PASSO DELLO STELVIO, Italy (VN) – The 95th Giro d’Italia is coming down to the wire with a nail-biting finale Sunday on an urban time trial course in Milan that will decide everything.
All eyes are on the 31-second difference between Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) and second-place Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda). The 30km route favors the specialists and anyone who still has gas in the tank.
Nearly all pundits seem to think that it’s a slam-dunk that Hesjedal is going to erase the difference to Rodríguez, but as everyone knows, nothing is assured in cycling, especially when there’s a leader’s jersey on the line. And history doesn’t fully support the idea either.
Garmin refuses to count its pink chicken before it’s hatched.
“Everyone thought Fignon was going to win the 1989 Tour and that Evans was going to win the 2008 Tour,” said Garmin sport director Charly Wegelius. “Will it be enough? It’s hard to say. It’s no longer a question of analysis anymore. It’s a question of Ryder and the clock. You can throw the calculator away at the end of three weeks. He’s going to wake up tomorrow and ride his best time trial, and then we’ll see if he won the Giro.”
Hesjedal will have take back just over one second per kilometer on Rodríguez to become the first Canadian to win a grand tour.
Though it’s like comparing apples to oranges, a closer look at historical time trial results between the two reveals that Hesjedal and Rodríguez are often not that far off.
In fact, it is normally Rodríguez who is taking time on Hesjedal in previous time trial confrontations.
It’s often difficult to reach conclusions when comparing historical time trial results. Many factors come into play, depending on what’s at stake for the respective rider. Neither is a specialist, so they often ride a time trial depending on how they are fairing in the GC picture. Obviously, if there’s a GC placing in play, the time trial becomes more important.
The time trial earlier this year at the Vuelta al País Vasco is a perfect example of that. With Rodríguez riding for a GC placement (he was runner-up to winner Samuel Sánchez), and he took 1:23 out of Hesjedal, who did not want to take risks on the hilly, 24km rain-soaked course.
In 2010, it was a similar story: Rodríguez took 48 seconds out of Hesjedal on a 22km course, with “Purito” riding to third in the Basque tour.
Perhaps the closest comparison to what they will both face Sunday in Milan came during the 2009 Vuelta a España, when Rodríguez took 35 seconds out of Hesjedal on a 30km flat course at Valencia. That was quite a few years ago, however, and both riders have progressed significantly.
Rodríguez seems to be scarred by two horrible time trial experiences.
The first was in the 2010 Tour de France, when Hesjedal actually passed him on course and took 3:35 out of the Spaniard on a 52km power course. His other TT debacle came during the 2010 Vuelta later that season, when he was holding the red leader’s jersey only to lose more than six minutes to eventual winner Vicenzo Nibali on a flat, 40km course.
Based on those two losses, Rodríguez has worked hard to improve his time trialing skills since he moved to Katusha.
“We have worked on his position in the wind tunnel and the track. We have changed his position and we have a new TT bike,” said Katusha sport director Valerio Piva. “Of course, he is not Cancellara, but he is better than people think. We cannot compare the Joaquim Rodríguez of the past years to what he can do tomorrow.”
And what of Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), who surged into contention for the pink jersey with his heroic ride up the Stelvio? Now fourth, at 2:18 back, De Gendt is probably the best time trialist of the three.
Last year, on a 42.5km course in Grenoble, De Gendt stopped the clock for third, 1:29 behind world champion Tony Martin in the final time trial at the Tour de France. Rodríguez didn’t race last year’s Tour, but Hesjedal was 61st, at 4:56 back.
Again, circumstances played a role. De Gendt was not riding for GC and was saving his legs for the final effort. Hesjedal, meanwhile, rode to top-10s up the Galibier and Alpe d’Huez in back-to-back mountain stages that helped secure Garmin’s team prize in last year’s Tour.
As they warn anyone who buys a stock: Do not assume future performance based on historical data.
With the pink jersey on the line, the only thing that is assured is that everyone will give everything they have.