Giro d’Italia win pushes Hesjedal to top male Canadian athlete award,
First Canadian to claim victory in a Grand Tour event
TORONTO • Don’t tell Ryder Hesjedal he won the Giro d’Italia on the last day.
His victorious ride lasted 91 hours 39 minutes and two seconds over 21 stages, covering 3,503.8 kilometres from Herning, Denmark, to Milan.
It took 23 days in May — there were two rest days — and the help of every one of his Garmin-Sharp teammates and support staff for Hesjedal to become the first Canadian racer to win a Grand Tour event and only the second non-European to win the Giro.
His journey from peloton to podium took him more than a dozen years as a pro, from mountain biker to road racer.
And now it has led him to the Lionel Conacher Award, the first cyclist to be named Canadian Press male athlete of the year.
“An incredible honour,” the softspoken Hesjedal said from his offseason home in Hawaii.
“I finished 2011, I got married to my beautiful wife (Ashley) and I was just focused on that goal — taking a crack at the Giro and knowing that deep down I have the capacity for three-week racing,” he added.
“For the season to unfold the way it did in the spring and have that perfect run really, in respect to my training was just right, I didn’t get sick, I had no setbacks. To arrive at the Giro and have it unfold the way it did, I had the opportunity to show myself and that’s what athletes dream of.”
The award is named after the multi-sport athlete who was chosen Canada’s athlete of the half-century. The winner of the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada’s female athlete of the year will be announced Thursday.
Hesjedal finished with 139 points and 32 first-place votes in balloting of sports editors and broadcasters across the country. Tennis star Milos Raonic was runner-up with 131 points and 26 first-place votes.
Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish was third (87, 14), followed by Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos (69, 12) and figure skater Patrick Chan (68, 11).
“Ryder Hesjedal put himself, and Canadian cycling, on the world stage with his historic victory in the Giro d’Italia,” said Yahoo’s Steve McAllister.
Cycling has taken its share of body blows this year with Lance Armstrong’s spectacular fall from grace.
But voters around the world have singled out cyclists from the sport’s current crop for their efforts.
In addition to Canadian media honouring Hesjedal, Tour de France winner and Olympic time trial champion Bradley Wiggins was recently named the 2012 BBC Sports Personality of the Year. And Tom Boonen was chosen Belgium’s Sportsman of the Year.
Whatever happens in 2013, Hesjedal has already earned his place on the Giro honour roll alongside legends like Miguel Indurain, Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil.