Ryder Hesjedal on Stage 2. The 'tall Canadian' is hanging with the leaders after Stage 5 on Thursday

Tour de France 2012: Hesjedal steering clear of ‘carnage’ through Stage 4

Ryder Hesjedal holds eighth spot among Tour de France leaders after Stage 4

Ryder Hesjedal is doing it quietly, and avoiding the crashes.

The West Shore native has executed a solid first four stages of cycling on the Tour de France and is just 18 seconds back of yellow jersey holder Fabian Cancellara, tied for eighth overall.

Crashes plagued Stage 3 on Tuesday, thoroughly testing the resolve of Hesjedal’s team Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda. While the pile-ups took down many of his teammates, the man from the West Shore narrowly escaped them, including the crash in the final stretch of Wednesday’s Stage 4.

“We had four guys go down (on Tuesday),” Garmin manager Jon Vaughters told Bicycling.com. “Basically, we didn’t have a particularly good day. By default … the team’s focus is going to have to be on the tall Canadian.”

It’s not ideal for Garmin, the defending team champions from 2011, which came in with a number of loose objectives.

But it’s incredibly exciting for the fans of Hesjedal, winner of the Giro d’Italia in May.

“It’s so complex, there’s so much going on at any given time,” said Seamus McGrath, a West Shore resident and a former national team road racer, and close friend of Hesjedal’s.

“Ryder’s looking really good, and though it’s early still, it’s important that he’s avoided some of the carnage in the first few stages.”

Hesjedal’s also been able to conserve energy ahead of the treacherous hill climbs that make-and-break Tour competitors.

“Ryder made it into the lead group (on Stage 3), and never did you see his nose in the wind, he just got sucked along (in the slipstream),” McGrath said. “He’s played a great tactical game.”

Going ahead, the strategy for Garmin is to protect Hesjedal and keep him within striking distance of the leaders.

“When they’re in the mountains, Christian Vande Velde, Tom Danielson and Robbie Hunter will be invaluable to set the pace and help bring back breakaways from dangerous riders,” McGrath explained.

The trio of elite cyclists, all of whom are capable of finishing top-10 on the Tour, will stay near the front of the peloton to catch breakaways involving any cyclists near or ahead of Hesjedal in the overall classification.

Looking ahead, the Tour’s Stage 7 on Saturday has several steep climbs along the  199-km route, ending with a six-kilometre, Cat. 1 (Cat. 4 being the easiest) hill.

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