giro italia

The Canadian Press

MILAN, Italy — Victoria’s own Ryder Hesjedal became the first Canadian to win one of cycling’s three major tour races on Sunday, when he overhauled Spanish leader Joaquin Rodriguez on the final stage to take the 95th Giro d’Italia.

Hesjedal started the 21st stage in Milan a full 31 seconds behind Rodriguez, but finished 16 seconds ahead of him in the overall standings.

The Victoria native took 34 minutes 15 seconds to complete the 28.2-kilometre individual time trial, placing sixth — 20 places ahead of his Spanish rival.

“It’s just been an unreal experience from day one, what the team was able to do. It’s unbelievable,” said Hesjedal, who finished the overall race in 91:39:02.

“This is incredible. It’s a dream come true.”

hesjedal win1
Victoria’s Ryder Hesjedal celebrates his win in the Giro d’Italia (AP Photo/Daniele Badolato)

The 31-year-old Hesjedal, only the third non-Italian to win the Giro in the past 15 years, thanked everyone who had helped him over the previous weeks.

“I couldn’t have done it without the team,” he said. “I knew I was good when I came into the race. I stayed focused and took every opportunity. The support, the fans at home, it’s all unreal. I’d like to thank everyone.”

Marco Pinotti won the final stage in 33:06, 39 seconds ahead of Geraint Thomas.

Hesjedal and Rodriguez were the last two riders to start. Although Rodriguez had worn the pink jersey for 10 days over the course of the race and gave it his all on Sunday, he ended the stage in 35:02.

Thomas De Gendt, who rode to a memorable solo win atop the Stelvio Pass on Saturday, put in another good performance to finish third overall, 1:39 behind Hesjedal. The Belgium had been 5:40 behind Rodriguez at the start of stage 20.

Defending champion Michele Scarponi was fourth. It is the first time since 1995 that an Italian has not finished on the podium in the Giro, one of the sport’s top three races with the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta. Two-time Giro winner Ivan Basso was fifth, 3:44 off the pace.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was among the Canadians celebrating Hesjedal’s victory.

“This remarkable win in one of bicycle racing’s most gruelling competitions is a testimony to Mr. Hesjedal’s training, endurance, skill and competitive spirit,” Harper said in a statement.

On Twitter, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong praised Hesjedal’s achievement.

“Congratulations to @ryder_hesjedal on his incredible victory in the #giro. Gotta love it when the best man wins,” tweeted Armstrong.

Toronto cyclist Michael Barry added: “Emotional moment watching the Canadian flags go up in Milan and hearing the anthem. Congrats @ryder_hesjedal You’ve inspired us all.”

The final stage was shortened by more than a kilometre due to roadworks.