Each year the Tour de France offers up a myriad of story lines that demonstrate what makes it one of the preeminent annual sporting events in the world. This year it was special to see our very own Ryder Hesjedal as one of the biggest stories. Back when le Tour started rolling I mentioned that for it to be an enjoyable event to spectate this year, it would be great to see personal bests by the only two Canadians. Since it was Barry’s first appearance he had already achieved this mark (which shouldn’t be underestimated because a lot of very good cyclists never even go to the Tour). Victoria native, Ryder Hesjedal not only set a personal best, his seventh overall is the second best Canadian finish ever, and it has taken more than 20 years for us to get there. Only Steve Bauer’s 1988 fourth place finish, and five days in yellow surpasses Hesjedal’s accomplishments.
Some might not fully understand how impressive a top-10 finish at the Tour de France is. There are plenty of men that were in the race that are outstanding, either up and comers, or proven legends, and they didn’t make the top 10, including the likes of Armstrong, Basso, Evans, Cunego, and Wiggins to name just a few. There are elite riders, superstars of the sport, that enter the race not even considering to finish in the the top 30, or 50 even. To finish so high up means you have to possess the skills of a classics rider, a climber, a time-trialer, and the nerve to hang on in a sprint finish. On the world stage this is an outstanding athletic achievement for Hesjedal, and Canada. The best part is his humility, and determination. Nicknamed “Weight of a Nation” on twitter, Hesjedal quietly yet passionately went about putting together an impressive three week ride. Most cyclists finishing as high as he did require the support of a strong team, but he had to do it all himself. Complaints? Never. Instead he rose with humility to the mantle of team leader after Christian Vande Velde unfortunately crashed out. His attitude was very much Canadian. He chased the race, rather than have it chase him, but he never sounded cocky.
“People will probably say that I was stupid,” Hesjedal said of his breakaway move on stage 12 “but I am here to race. I would rather be out front and push the chance.”
“I’m just doing what I love to do” he calmly claimed after le Tourmalet where only three other riders bested him to the pinnacle of the entire race.
Ryder’s exploits also made it rather amusing to listen to Canadian sportscasters and newscasters struggle over what are famous names in the cycling world, yet rarely brought to many Canadians’ attention.
Congratulations to Contador. Great effort by Schleck. Menchov remains a force to be reckoned with, Vinokourov got his redemption, the French got their stage victories, but my biggest Chapeau goes to Ryder! Thanks for making us all proud.