Tuesday’s stage 16 was a day of constant incline, the first of many to come.
Finishing third-overall, Victoria’s Ryder Hesjedal was a prominent figure in the stage win by Thor Hushovd.
Hesjedal guided the days’ most successful breakaway group, paced that group to catch the day’s biggest escapee and, with 50 metres remaining, pulled up to let teammate Hushovd shoot over the finish line first, just ahead of Edvald Boasson Hagen (second).
“(Garmin-Cervelo) had the power and the numbers in their breakaway and an excellent tactical position that they couldn’t really lose,” said local analyst Seamus McGrath, a retired pro cyclist and close friend of Hesjedal.
Tuesday saw a series of breakaway attempts, most being caught by the peloton. It took the right combination of riders who, individually, posed little to no threat of challenging for the overall jersey. It just so happened Hesjedal and Hushovd timed their attack with eight other riders to make that winning combination, McGrath said.
“We saw the peloton ease up on their defence with (Hesjedal’s group). Hesjedal is in that position now where he isn’t in contention for the overall lead, so he can now make attacks for a stage win without the lead teams worrying about him gaining time on the yellow jersey. It’s six of one or half a dozen of the other, because he’s not in the spot light or in front of the cameras everyday.”
Once ahead, the power and teamwork of the Garmin-Cervelo duo whittled the breakaway group down to three riders with Boasson Hagen.
Strategy led to the decision to have Thor attack in the final 50m rather than risk Hesjedal chance losing to Boasson Hagen, a known sprinter on the flats.
Had the stage ended earlier on the hill it likely would’ve been Hesjedal’s to win, McGrath said.
Since falling out as a candidate to take the overall title he’s quickly reasserted himself as an elite cyclist by helping both Tyler Farrar and Hushovd with stage wins.
Despite not being a prospect for the ultimate glory, Hesjedal’s gain of four minutes and 42 seconds on the yellow jersey holder Thomas Voeckler (France) moves the lone Canadian into 28th overall, 20 minutes and 36 seconds back.
Wednesday’s stage 17 is one for the record books, an incline from Gap to Italy’s Pinerolo, marked by a 46km descent prior to an eight km hill finish.