Canadian Ryder Hesjedal raised his arms in jubilation as he crossed the finish line Tuesday.
The 30-year-old from Victoria was third, but he had just scored a glorious assist to help Garmin-Cervelo teammate Thor Hushovd win the 16th stage of the Tour de France.
Hesjedal, who came into the stage 32nd overall in the standings, attacked midway through the 162.5-kilometre course. While others fell back or launched their own attacks, he persevered.
There were just three men left in the rain as the finish line neared. Hesjedal and two Norwegians: Hushovd and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
The Canadian led the way, looking back at Hagen on his shoulder as he shifted position in the final sprint. Hushovd, one of cycling’s marquee men, hung back and then accelerated while Hagen wasn’t looking. He rocketed over the line, with his Norwegian rival second and a delighted Hesjedal third, two seconds behind.
It was Garmin-Cervelo’s fourth stage win of the Tour.
“It was great. This Tour’s been so good for our team,” Hesjedal told The Canadian Press.
“For me, there’s been highs and lows. To have a big high today and ride well, it’s definitely going to be remembered.”
Hesjedal showed his endurance during the stage and then his smarts at the end.
“Thor’s obviously one of the fastest guys in the world and so is Edvald, so we just had to make it sure we played it exactly right to come up with the victory,” he said.
Hesjedal’s own general classification hopes were dashed the first week when he lost time and was hurt in a crash on Stage 7.
But he continues to ride for the team, supporting American Tom Danielson while contributing to the Garmin-Cervelo overall campaign — the times from the top three riders from each squad is counted in the team standings.
Hesjedal was seventh in last year’s race, when he had two fourth-place individual stage finishes.
He moved up four places to 28th overall after his heroics Tuesday and stands 20 minutes 36 seconds behind leader Thomas Voeckler of France.
Three-time champion Alberto Contador attacked in the final climb on the route from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap — and made up 18 seconds on the French leader. The Spaniard emerged in sixth spot overall, 3:42 behind Voeckler.
Australian Cadel Evans, a two-time Tour runner-up, also gained time on Voeckler. Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, another two-time runner-up, was among the day’s big losers, finishing behind the other favourites.
Voeckler expects to lose the yellow jersey before the race ends Sunday in Paris.
“I kept it by a handful of seconds, but that shows that I’ve hit my ceiling,” he said.
Hushovd, a veteran star sprinter, showed off his new talents when he won Stage 13 over a big climb. The Norwegian has been one of the stars of this race: He held the yellow jersey for six days early in the race after Garmin-Cervelo won the team time trial in Stage 2.
“To win another stage is very good,” he said.
Ten breakaway riders pressed the pace through most of the stage. By the finish, that group had thinned to the two Norwegians and Hesjedal.
As the pack prepared to scale the mid-grade Col de Manse climb, with less than 16 kilometres remaining, Contador sped to the front of the pack in a string of attacks to gain about 20 seconds on most favourites.
Hesjedal said getting out in front of the peleton was no easy task Tuesday.
“It was unreal how hard it was for that break to actually form and how many guys were going for it,” he said. “Just to get in the break felt like a victory today.
“To be able to push the pace and get close to the win and make the win happen for the team. It doesn’t get better than that.”
Garmin Cervelo, which was fourth in the team standings going into the stage, now tops the table by 7:01 over Team Leopard-Trek.
“Great day, hard day,” said Hesjedal.
With files from The Associated Press