The Garmin-Transitions team rightly celebrated late into the night in Paris after placing yet another rider in the top 10 overall with Ryder Hesjedal's surprise seventh place.
When Christian Vande Velde pulled out after stage two with fractured ribs and Tyler Farrar fractured his elbow and had problems in the sprints, team manager Jonathan Vaughters knew he had to come up with an alternative strategy. He put his hopes in Hesjedal, knowing that the Canadian had the form and ambition to step up and become the team's hope for overall success.
"We had to really rely on 'Plan B' but it worked out for us yet again," Vaughters told Cyclingnews with a hint of pride.
"It's three years in a row that we've produced the surprise of the Tour de France in the GC. If it was just one or two years, you could say it's a fluke but I don’t think it is. It's actually a testament of the organisation in the team. By that I mean the physiologists, the sports scientists, the great mechanics and soigneurs, the doctors, the management and the whole infrastructure."
Most teams are focused on their star riders, but we universally give access to wind tunnels testing, to the best biomechnical monitoring and best possible coaching. Doing it that way is more of a shotgun effect and costs a little bit more but you get the breakouts too."
Hesjedal seventh place, 10:15 behind Alberto Contador (Astana) was a true breakout performance.
His consistent results in the Ardennes classics and stage win at the Amgen Tour of California showed that he is a talented rider. But the way Hesjedal handled the pain, the suffering and mental stress of competing in the Tour de France for three weeks, showed his special stage race ability.
"Ryder was definitely going to be Christian's biggest help in the mountains. But I don’t think he himself ever thought about riding GC in the Tour de France but when the chance was thrust on him, he was ready," Vaughters said.
"I knew he could do it because I can remember when Christian was struggling on the stage to Jausiers and Ryder was the guy who slowed down to help him. If you’re strong enough to do that, you can be in front too. I think Ryder just needed a little confidence and a chance. He got it and took."
Hesjedal has become headline news in Canada, 20 years after Steve Bauer finished fourth overall in the Tour de France. There maybe pressure for him to try and better Bauer's performance in the future and focus more on the overall classification at the Tour. However, Vaughters hopes he can continue to race aggressively throughout the season.
"That's always that big question for riders who have a good Tour de France. But I think it'd be a mistake to change too many things with Ryder and over focus on the Tour de France," he said.
"How many riders have we seen in that top 10 arena who to decide to focus on the Tour de France the year after their success but then fail to live up to the expectations? They change their race schedule and forget about the races they used to do well in and things start to go wrong."
"I think for riders like Ryder, it's better to just race and stick with what worked best. Of course we can make some tweaks and improvements, perhaps for the time trials, but I think that it's best for him to ride hard in the classics, that he takes a break and then races hard at the Tour de France as well. Schleck and Contador do that. They raced hard in the Paris-Nice, in the Ardennes and in the Dauphine Libere. I think that's the beat way for Ryder to go forward in 2011but of course he will back at the 2011 Tour de France."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.