SAN JOSE, Calif. (VN) — Although he ended up in seventh place, Canadian Ryder Hesjedal not only earned stage 4’s most aggressive rider award but he also dynamited the race with his preemptive attack coming off the hors-cat Mount Hamilton climb that enabled his Garmin-Cervélo team to pack five riders into the top 12 of this sixth Amgen Tour of California.
Asked if his attack midway down the twisting descent from the 4,130-foot Mount Hamilton was pre-planned, Hesjedal told VeloNews, “There was an uphill section I’d heard that was a good launch pad, and we talked about it, so why not? It forced the race and I had some fun, and I think it worked out good.”
For part of his spectacular 15-mile breakaway, Hesjedal had the company of Rabobank’s strong German rider Paul Martens — though the Canadian’s old mountain bike skills saw him distance his rival on the faster, more technical sections of the interminable downhill into San Jose. And as soon as the pair turned right onto Sierra Road, with 3.6 miles remaining, Hesjedal sped clear. Martens would finish more than six minutes back.
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The 50-second lead that Hesjedal built up in his 15 miles off the front was closed within a mile of Sierra Road’s double-digit grades by an inspired Chris Horner, who was unselfishly pulling Levi Leipheimer, his co-team leader at RadioShack.
“I tried to stay with those guys the best I could,” Hesjedal said. “But I was a little bit more exerted (than they were) at that point.” Then, when Horner rode away from him exactly 2 miles from the line, the Garmin rider said, “It was all kind of slo-mo at that point. And Levi, with a teammate there, is gonna sit on me.
“Chris just kept the pace on and it was gonna be up to me to stay with him. So if I’m gonna drag Levi up to him, I’d put them in an even better position; and I’m obviously not at the time trial level of those two guys. It was more a case of waiting to see what was happening behind … you know, there’s no radios or anything like that.”
If there had been radios, Hesjedal would have known that as soon as Horner and Leipheimer rode clear that a small group of climbers, led for a long time by HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen, did their best to keep the Team RadioShack pair in their sights.
Up front, Hesjedal said, “I just wanted to stay comfy — Chris is in his own league — and Levi was sitting on me. So there was no real need for me to go crazy. I just waited to see who would come up.
“It was nice to see Tom (Danielson) there in a pretty select group. I was able to stay with those guys, and do the best I could for Tom and the team, to limit our losses to the race leader. But, in that final effort in the last kilometer, I couldn’t hang on to those guys. It was nice to see Christian (Vande Velde) come up too. We were all right there.”
Indeed, with Danielson in third overall (at 1:22), Vande Velde fourth (1:29), Hesjedal seventh (1:36), Andrew Talansky ninth (1:50) and Dan Martin 12th (2:05), Garmin has a golden opportunity to go on the attack again in Thursday’s hilly 135-mile stage from Seaside to Paso Robles. And that’s just how Hesjedal likes to race — and have fun!