B.C.'s Ryder Hesjedal finishes 7th in the Tour de France
Canadian cycling fans had reason to cheer Sunday, as Victoria cyclist Ryder Hesjedal pedaled to seventh place in the world's premier cycling race, the 3,642-kilometre Tour de France.
It took 92 hours, nine minutes and three seconds for Ryder Hesjedal to deliver the best Canadian performance at the prestigious race in more than two decades.
Struggling to find the words, Hesjedal says the result is "monumental."
"It's hard to explain," he told CTV after the race wrapped up in Paris on Sunday. "I'll have that forever, for my whole life."
Not since Steve Bauer's fourth place finish in 1989 has a Canadian made headlines at the Tour.
In 2008 and 2009 Hesjedal was the only Canadian to compete in the race. He finished 49th in 2009 and 47th the year before.
Hesjedal, 29, started this year's race in service of his Garmin-Transitions team leader Christian Vandevelde. But when the American crashed out of the race in just the second stage, Hesjedal stepped up with a breakaway performance that vaulted him from 27th to fourth in the standings.
From there, he battled to remain near the top of the rankings, managing to hang on all the way to Paris.
Pedal Magazine's Benjamin Sadavoy hopes the performance will draw more attention to the sport.
"He put men's cycling on the map."
This year, Hesjedal was joined in the peloton by fellow Canadian Michael Barry. Competing in his first Tour de France for Team Sky, the 35-year-old Torontonian finished 99th.
"It's great for Canadian cycling," Barry told The Canadian Press when asked about Hesjedal's performance. "And I'm just happy for him. He's worked really hard towards it. And he's improved remarkably since the start of the year as well. It's nice just to see a Canadian and a friend perform that well."
While the Tour de France is undoubtedly the most-watched bicycle race in the world, it is not the only one to showcase Hesjedal's talents.
From his beginnings as a world-class mountain biker, Hesjedal was recently voted Canada's cyclist of the decade and male cyclist of the year. Recent victories include a win on the final stage of the Tour de California and a historic Canadian-first stage victory at the Spanish Vuelta.
Looking forward, Hesjedal hopes his example will inspire more Canadians to take up cycling.
"Other countries just have a lot more talent pools to develop from," Hesjedal said, noting that the popularity of hockey feeds the Canadian talent pool.
"It's really a numbers game and we haven't had the numbers in the sport to really develop the sport."
With his contract extended through 2013, it looks like Hesjedal will have plenty more chances to inspire more Canadians to get pedalling.
With files from CTV Ottawa's Daniele Hamamdjian and The Canadian Press