FIRENZE, Italy (VN) — For the second consecutive stage, defending champion Ryder Hesjedal lost time to the Giro d’Italia’s main GC contenders, this time on the race’s first real day of climbing, ending in the historic city of Firenze (Florence).
On a 170km route that delivered four categorized climbs through the Appennine Mountains and saw the peloton soaked by a major rainstorm, the Garmin-Sharp team leader fell into difficulty late in the race, ultimately losing more than a minute to his rivals and dropping from sixth overall to 11th, 3:11 behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali of Astana.
Much of Sunday’s hilly course followed roads that will be used for the world road race championships in Tuscany later this year. After dropping off the back and regaining contact on the day’s penultimate climb, the Cat. 3 Vetta le Croci, it was on the day’s final climb — the Fiesole climb that will be ridden 10 times on a 16.6km circuit at road worlds — that Hesjedal lost contact with the leaders.
With teammate Tom Danielson shepherding him up and over the Fiesole, Hesjedal crossed the finish line 1:06 behind a group containing Nibali, Cadel Evans (BMC), Robert Gesink (Blanco), Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida).
That Hesjedal would lose contact with the race leaders came as a shock; an hour earlier he’d asked teammate David Millar to go to the front to help Astana drive the pace after Wiggins had lost contact on the wet descent of the Vetta le Croci. And earlier in this Giro, Hesjedal was on the attack; on the Sella di Catona on stage 3, he twice broke off the front, creating a split in an already diminished front group and causing panic among team leaders and domestiques alike.
On Sunday Hesjedal crossed the finish line pale and gaunt, turning away requests from Italian TV for post-stage interviews. Hours later, following a shower and meal, he spoke with VeloNews by phone from the Garmin team bus.
“It was a tough day, again, one day after a tough time trial,” Hesjedal said. “We’ve been getting hit with these bad conditions, and I just had a few bad moments on those last two short climbs.
“I felt fine on the longer climbs. One the last long climb (the Cat. 1 Vallombrosa) Astana was riding a hard tempo, and you could see the havoc on the descent. Then it came down to a small group, and there was interest there for people to ride, but I couldn’t get any power out of my legs on the short climbs.”
Hesjedal attributed his difficulty to a combination of factors, including the cold, and what he referred to as “TT butt.”
“The day after a time trial, your glutes and piriformis are just destroyed,” he said. “It just kind of shuts down the lower part of your body.
“When the race is on like that, on those short climbs, with the last climb being downhill to finish, it’s not ideal to have a bad patch, and I just couldn’t get that raw power into my legs. I had to do my own tempo.
“It was nice to have Tom (Danielson) there, he did a good job of helping me limit the damage, but it’s tough when you have 40 guys riding to the final, and you’re chasing for seven or eight kilometers. It’s not the end of the world, I just had a bad moment. If it had happened on a 10km climb to the finish, my Giro would be over.”
After Hesjedal lost contact and slipped further down the GC rankings, Garmin team manager Jonathan Vaughters took to Twitter, writing, “Well, on to plan B in the Giro. Rest on the rest day, then figure out how to liven up the race for the second half.”
Asked what “Plan B” might entail, Hesjedal said he wasn’t aware of a back-up plan for the team.
“You’ll have to ask [Vaughters],” he said. “I’m still less than two minutes off the podium. This is the Giro. It’s been nine brutal days. I’m here to race and give it my best. I hope we’re not forgetting who won the race last year. By no means is it an easy feat to pull that off again, but I’m here. I’m trying.
“I will try to rebound from today, and rely on the fact that I know I have my best performances in the latter part of a three-week race. There are still two weeks to race. There is plenty of opportunity to climb back.
“Certainly Nibali is showing that he has no weakness, he is in the driver’s seat, but that position also comes with responsibility, and work. The podium is not that far off. There is still a lot of racing to be done, and still opportunities for other guys to have bad days. By no means is the race over.”