TORONTO -- Don't tell Ryder Hesjedal he won the Giro d'Italia on the last day.
His victorious ride lasted 91 hours 39 minutes two seconds over 21 stages, covering 3,503.8 kilometres from Herning, Denmark, to Milan.
It took 23 days in May -- there were two rest days -- and the help of every one of his Garmin-Sharp teammates and support staff for Hesjedal to become the first Canadian racer to win a Grand Tour event and only the second non-European to win the Giro.
His journey from peloton to podium took him more than a dozen years as a pro, from mountain biker to road racer.
And now it has led him to the Lionel Conacher Award, the first cyclist to be named Canadian Press male athlete of the year.
"An incredible honour," the soft-spoken Hesjedal said from his off-season home in Hawaii.
"I finished 2011, I got married to my beautiful wife (Ashley) and I was just focused on that goal -- taking a crack at the Giro and knowing that deep down I have the capacity for three-week racing," he added.
"For the season to unfold the way it did in the spring and have that perfect run really, in respect to my training was just right, I didn't get sick, I had no setbacks. To arrive at the Giro and have it unfold the way it did, I had the opportunity to show myself and that's what athletes dream of."
The award is named after the multi-sport athlete who was chosen Canada's athlete of the half-century. The winner of the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada's female athlete of the year will be announced today.
Hesjedal finished with 139 points and 32 first-place votes in balloting of sports editors and broadcasters across the country. Tennis star Milos Raonic was runner-up with 131 points and 26 first-place votes.
Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish was third (87, 14), followed by Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos (69, 12) and figure skater Patrick Chan (68, 11).
"Ryder Hesjedal put himself, and Canadian cycling, on the world stage with his historic victory in the Giro d'Italia," said Yahoo's Steve McAllister.
Cycling has taken its share of body blows this year with Lance Armstrong's spectacular fall from grace after an avalanche of affidavits over rampant doping in his team.
But voters around the world have singled out cyclists from the sport's current crop for their efforts.
In addition to Canadian media honouring Hesjedal, Tour de France winner and Olympic time trial champion Bradley Wiggins was recently named the 2012 BBC Sports Personality of the Year. And Tom Boonen was chosen Belgium's Sportsman of the Year.
Given what has come to light about the sport's past, Hesjedal says "it's even more crucial to recognize the achievements of now."
Whatever happens in 2013, Hesjedal has already earned his place on the Giro honour roll alongside legends like Miguel Indurain, Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil.
The 32-year-old from Victoria will wear the No. 1 bib as he opens defence of his Giro title on May 4.
Team officials looked at the 2012 Giro and saw the course was suited for Hesjedal, who is able to retain much of his power over a three-week race while others break down.
So they tailored his pre-Giro schedule to prepare him for the first Grand Tour of the Season.
The strategy worked. Hesjedal wore the pink leader's jersey after Stages 7, 8, 9, 14 and, most importantly, 21.
He auctioned one off for charity after the race but says "I've got a few pink jerseys still in hand. And definitely that trophy is sitting in (his home in) Spain and it's a pretty nice addition to the living room."
-- The Associated Press
Raonic a close second
TORONTO -- Top 10 vote-getters in balloting conducted by The Canadian Press for the Lionel Conacher Award as Canada's Male Athlete of the Year in 2012 (with 3-2-1 points structure):
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