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By Andrew Hood
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Slipstream) made history Friday when he became the first Canadian to win a stage at the Vuelta a España.
Hesjedal also delivered Garmin’s second consecutive stage victory at the Vuelta with a gutsy late-stage performance up the grueling Velefique climb.
Hesjedal spoke exclusively to VeloNews following his emotional stage victory. Here are excerpts from his post-stage reaction:
VeloNews: Describe your feelings coming across the line.
Ryder Hesjedal: Unreal, just unreal. After being so close a few days ago, it’s just unreal. I don’t even know how to describe it. Yeah, I am going to get emotional.
VN: Talk us through the last few kilometers.
RH: (Xacobeo Galicia’s David Garcia) was pretty desperate. I could tell he was in trouble. It’s always dangerous. I could tell he was not very strong, but when he was sitting on, I knew those guys were coming fast, and I had to work. You never know, but I was strong enough to out-kick him and hold the rest of the guys off.
VN: What were you thinking when you heard the GC riders attacking from behind?
RH: It helped a lot to do the climb once. I knew once we got around that corner, it flatted out a little bit and I could get some speed. I knew if I got under the 1km-to-go sign with any sort of gap, I wasn’t going to give it up.
VN: So the strategy was to get someone in the break if a big group went?
RH: Yes, we always want to be up there when a break goes. Svein (Tuft) and Christian (Meier) did a really good job early on. It took a while to go. I am starting to get a good feel for that stuff. I got into that group pretty easy when that group. The group was working well together and I felt great all day. I was just praying I had enough time at the bottom of that climb to get up there.
VN: Were you calculating a bit on how much you could pace the climb?
RH: It was just perfect for the course. A good group like that working on the downhills, no one could take back time on those technical downhills. As long as we kept pace on the climbs, I never doubted that it was possible.
VN: What does this victory mean for you?
RH: It’s hard to put it into words right now. It’s a lifetime’s worth of work to win a stage like that. Even just coming down, every single guy that I’ve been racing with and I respect were giving me compliments and congratulations. That’s what it’s all about. This is what you work for.
VN: Was today the biggest moment of your career?
RH: I’d say so. I’ve had good days on the bike before. In my second half of my career, this is one of the biggest.
VN: Does this victory confirm your switch from mountain biking to the road?
RH: It’s been a few hard years. I only started completely racing on the road in 2005. I am very proud of where I am at.
VN: Who do you dedicate this victory to?
RH: To all my supporters, to everyone who’s believed in me.
VN: This is a big day for Canadian cycling as well?
RH: We’ll have to see how many Canucks have won a grand-tour stage. I don’t know the stats, we’ll see.