An exhausted Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) crossed the line at the airfield above Mende, having conceded some time on the final climb, but with no regrets about the huge effort he expended on a stage that many described as the toughest so far of the 2010 Tour de France.
Instead, the Canadian looked back with satisfaction on a day in which he was the highest-placed rider on general classification to make it into the eighteen-man break that went clear on the second climb. It was a gamble, he acknowledged, that could have paid off spectacularly.
And although it didn't, he said that he was happy to have had a go: “I’m here to race... I’m not scared to go hard and leave it out on the road.”
Hesjedal’s great escape lasted until the foot of the final climb to the airfield, when he lost contact with the three other survivors - Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) and Vasil Kiryienka (Caisse d’Epargne) - though he limited his losses, finishing 24th, 53 seconds behind Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alberto Contador (Astana).
“I’d rather race than just sit and follow,” said Hesjedal. “When those guys came by on the [final] climb it wasn’t even that hard, after the amount of effort I did today, and I only lost 50 seconds or so.
“People will probably say it was stupid [to attack], but I’m here to race,” he continued, “and I’d rather be out front. It was good guys at the end there - to make the selection with Vino and Klöden was good.
“I did so much at the beginning - I wanted to be in that break, but the effort adds up at the end. But I felt good. And if we had stayed away, if I’d won the stage or gained a few minutes... you never know [if that’s possible] until you try.’
Hesjedal said that the role he has assumed as Garmin-Transitions team leader is one he is comfortable with. He was unaware at the finish that Tyler Farrar, the team’s sprinter, had abandoned mid-stage - a withdrawal that perhaps strengthens Hesjedal’s status as team leader.
"I didn’t know Tyler had dropped out,” said Hesjedal, “that’s too bad. We’ve had bad luck in our team, and I feel for those guys who’ve been banged up and hurt since stage two. It’s been a hard Tour so far, and it’s just getting going.
"I think I showed today I can lead the team,” he said. “That was probably one of the hardest days so far, but I’m not scared to go hard and leave it out on the road.
"We’ve got the hardest days coming up, and we’ll see what today did to me, but I’d rather take the chance, and maybe come off with something big, than just follow. This Tour is all about testing the limits for me."
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Richard Moore is a freelance journalist and author. His first book, In Search of Robert Millar (HarperSport), won Best Biography at the 2008 British Sports Book Awards. His second book, Heroes, Villains & Velodromes (HarperSport), was long-listed for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
He writes on sport, specialising in cycling, and is a regular contributor to Cyclingnews, the Guardian, skyports.com, the Scotsman and Procycling magazine.
He is also a former racing cyclist who represented Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at the 1998 Tour de Langkawi
His next book, Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, will be published by Yellow Jersey in May 2011.
Another book, Sky’s the Limit: British Cycling’s Quest to Conquer the Tour de France, will also be published by HarperSport in June 2011.