In the Flèche Wallonne – just for a few minutes, as the much diminished peloton ran in towards Huy and the final gun fight on the Mur – it looked like Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal might just steal it.
The 31 year-old Garmin ex-mountain biker in company with Norwegian Sky man, Lars Petter Nordhaug blasted big gears into the foot of the hill.
They made the right turn, on to the notorious gradient with 13 seconds in hand – it wasn’t enough.
But it was great TV, good advertising for Garmin and set things up nicely for Hesjedal’s team mate, Dan Martin.
Hesjedal finished an eventual 21st, to go with 15th in the Amstel and 9th at Liege – not a bad week in the Ardennes.
Hesjedal has been in the world cycling consciousness since 2001 when he took his first MTB World Cup podium.
The following year he was capable of winning MTB World Cups and in 2003 was runner up in the Cross Country Worlds in the colours of Rabo Continental.
He signed with US Postal for 2004 and stayed with them into 2005 but with the team now called Discovery.
That year he was a member of the team which shepherded Paolo Savoldelli to Giro glory.
He was with Phonak for 2006, riding his first Vuelta.
The following year saw him with US team Health Net riding a domestic programme – and winning the Canadian elite time trial championship after having finished third and second, the previous two years.
In 2008 he started his association with Jonathan Vaughters’ teams, which has continued up to the present.
The squad won the TTT in the Giro and Hesjedal rode his first Tour de France.
A year later, he again rode the Tour and took a Vuelta mountain stage.
In 2010 he was second in the Amstel, ninth in the Fleche and 12th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, also taking a stage in the Tour of California.
Last year, his biggest result was being part of the Garmin team which blasted to TTT victory in le Tour.
We spoke to him just after his Ardennes campaign between stages of the Tour of Romandie where he has picked up two top stage ten placings – boding well for his assault on the Giro.
The Flèche – that was a bold move in the finale, Ryder.
“Yeah, I had to take my chance instead of arriving with Rodriguez and co.
“It was a tall order to stay away, but if I’d had another 10 seconds it might have come off – especially when you see that I was able to resist the peloton on the climb.
“It’s a nasty climb and we’d had proper Spring Classic weather, cold and with showers.
“The move was based on what had happened at the Amstel, we wanted to be there – having said that, wanting to be there is one thing but doing it is another.
“The move I made was a big help for Dan Martin and Fabian Wegmann who could concentrate on position for the Mur with Dan riding to sixth.”
You were 15th at the Amstel, were you happy with that?
“Given that I went into it with a programme that wasn’t designed to have me in top shape for this part of the season, yes I was happy – even though I was actually in good shape.
“My first major objective is the Giro so I hadn’t trained for that kind of distance.
“I was only lacking a bit for the big effort on the Cauberg at the end – I was maybe fixated on my ride in the race in 2010 when I rode the whole hill on the big ring.
“But I lost momentum when Nordhaug and Cunego came down in front of me.”
The Worlds parcours are based around the Amstel – that must be in your mind?
“It’s a little ways out and I’ve not done the Worlds for a few years, but with the course in Limbourg it should suit me.
“The timing this year works well, the Quebec and Montreal World Tour races are on the 7th and 9th September, the Worlds are the 23rd and Lombardy is the 29th.”
Liege – was Iglinskiy winning a surprise?
“Not really – it was always gonna be an unpredictable finale and if a guy is strong enough to go with the attacks at the end, then he’s strong enough to win.
“Iglinskiy has won the Eroica in the past and Astana rode a good race.
“I was more surprised to see guys like Gilbert falling apart at the end.”
I’ve driven up St. Nicolas; it’s horrible, isn’t it?
“Yep – especially after 245km!
“It’s an iconic climb in the parcours – La Redoute is too far out, now.
“The race kicks off on the Roche aux Faucons but it’s decided on St. Nicolas.
“Everybody knows that the Roche is coming after La Redoute – if you have the legs you have to keep them for later.
“The introduction of Roche aux Faucons has changed the face of the race.”
Which is your favourite of the Ardennes races?
“Liege – it’s the oldest, biggest and hardest.
“I have a connection with the Amstel having been on the podium, but Liege is my favourite race.
“It’s the last of the Spring Classics and the conclusion of the Ardennes Week.
“It suits me – and I’m chipping away at it as each year goes by.”
Alex Howes riding was a pleasant surprise for Garmin.
“It’s not something I expected, he was strong in Catalunya and some of the guys mentioned that the Ardennes races are his style – with tough parcours and the rain.”
Did your winter go well for you?
“‘Knock on wood,’ yeah!
“Things have gone well through the early part to where I am now – I’ve stayed away from problems and am on track.
“The Ardennes were good, Romandie so far, too – but as I said, the Giro is the big goal.”
You started in the Tour Down Under, not in the Algarve as you have done for the last couple of years.
“It was to get me goin’ – I’m based in Hawaii over the winter and Australia isn’t too far away.
“It fitted in well, I was there to help Heinrich Haussler; it was good to be racing in the heat – I rode it in 2009 and enjoyed it.
“It gave me a point to aim at to get the season started – after it I went back to Hawaii and trained there for a month.
“I came to Europe at the end of February.”
Catalunya and the Pais Vasco are the traditional Ardennes tune ups, how did they go for you?
“Catalunya was good – we had Dan Martin in fourth place.
“It was my first stage race since the Tour down Under so it was good to get my motor going.
“I was surprised at the good level I came out of them – especially considering I didn’t ride Paris-Nice or Tirreno.”
I’ve read that you may be riding the Giro and Tour?
“Yes, definitely, the Giro is great preparation for the Tour.
“In 2008 I rode the Giro, Tour and Olympics and that after being on the podium in the GP d’Ouverture – Slipstream was just starting out so we had to be good out of the start-gate.
“I raced hard from February to July – and I’m stronger and more experienced, now.
“The last few years I’ve only ridden the Tour but I think I’m old enough to handle two Grand Tours in a season.
“I’ve designed my season around it, with a slower build up and I’ll have time to recover between the major objectives.”
Do the Olympics figure in your plans, again?
“Yes, but Canada has only qualified one rider each for the road race and time trial – and it has to be the same rider!
“It’s like saying the athletics guys you have to do the 100 metres and the marathon!
“As far as the road race goes, I’ve shown that I can handle six hour races and be on the podium.
“The last three seasons I’ve been in good in San Sebastian (19th/6th/5th), out of the Tour.
“I’d prefer to focus on the road race and make an impact for my country – but if you have to ride the time trial, then you have to ride it.”
What’s the plan after Romandie?
“Taper into the Giro – we go to Denmark on Tuesday with the prologue on Saturday, three days there, then the transfer to Italy – and the TTT . . .”
Thanks to Garmin for the use of the photos.
Result - Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2012
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:21
3 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:36
4 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar
5 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin – Barracuda
6 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
7 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
8 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD
9 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin – Barracuda
10 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
11 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
12 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar
13 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team
14 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana Pro Team
15 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:01:00
16 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:01:27
17 Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Movistar Team 0:02:11
18 Julien Simon (Fra) Saur – Sojasun
19 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Greenedge Cycling Team
20 Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Sky Procycling
21 Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
22 Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team
23 Frank Schleck (Lux) Radioshack-Nissan
24 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Katusha Team
25 Karsten Kroon (Ned) Team Saxo Bank
26 Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) BMC Racing Team
27 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Radioshack-Nissan
28 Dries Devenyns (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
29 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling
30 Pieter Serry (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen – Mercator
31 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank
32 Yury Trofimov (Rus) Katusha Team
33 Benoît Vaugrenard (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
34 Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
35 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – ISD
36 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Sky Procycling
37 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:02:19
38 Daniele Pietropolli (Ita) Lampre – ISD 0:05:05
39 Jean Marc Marino (Fra) Saur – Sojasun
40 Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Movistar Team 0:05:27
41 Rémi Cusin (Fra) Team Type 1 – Sanofi
42 Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:05:39
43 Sander Armee (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen – Mercator
44 Dominik Nerz (Ger) Liquigas-Cannondale
45 Francis De Greef (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
46 Nicki Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank
47 Alex Howes (USA) Garmin – Barracuda
48 Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Garmin – Barracuda
49 Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet
50 Andy Schleck (Lux) Radioshack-Nissan
51 Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
52 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Garmin – Barracuda
53 Alexandre Geniez (Fra) Argos-Shimano
54 Peter Stetina (USA) Garmin – Barracuda
55 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
56 Maciej Paterski (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale
57 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
58 Jan Bakelants (Bel) Radioshack-Nissan
59 Kevin De Weert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
60 Moreno Moser (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
61 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team
62 Mads Christensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank
63 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
64 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team
65 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team 0:05:45
66 Dirk Bellemakers (Ned) Landbouwkrediet 0:07:29
67 Serge Pauwels (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
68 Davy Commeyne (Bel) Landbouwkrediet 0:08:22
69 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
70 Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
71 Vincent Jerome (Fra) Team Europcar 0:08:28
72 David Lelay (Fra) Saur – Sojasun 0:08:30
73 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:08:54
74 Manuele Mori (Ita) Lampre – ISD
75 Michael Albasini (Swi) Greenedge Cycling Team
76 Wouter Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team
77 Brice Feillu (Fra) Saur – Sojasun
78 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre – ISD
79 Angel Vicioso Arcos (Spa) Katusha Team 0:11:04
80 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
81 Rob Ruijgh (Ned) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team 0:12:18
82 Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank Cycling Team
83 Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling