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Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin - Transitions) put in a fine performance to finish fourth.
Canadian enjoys best day on the Tourmalet
Fourth on the most eagerly anticipated mountain stage of the 2010 Tour de France represented a new peak for Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions), one of the revelations of this year's race.
"It's my best day on the bike," he said afterwards, which perhaps wouldn't have been a sentiment shared by many on a day that featured atrocious weather, with rain and cold making the conditions as treacherous as they were unpleasant.
Yet it was an indication of how focused the Canadian had been on riding his own race, and tackling the Col du Tourmalet at his own pace, that he didn't know whether there had been any survivors from the break ahead of him at the finish.
No, he was told at the summit, there were only three riders in front of him - the leading duo of Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Alberto Contador (Astana) just over a minute ahead, with Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) nine seconds ahead of him in third.
As news of his fourth-place finish sunk in, Hesjedal's smile seemed to express as much surprise as satisfaction. "It was awesome, unbelievable," he said as he drew breath at the summit. "It was an epic day. I've been getting ready for this for the last few days, and I felt really good. I was happy with the way I rode."
Later, after changing into warm clothing on the team bus, Hesjedal reflected again on his "best day on the bike."
"Fourth on the Tourmalet, in the context [of how hard the stage was], sure, it's my best day on the bike," he said.
"I felt great, and I've been feeling better every day. I knew I was going to have a good day. I just stayed calm all day and that was it - I was able to follow and be comfortable all the way up the climb, then I was able to put a good move in at the end.
"As soon as the first attacks went from Alberto and Andy, and all the guys broke up behind, I was just super comfortable and was able to bridge up to the first chasers. [Robert] Gesink was doing most of the work and I was just comfortable. There was no need for me to do any more than sit tight and try a little dig at the end."
The performance saw Hesjedal jump two places to eighth overall, and he said he was confident he could defend that position in Saturday's time trial. "Definitely."
It's the third year in a row that the American team has unearthed a previously unheralded GC contender, after the fourth place finishes of Christian Vande Velde in 2008 and Bradley Wiggins last year.
Speaking on the rest day, 24 hours before the Tourmalet showdown, Jonathan Vaughters, Garmin-Transition's chief executive, said he wasn't surprised by Hesjedal's emergence. "I had a little discussion with him, right after the Spa day [stage two, which saw Vande Velde crash], and I said, ‘There's going to be more pressure on you for the rest of the race, are you ready for that?'
"He said, ‘yeah, I'm ready.' Ryder's been dying for this sort of opportunity and he's getting it. But he's riding according to testing we've done - this is well within his capabilities. He's a very strong rider, he's not explosive, and he doesn't fall apart very easily. He'll get better, too."