Hesjedal climbs to eighth

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal has already won new admirers and a new contract at this year’s Tour de France.

Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal

Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal has already won new admirers and a new contract at this year’s Tour de France.

Now he’s looking to finish it off in style.

The 29-year-old from Victoria was an impressive fourth in Thursday’s stage on the historic Col du Tourmalet climb in the Pyrenees, bumping him up two places to eighth overall.

This year’s race marks the 100th anniversary of the first stage in the Pyrenees and Hesjedal’s gritty performance through mist and rain further confirmed his place among the sport’s current elite.

“A lot of history,” he said of Thursday’s climb, adding about his ride up it: “I think it will set in more once we finish in Paris.”

There are three stages left before the race ends Sunday in Paris, but only one that may impact the standings — Saturday’s 52-kilometre time trial.

“That just comes down to what kind of form you have and I think I’ve shown my form is very good, if not the best it’s been in the whole race — in the third week,” the Garmin-Transitions rider told The Canadian Press.

“We have the top equipment, top technology on this team. So I’m nothing but excited for the time trial. I’m definitely not thinking about moving backwards. I’m only looking forward.

“After Saturday it should just be a nice ride into Paris.”

Steve Bauer holds Canada’s best overall showing at the Tour, a fourth-place finish in 1988.

After more than 83 hours and 17 stages in the saddle, Hesjedal is nine minutes 18 seconds behind leader Alberto Contador of Spain.

Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver of Spain is seventh, 2:15 ahead of Hesjedal. Dutch rider Robert Gesink is sixth, 2:37 ahead of the Canadian.

“Seventh and sixth aren’t known as extraordinary time-trialers so a lot can happen in 52 k. I’m just going to keep approaching the race (the same way) I have the whole time,” Hesjedal said. “If I can move up again on the TT (time trial), it’ll be even more sweeter.

“But the ride today, what I was able to do and where I am right now, I mean it doesn’t get much better.”

Hesjedal has already been rewarded by a three-year deal that will keep him with Garmin-Transitions through 2013.

It’s a reward for his outstanding performance — and his ability to step up to the plate after the team lost Christian Vandevelde, Tyler Farrar and Robert Hunter in the Tour.

Instead of riding in support of Vandevelde, who crashed in Stage 2, Hesjedal seized the initiative on Stage 3 and raced to fourth spot.

His strong showing has continued during some of the race’s hardest stages.

On Thursday, Hesjedal took time to pay tribute to the injured Vandevelde, who had been the team’s main man until the crash took him out of the race.

“It’s unfortunate that Christian’s at home, having to watch, but I think he’s probably the proudest out of anybody about how I’ve ridden. He always said he expected me to be at this level. It’s nice to arrive there.”

It’s a two-man race now — Contador leads Andy Schleck of Luxembourg — by eight seconds but Hesjedal is grabbing his own piece of the spotlight.

“Those guys are clearly on a higher level,” he said of the top two, “but obviously there’s room to play behind and I think I showed that today.”

Hesjedal has been getting better and better.

Last September, he became the first Canadian to win a stage in the Spanish Vuelta, just two days after finishing second in another stage. In April he was runner-up at the one-day Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands and the next month won the final stage of the Tour de California.

“It’s just been moving that way the last couple of years,” he said. “I feel like my results over the last few years and especially this year, I’ve been improving at a nice rate and I was at a high level since March this year, so I was always focused on having a good Tour de France.

“My role changed early on in the race and I grabbed it full on. I’m really pleased with what I’ve been able to do. I think the team’s obviously happy as well.”

He finished 49th in last year’s race and 47th the year before.

Toronto’s Michael Barry, a support rider for Team Sky and its British star Bradley Wiggins, stands 99th overall.