Cycling: Hesjedal wins one of the closest ever Giro d’Italia races by just 16 seconds


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The Independent Online

Ryder Hesjedal became the first Canadian winner of the Giro d’Italia today in the closest race for 38 years.

After 91 hours of racing over 21 stages, the title was decided by just 16 seconds – the smallest winning margin since Eddy Merckx’s 1974 12 second victory over Gianbattista Baronchelli.

Going into the final stage of the three-week Grand Tour, Hesjedal trailed Joaquim Rodriguez by just 31 seconds.

This left the Garmin rider with around one second to close for each kilometre of the 28.2km Individual Time Trial through the streets of Milan.

At 73 kilograms, Hesjedal is a stronger time-trialist than Rodriguez, who at 58kg is more suited to the mountains. The Spaniard’s race today was intended solely to “limit my losses as much as possible,” he said. To add injury to any insults, he suffered a collision with a crash barrier during a practice of today’s route.

But the race was really won in the unforgiving Dolomite Mountains where Hesjedal proved himself to be one of the best climbers on the Giro, riding far beyond his relatively heavy weight and even gaining valuable seconds on his main rivals during stage 19.

“We were supposed to drop Ryder Hesjedal but it's been the opposite,” Rodriguez said after stage 19, having failed to keep up with the Canadian. ”Hesjedal gave us a lesson. He has surprised me, really.”

Today, Hesjedal rode a strong race to average over 49km/h and finish in sixth place, 1minute 9 seconds behind stage winner Marco Pinotti. Rodriguez finished a further 47seconds down.

Clad in the leader’s pink skin-suit, Rodrigruez will have been all too aware that his lead was rapidly slipping away from him. As Hesjedal’s celebrations had already begun – the maple leaf being flown and hugs being exchanged over the safety barriers – the rider in pink was the only soul left on the road.

Having spent more than half the race as the overall leader, the Spaniard had to make do with the overall points classification – which he stole from Cavendish by one point after a fourth-placed finish yesterday.

The red jersey is the only Grand Tour points jersey that still eludes him. “It's disappointing for Mark, he's put a fantastic effort in over three weeks,” said Team Sky Principal Dave Brailsford. “To lose it by one point is quite gut-wrenching.”

The British team has had its most successful Giro d’Italia to date, thanks to Cavendish’s three three stage wins and Rigoberto Uran’s white young rider jersey.