Ryder Hesjedal didn’t come to the Tour de France to sit in.
The Garmin-Transitions rider arrived at this year’s Tour with the intention of flogging himself for team leader Christian Vande Velde. But when Vande Velde crashed out on stage 2, Hesjedal wasted no time in redirecting his energy, getting into a break on the cobbles of stage 3, riding well with the leaders in the high Alps, and driving a dangerous break until the bitter end on stage 12.
“People will probably say that I was stupid,” Hesjedal said of his breakaway move, “but I am here to race. I would rather be out front and push the chance.”
With American sprinter Tyler Farrar abandoning the race along with his lead-out man Robbie Hunter, Hesjedal now shoulders the leadership for Garmin. The Canadian rider — long nicknamed “weight of a nation” — now carries the weight of a team. He sits in 13th overall, 6:25 back.
On stage 12, Hesjedal went on the attack early, jumping clear with two others on the first climb of the day, the Cat.3 Côte de Saint-Barthélémy-le-Plain. That move was caught, as were successive counterattacks. On the day’s second second climb, the Cat. 3 Col des Nonières, Hesjedal again charged his way into a move, this time an 18-man march that featured Andreas Klöden (RadioShack), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Thor Hushovd (Cervélo).
At 50km to go, Vinokourov, Klöden, Hesjedal and Vasil Kiryienka (Caisse d’Epargne) sprung free of their breakaway partners. They were not caught until the closing kilometers on the steeps of the Cat. 2 Mende climb.
“That was one of those moves were it could have been anything,” Garmin director Matt White said of the 18-man move. “You saw many, many teams chasing the break there, defending their seventh place or eighth place. To me, it’s a little bit silly, but that’s the Tour de France. Some guys are happy with ninth place in the Tour de France, and they’re not racing for victory. We had to gamble today and we’ll gamble again.”
When Hesjedal was caught, he kept the gas on and finished 24th, 53 seconds back.
“It was good guys there at the end — Vino’ and Klodi and guys like that. I did so much in the beginning, I wanted to be in that break, and I just didn’t have it at the end, but I felt good,” Hesjedal said. “If we had stayed away and I had won the stage or got a few minutes it would have been great. You never know until you try.”
Hesjedal said he was enjoying the leadership role at Garmin.
“It feels good. I think I showed that today,” he said. “I got in the break and it didn’t let up all day. I am not scared to go hard and leave it out there on the road. We have probably the hardest days of the Tour coming up.
“We will see what today did to me, but again, I would rather take the chance and go for something big than just follow.”