Ryder Hesjedal of team Garmin-Barracuda capped off a scintillating three weeks of bike racing in Milan over the holiday weekend by winning the 95th annual Giro d’Italia.
Hesjedal becomes the first Canadian to ever win not just the Giro, but any of Europe’s three Grand Tours. The victory came in dramatic fashion, too: after 20 stages and 3,460 kilometers of racing that was plagued by finish-line crashes, the final standings came down to just 30 kilometers of asphalt in Sunday’s finale time trial in Milan.
In the penultimate stage 20 finish atop the Stelvio—arguably cycling’s most famous climb (okay, maybe tied with France’s Alpe D'huez)—Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez finished fourth. Fast enough to pick up the pink jersey and a 46-second time advantage over the second-place Garmin-Baracudda rider. Hesjedal needed to make up 31 seconds on the then-pink-jersey-holder, Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez, riding for Russian team Katusha.
Going into the final time trial, Ryder was well within reach, but anything can happen in a tight bike race—especially after 20 days averaging 100 miles a day. One unfortunate example was American Tyler Phinney, who wore the maglia rosa for the first three stages of the Giro before a series of untimely crashes pushed him towards the back of the pack. Phinney was looking to bookend his trip to Italy with a grand-finale win in the time trial—a discipline that suits him well. His race got off to a great start until the police motorcycle he was following led Phinney through a wrong turn, requiring the young American to stop, turn around, and relocate the course. A favorite on the day, Phinney ended up finishing a minute and a half off the pace in a disappointing 16th place.
Meanwhile, the battle for who would win the maglia rosa for good was down to a two-man fight. With the next-closest contender for the overall leader’s jersey down a full 1:30 behind Rodriguez, all eyes were on the lanky Canadian to come through, and he didn’t disappoint when Sunday’s stage kicked off.
By the very first checkpoint, Hesjedal had made up 29 seconds of his 31-second deficit. By the second, 25 minutes into the stage, Hesjedal was up 15 seconds on Rodriguez and appeared to be riding aggressively through every corner, to the point of almost crashing out at least once.
Rodriguez wasn’t ceding the lead easily. “Up to the last bend, I told myself anything could happen. I took every risk possible,” he told VeloNews. “I gave it my all. It was only at the finish that I knew I’d lost the Giro, and that makes it even harder.”
Thomas De Gendt of team Vacansoleil-DCM came in third behind Rodriguez, 1:39 back, while Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) took fourth at 2:05, and two-time Giro GC winner Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) came in fifth, 3:44 off the pace.
In the end, the 2012 Giro d’Italia turned out to be the closest contest since 1974, when legend Eddy Merckx beat Gianbattista Baronchelli by a mere 12 seconds. Hesjedal not only cements his place in the history books with a significant Grand Tour win, but his newly minted GC contender status also will undoubtedly be a hot topic of speculation coming into the Tour de France in July.