering of all 198 starting riders in the general classification, only four were Canadian. Compared to countries like Italy, France and Spain that seem to produce pro riders by the bushel, Canada is typically more modest in numbers. But if there is anything we Canadians excel at, it’s modesty.
I won’t pretend to be a lifelong Hesjedal fan. In fact, I didn’t even pick him to be on my vicarious Giro pool team (stupid, stupid, stupid). I do know that he was a pretty big deal mountain biker and made the switch to road cycling in 2005. After his team leader Christian Van de Velde crashed and broke his ribs in the 2010 Tour de France, Hesjedal moved up the proverbial ranks to finish 6th overall, much to the surprise of…well, pretty much everybody.Like most Canadians, he is understated and polite. Throughout the Giro he frustrated the Italian media by consistently answering probing questions about how he felt about his performance or odds with a simple “good”, followed by twenty minutes of uncomfortable silence. But make no mistake, under that flaccid demeanour lurks the passionate heart of ten thousand angry lions. Early in the race, Hesjedal bristled when a journalist referred to him as a “dark horse”. Bristling is the Canadian equivalent of throwing a chair.
Today’s Giro win easily puts Hesjedal in the ranks of Canada’s cycling royalty – like Alex Steida and Steve Bauer (neither of whom can claim a grand tour victory). It has even been suggested he may, even for a brief moment, move ahead of Pamela Anderson on the list of famous Canadians.So how does a great Canadian react to such an incredible accomplishment? According to the Vancouver Sun, “he exhausted any dictionary list of adjectives”.
Photos: Sirotti, Andrew Vaughan, Bas Czerwinski/Associated Press.