TOUR DE FRANCE: Seamus McGrath talks Hesjedal, Tour de France

Seamus McGrath talks Hesjedal, Tour de France

Hesjedal’s working to keep team in lead

The Tour de France became an early dog fight for Victoria’s Ryder Hesjedal and team Garmin-Cervelo.

And that’s just what they wanted, said Seamus McGrath, a retired retired pro cyclist turned Tour de France couch-pundit.

The former Olympian is a dear friend of Hesedal’s and the two have kept up with daily phone chats throughout the tour.

As of Wednesday Garmin-Cervelo’s Thor Hushovd (Norway) retained the yellow jersey as the overall leader, ending stage 5 with the 109-rider peloton that crossed with a share of the day’s lead time.

“It’s not really about Ryder’s individual ambition right now, it’s about keeping the team in the yellow jersey,” said McGrath, who lives on the West Shore.

“(Garmin-Cervelo) is responsible for setting the pace at the front of the pack and keeping an eye on dangerous riders trying to break away.

“If one does, Ryder or a teammate must follow to keep pace, and not let them threaten the yellow jersey.”

And that’s just what happened in stage 5 on Wednesday, as Hesjedal, Christian Vande Valde (U.S.), David Millar (U.K.), Tom Danielson (U.S.), Julian Dean (N.Z.) and Tyler Farrar all came in with the peloton.

“To defend the jersey one more day is mission complete,” said Hesjedal in Wednesday’s team report.

“Thor did another great ride to stay in front and the team was very happy to stay out of trouble on another crash filled day. For me, the legs felt much better and that is always a good sign.”

It’s too early to expect Garmin-Cervelo to retain the yellow jersey for all 21 stages, but, with the Tour’s famous mountain stages looming, they’re doing what they need to before the sprinters are separated from the hill climbers.

“Stage 4’s hilltop finish was perfect for Thor, a sprinter with a bit of a build for the rolling hills,” McGrath said.

“Hesjedal and Vande Valde are the team’s leaders and are doing exactly what’s necessary, hanging in there until the hills,” McGrath said. “Right now the course is still flatter and the gaps in the standings are a matter of seconds. But in the hills, guys like Ryder – who is an exceptional climber – can pick up minutes in a day.

“With the next few stages somewhat flat, you can expect them to hold on to the jersey.”

People right now should focus on Hesjedal’s part of the team time trial win on Sunday (July 3), McGrath said.

“Hesjedal is a cream-of-the-crop elite cyclist, a climber who can hold his own in the sprint. It gives him a stage win on all three tours: Spain, Italy and France, the first Canadian to do that.”

As the tour grows increasingly mountainous, it will be Hesjedal’s role, along with Vande Velde, to battle legendary climbers like Alberto Contador for the Tour lead.