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Close but no cigar for "Purito" at Giro

Spaniard Rodríguez pipped to winner's jersey by Hesjedal in Milan time trial

Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal of Canada (C), second-placed Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain (L) and Thomas De Gendt of Belgium (R) celebrate on the podium.
Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal of Canada (C), second-placed Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain (L) and Thomas De Gendt of Belgium (R) celebrate on the podium.AFP

Joaquim "Purito" Rodríguez narrowly missed out on an inaugural win at the Giro d'Italia on Sunday after his slender lead was devoured by Canadian racer Ryder Hesjedal in the final time trial stage in Milan.

Rodríguez had held the pink jersey since winning the Civitavecchia-Assisi Stage 10, and carried a 31-second lead into the final sprint in Milan. However, Hesjedal finished sixth in the 28.2-kilometer stage, which was won by Marco Pinotti, to claim the title by a mere 16 seconds -- the fourth-lowest differential between first and second in the history of the race.

It was the second time a North American racer had won the Giro and the first time in 17 years that no homegrown rider climbed the podium. Hesjedal thus became the first Canadian to win one of cycling's Grand Tours. Behind Rodríguez in third was Belgium's Thomas De Gendt, who won the penultimate stage on the Passo dello Stelvio.

Had Rodríguez been able to hold off the challenge of Hesjedal, he would have become the third Spaniard to win the Italian race. It was still Rodríguez's best performance at a Grand Tour after placing fourth at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. As well as two stage wins in the 2012 Giro, Rodríguez also placed first in the points classification.

Strong in the mountains, Rodríguez and his Katusha team had thought to leave the Canadian trailing in their wake in the Dolomites but Hesjedal doggedly pursued the race leader.

"We were supposed to drop Ryder Hesjedal but it's been the opposite," Rodríguez said after Saturday's Treviso-Alpe di Pampeago stage 19. "Hesjedal gave us a lesson. He has surprised me, really." Indeed, nobody seemed more surprised in receiving the wrought-gold trophy than Hesjedal himself: "This is incredible, I can't quite believe it. I started to believe in it more and more when I realized that I was riding better in the mountains than I ever have in any other race," said the triumphant Canadian.

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