DUNDAS, Ontario (VN) — When Ryder Hesjedal became the first Canadian to win the Giro d’Italia on Sunday, he sparked the interest of a nation. The country’s major media outlets picked up the news and the prime minister congratulated the Vancouver Island native.
But Before Hesjedal, there was Steve Bauer, whose fourth-place finish in the 1988 Tour de France stood for more than two decades as Canada’s top grand tour result.
“It’s an evolution of Canadian cycling, it’s an evolution of an athlete called Ryder Hesjedal… if you follow the sport and see what Ryder’s done, he’s been on the cusp of a huge performance,” Bauer said Sunday. “Chapeau, monumental performance, exceptional for him, for Canadian cycling, for Canadian sport.”
Bauer spoke to VeloNews at the Domestique-Café Cyclo Sportif, a coffee spot that is a hotbed of cycling culture in the Greater Toronto Area. Located in Dundas, Ontario, the Domestique is a frequent ride destination and hangout for cyclists of all skill levels and the space is filled with everything from press passes to historical race bikes to a Bauer yellow jersey. And great coffee of course.
Dundas is more than 2,500 miles from Vancouver Island, but on Sunday the shop was filled to capacity with folks who wanted to share a very special moment in cycling history. Fans rode, walked and drove from miles around to be part of the collective cheering of Hesjedal.
Olympian Sue Palmer-Komar arrived in her kit and watched much of the race with her helmet still on. Bauer made a point of being there and his presence drew the media outlets along, too. The cafe is a small place so it was quickly crowded and shortly after 10:30 a.m. local time the sound of cowbells and cheering was deafening as Hesjedal took to the start.
Palmer-Komar described Hesjedal as “the greatest athlete in Canada now,” and was firm in her opinion that he deserves to represent Canada at the Olympics.
Prior to the race, people were positive and confident in Hesjedal’s ability to win. Hesjedal himself said after the race that it wasn’t until around 5km to go that he really believed it would happen, but Bauer was more confident. The Spidertech-C10 boss thought Hesjedal could beat Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) by a minute. Mirek Mazur, who coached Olympic gold medalist Clara Hughes, amongst other top cyclists, was also confident, simply saying “sure!” when asked if Ryder could win.
No other rider has carried the Canadian torch in men’s cycling over the last decade better than Michael Barry (Sky). A four-time Giro finisher, Barry helped Paolo Salvodelli win the overall with Discovery Channel in 2005.
“Ryder’s performance is remarkable and it will place him with cycling’s great icon,” said Barry on email Sunday. “From the fan’s perspective, the race has been fantastic to watch and surely it will go down as one of the most exciting grand tours ever. His ride has inspired me and I hope the rest of Canada feels the same.”
If the mood at the Domestique Café was any indicator, Canada does indeed feel the same.
“In the 1980s and ‘90s, Steve Bauer’s results at the Tour and in the classics brought cycling in Canada into the spotlight,” said Barry. “Slowly, cycling is returning to the headlines and this Giro will hopefully only bring the sport more prominence.”
As for Bauer, he was clearly enjoying the atmosphere and the rise of a new star. When he launched the now-Pro Continental Spidertech squad, Bauer brought one of his yellow jerseys to the presentation as a reminder and to help set a clear objective: he wanted to develop talented cyclists capable of accomplishing what he did and more.
His smile on Sunday was huge. And Bauer was perhaps a little satisfied that finally there is another name to put up alongside his own. Passionate and patriotic, Bauer was the first to take off his cap when the national anthem played for Hesjedal’s victory. He knew better than anyone in the room how it feels to be on the stage at a grand tour in a moment like that.
“There’s almost an element of calm, ‘has this really happened?’” said Bauer. “I guess that’s the Canadian in us.”