Canada's Ryder Hesjedal is making the right moves on his bicycle at the right time to become the first Canadian to lead the Giro d'Italia.
The designated leader's jersey in the Italian tour is pink. But it will be six weeks before Hesjedal knows if earning that colour makes him "hot" enough on the bike to be selected as part of the Olympic team. The Canadian will not only have to compete solo on a sprinter's course in the July 28 road race but also recover in time for the time trial Aug. 1.
"That was a tough day," he said of Sunday's 11th-place finished in the 229-kilometre eighth stage of the Italian classic. He lost ground – about six seconds – in the overall leadership. He said in a message, "I'm really happy to hang onto the jersey. … The team was incredible again and really showed our strength in the hard beginning of the stage. We were happy with the break and the guys did a great job defending the jersey. I just had to follow my closest competitors on the final climb and I was able to do that. Mission accomplished."
The 31-year-old Victoria cyclist is competing in his third Giro.
A talented and experienced Canadian Olympic pool for men's road race cycling has been selected – Hesjedal, Michael Barry of Toronto, Svein Tuft of Langley, B.C., David Boily of Quebec City, Guillaume Boivin of Longueuil, Will Routley of Langley, B.C., Dominique Rollin of Boucherville, Que., Bruno Langlois of Quebec City, Christian Meier of Sussex, N.B., Ryan Roth of Cambridge, Ont., and David Veilleux of Cap Rouge, Que. From this group one nominee will emerge.
"It depends on whether coaches and selectors think we have a better chance in the time trial or the road race," said a Canadian Cycling Association source. "The thing is, because we don't have a team as such in the road race, it's very tough to win solo. Ryder finished well in the past two Tours de France – sixth two year ago. On the other hand, Svein Tuft is an eight-time Canadian time trial champion and a world silver medal winner in time trial in 2008.
"There are Canadian championships coming up, but they aren't part of the qualifying process. They'll have a role in deciding who's hot. We've got to look at our specialists and decide where we increase our chances of getting a medal."
Hesjedal credits the success in Italy to the Garmin-Barracuda pro team's effort "for the incredible dream they are letting me experience." said Hesjedal, who wants to impress the pack as a consistent leader.
"I'm not here to win the Giro, my aim is to wear the pink jersey for as long as possible," he said.
Prior to this weekend, the closest a Canadian had approached to the Giro's overall lead was in 1987 when Steve Bauer, of St. Catharines, Ont., was only 0.3 seconds off the lead.
"It's awesome, certainly a landmark accomplishment," Bauer said. "It shows the progress of our nation. Ryder is without a doubt a leader in the progress, on a large scale. … It's long overdue, and great to see."
Domenico Pozzovivo took the eighth stage thanks to a break just under seven kilometres from the finish of the leg from Sulmona to Lago Laceno to win in 6 hours 6 minutes 5 seconds. Defending champion Michele Scarponi moved up into 12th on the day, 54 seconds behind Hesjedal.
Canadian Rollin was 100th to go up six places to 144th overall. Tuft was well back at 150th for the stage to remain 161st overall. Meier finished 179th. The Giro continues Monday with a sprinter's stage, the 171-kilometre leg from San Giorgio del Sannio to Frosinone.