Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) went some way to rescuing his team’s Tour de France with a gutsy, although eventually unsuccessful ride, on stage three from Wanze to Arenberg.
The aggressive Canadian all-rounder broke away with Steve Cummings (Team Sky), Pavel Brutt (Katusha), Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Roger Kluge (Milram), Stéphane Auge (Cofidis) and Imanol Erviti (Caisse d'Epargne) early in the stage, gaining a maximum lead of nearly five minutes.
As the battle between the overall contenders intensified behind, Hesjedal made a solo bid for glory with 41 kilometres to go. He was eventually reeled in with less than six kilometres to go by a chase group containing Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Cadel Evans (BMC) and Geraint Thomas (Sky). However he hung on for a well-deserved fourth place.
The former mountain biker crossed the line exhausted and covered in dust. “I just wanted to ride a good stage today,” he told Cyclingnews. “It was an epic stage. I left mountain biking and everyone said I’d be good in Roubaix but my first few experiences weren’t great. Once I got in the break at the start of the day I thought I’d just get up the road and see what happened.”
“It would have been nice to win but there were some classy guys coming up and to be able to stay with those guys in the end was nice. Now we’ll see what happens in the next few days.”
Garmin-Transitions suffered a terrible series of crashes and injuries on stage two, losing their overall contender and team captain Christian Vande Velde, while sprinter Tyler Farrar also crashed and fractured a wrist. Today they fought back with pride.
Thanks to finishing in the same time as Cancellara, Evans Schleck and Thomas, Hesjedal now sits fourth overall, 46 seconds down on new leader Fabian Cancellara. The Canadian has never been considered as an overall contender in anything but week-long stage races but with Vande Velde out of the Tour de France, he could become Garmin’s joker in the overall pack.
“We’ll see what happens. It’s just day by day. I want to race good and take my opportunities,” he said.
Team boss Jonathan Vaughters was reluctant to put any pressure on Hesjedal: “We have to see but he’s certainly our best and only GC option. We’ll see how it goes,” he said.
Hesjedal also praised Vande Velde, dedicating his performance to the American, who was forced to quit the race after breaking two ribs and suffering a nasty cut to his left eye that needed five stitches.
“We all love Christian. At the hotel this morning it was tough and in a way that was a ride for him. He’s not just the leader of the team but a friend of mine. It’s tough. He gave me some nice words of encouragement this morning and I think I made good on that.”