Canadian Ryder Hesjedal made cycling history Friday, becoming the first Canadian to win a stage of the storied Spanish Vuelta.
And the 28-year-old from Victoria did it the hard way by claiming the mountainous 12th stage, a punishing string of climbs spread along the 179-kilometre course.
"Profile-wise, it could be the hardest day of the tour - 5,000 metres of climbing," Hesjedal told The Canadian Press. "Just really long climbs. We did three long ones and a medium-distance one before the last climb. So it's about as hard a mountain stage as you could possible do on the bike. That makes it even sweeter also."
Hesjedal, who rides for Garmin-Slipstream, finished in five hours 34 minutes 31 seconds - one second faster than Spanish rider David Garcia.
He becomes the first Canadian to win any Grand Tour stage since Steve Bauer in 1988. The accomplishment was even sweeter after he came so close in the 10th stage earlier in the week, coming second.
"It's probably the highlight of my career," Hesjedal said of the win. "To come so close a couple of stages ago. The opportunities are very, very few in this sport. And for everything to go right on the day is a whole other thing. To be so close on stage 10 and to miss out, I couldn't live with that. To have the chance today, I never doubted once I'd have the ability to make good.
"To win a Grand Tour, mountain stage, more than halfway into the race, it's a very big victory," he added. "I'm never going to forget it, that's for sure. It's going to be hard to top any time soon all those circumstances that happened today."
Dutch rider Robert Gesink and Zequiel Mosquera of Spain were both six seconds back.
"It was all down to the wire, in the last 500 metres," Hesjedal said.
Overall leader Alejandro Valverde of Spain, riding for Caisse D'Epargne, finished 16 seconds back in sixth to maintain a seven-second advantage over Cadel Evans, who was seventh. Italian rider Ivan Basso was eighth in the same time.
Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde remained the overall leader.
Hesjedal's Garmin teammates Christian Meier and Svein Tuft, both of Langley, B.C., were 57th and 145th respectively. Dominique Rollin of Boucherville, Que., who rides for the Canadian-owned Cervelo Test Team was 114th.
Hesjedal, the top Canadian in the overall classification at 37th, acknowledged he did not feel that good at the start Friday despite a rest day Thursday.
"I actually felt pretty tired this morning. Once you've been going at a high level, (on) the rest day, the body thinks it's getting a chance to rest and shut down a bit.
"But once we got going and the legs were churning, I felt really good."
He celebrated with a couple slugs from the bottle handed to him on the podium and at a team dinner afterwards.
The 21-stage race, which covers 3,266.50 kilometres, ends Sept. 20.
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