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Hesjedal oh-so-close on Alpe d’Huez

By Andrew Hood • Updated
Ryder Hesjedal joined a group of escapees with a little under 50km to go in stage 20, and he outlasted most of them on the way to a third-place finish atop the Alpe d'Huez climb. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

ALPE D’HUEZ, France (VN) — “That’s rock star stuff.”

That was Ryder Hesjedal, thanking his Cannondale-Garmin teammate Ramunas Navardauskas at the top of cycling’s most famous mountain.

One by one, Cannondale-Garmin riders spun up to the team hotel, perched high above the 21 lacets of the climb. You could feel the tension easing out of the riders. There were backslaps, handshakes, and smiles all around.

“Way to go Ryder!” one fan yelled. “You made Victoria proud!”

Hesjedal waved back, his long skinny legs almost hobbled from the effort as he clipped out of the pedals. Third place atop l’Alpe d’Huez; Hesjedal just shook his head. It was a huge way to say goodbye to what’s been a bittersweet 2015 Tour de France for the team.

“I think we finished it off in our style, and really pushed the race right until the end,” Hesjedal told VeloNews. “You cannot ask for much more than that, almost winning on Alpe d’Huez.”

Hesjedal and Cannondale-Garmin went down swinging in the Tour’s last hard day of racing. With three second-place finishes so far in this Tour, the team swung for the fences on the penultimate stage of the race. And it almost paid off.

The team slotted Navardauskas into an early move, and then Hesjedal countered, sling-shotting away on the lower flanks of the Alpe d’Huez climb, linking up with eventual winner Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).

“I think I lost the wheel in the Dutch corner. That was pretty intense,” Hesjedal said with a smile creasing across his face. “That was pretty exciting.”

Saturday’s stage summed up Cannondale-Garmin’s Tour. Very close, but no cigar.

On Saturday, sport director Charly Wegelius gave the team one final pep talk.

“I told the guys, ‘If you win a stage on the Alpe d’Huez, you will earn a place in Tour history.’ Maybe that motivated them this morning,” Wegelius said. “We can be proud of how we raced this Tour. What Ryder did today reveals tremendous determination.”

Wegelius confirmed that Hesjedal was suffering with stomach problems over the past several days in the Alps. On Saturday, the Canadian knew he didn’t want to let his last chance in this year’s Tour go in vain.

“When you’re close like that, that hurts a little bit,” Hesjedal said. “The way I’ve been feeling, and the way I’ve been pushing, I am pretty happy with the way I’ve been able to ride. It’s good to finish off the Tour like that.”

Hesjedal crossed the line third, at 40 seconds back, two places short of victory. He couldn’t hold back the smile.

“For what I had in me, I have to be happy with what I was able to do today,” he said. “A lot of classy, big bike riders come away with nothing from this race. Everyone can’t have something. I think we can be happy with our Tour.”

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