Canadian Ryder Hesjedal impresses in third stage of Tour de France

ARENBERG, France — Canadian Ryder Hesjedal got to climb the podium Tuesday at the Tour de France, but it wasn’t quite the accolade he was after.

ARENBERG, France — Canadian Ryder Hesjedal got to climb the podium Tuesday at the Tour de France, but it wasn’t quite the accolade he was after.

The 29-year-old from Victoria was honoured as the most aggressive rider in Stage 3 after a fourth-place finish. Hesjedal launched a breakaway from the field some 13 kilometres into the 213-kilometre ride from Wanze Arenberg to Porte du Hainaut and led the way until he was caught by a group of elite riders near the end.

The stage featuring seven bumpy cobblestone patches, the latest danger zone in a race that has seen one rider after another hit the pavement.

Getting out front in such a stage doesn’t just improve chances for a stage victory, it also can help avoid crashes — which are more likely in the frenzied pack.

At 75 kilometres, the lead pack was three minutes 30 seconds ahead of the peleton.

Hesjedal eventually rode away from the lead group but was caught near the end by Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, Cadel Evans of Australia, Geraint Thomas of Wales and Norway’s Thor Hushovd, who won the stage for the Canadian-owned Cervelo team.

“You never know how things are going to play out,” Hesjedal, who rides for the Garmin-Transitions team, told The Canadian Press. “Especially a stage like that. It was a very hard course.”

Hesjedal attempted one final attack in the last kilometre before Hushovd overtook him.

“I was just focused on riding well and staying out of trouble. I was able to leave my breakaway companions pretty easily, so I could turn it into an individual time trial and as far as I could make it up the road was going to be the best scenario. Once I made it all through the sectors and I was holding off the chase, that was pretty cool. I was definitely envisioning arriving at the finish alone. But that was pretty strong group that came up from behind. … I was happy just to be able to stay with those guys and arrive the with the leaders.”

As the most aggressive rider, Hesjedal gets to wear a red number Wednesday.

“That was great,” he said. “It’s a nice consolation prize for a hard day out on the road. Being able to stand on a Tour de France podium, that’s pretty awesome.”

Hesjedal’s heroics, in his third Tour de France, were a welcome tonic to a Garmin-Transitions team that has been hit hard by injury early in the Tour.

American Christian Vande Velde, the team leader, is out of the race after breaking two ribs in a spill during Monday’s ride from Brussels to Spa.

Fellow Garmin riders Tyler Farrar (sprained elbow, fracture wrist) and Julian Dean (upper back contusion) are still riding despite injuries sustained Monday.

Hushovd won his ninth career Tour stage victory to claim the green jersey as the top sprinter, a title he won in last year’s race.

“I needed to stay in the front group and avoid trouble, I knew I would have a good chance,” Hushovd said. “That’s what I did and I was able to win.”

In the overall standings, Cancellara finished sixth Tuesday, but regained the yellow jersey he ceded a day earlier to Sylvain Chavanel of France.

The Swiss star leads second-place Thomas by 23 seconds and two-time Tour runner-up Evans by 39.

Hesjedal stands fourth overall, 46 seconds back.

Defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain is ninth, 1:40 back.

Toronto’s Michael Barry, who rides for Team Sky, is 63rd, some 3:33 back after placing 58th Tuesday.

American Lance Armstrong’s hopes for victory in his final Tour hit a setback when a burst tire cost him time.

“Bad luck,” Armstrong said, referring to his mishap on the fifth stretch of cobblestone.

Contador, whose abilities on cobblestones had been in doubt, and Schleck, last year’s runner-up, were among contenders who gained time on Armstrong.

Armstrong, who had been fifth overall, tumbled to 18th, 2:30 back.

“Our chances took a knock today,” Armstrong said. “I’m not going home, we’ll stay in the race and keep trying.”

Some had worse luck: Frank Schleck — Andy’s older brother, who won the Tour of Switzerland last month — crashed on the fourth section and was out of the race and taken to hospital.

Armstrong noted there’s still a lot of racing left in the three-week competition, which now heads toward the Alps and later the Pyrenees before the Paris finish on July 25.

“It’s the nature of the sport,” he said. “Sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail. Today I was the nail. I have 20 days now to be the hammer.”

Armstrong had predicted “carnage” during the stage, one that many riders thought could damage plenty of title hopes. The seven-time champion and Frank Schleck were the day’s most prominent losers.

Andy Schleck was fifth, in the same time as Hushovd: four hours 49 minutes 38 seconds. Spain’s Contador came in 13th, 63 seconds back. Armstrong was 32nd, 2:08 back.

Cancellara, a teammate of the Schlecks who won the opening-day prologue, expressed “mixed feeling” about the day but was delighted to retrieve the leader’s jersey.

“Yesterday I gave it up, today I took it,” he said. “We can call it a good day for Saxo Bank despite the loss of Frank, a great friend.”

Even before the cobblestone sections, several riders collided near the 112-kilometre mark after one rider bumped into the curb and fell. France’s David Le Lay was forced out the race.

Chavanel wore the yellow jersey for Tuesday’s ride into his home country, but he had to cope with two flat tires, along with a mechanical problem, and lost time on Cancellara.

“It’s not bad, I just didn’t have the legs,” said Chavanel, with his face caked in dust. He won Monday’s stage in a breakaway that took a lot out of him. “I had a nice day in yellow, over the cobbles, it’s great.”

The pack could get a more restful day Wednesday, with a mostly flat 153-kilometre trip from Cambrai to Reims, the capital of Champagne country.

The cobblestone stage, the first at the Tour since 2004, followed two straight days marred by crashes on slick roads that ensnared Contador, Andy Schleck and Armstrong.

Hesjedal has avoided crashes so far.

“Amazingly (I’ve) stayed upright to date,” he said. “I had a pretty good crash in the Tour de Suisse leading up to this. Maybe that got it out of the way there.”

In September, Hesjedal became the first Canadian to win a stage in the Spanish Vuelta, just two days after finishing second in another stage. In May, he won the final stage of the Tour of California.