VITTORIO VENETO, Italy (VN) — What a difference a week, and a controversial descent, has made for Ryder Hesjedal.
Debated Stelvio descent or not, the Garmin-Sharp team had big plans for the 2012 Giro champion on the frosty mountain stage that saw his fortunes rise after sticking to a move with Nairo Quintana (Movistar), the eventual pink jersey.
Garmin director sportif Charly Wegelius said Hesjedal was plotting a raid, regardless of the miserable weather.
“It was clear he was riding well from the beginning,” Wegelius said after stage 16, noting Hesjedal was one of the first riders to crest the Gavia. “And when the weather went crazy and the whole race went crazy, he just tried to separate himself from the race, and just be where he was, and ride his bike. I think he’s good at that. You know, and the rest, the whole race from the top of the Stelvio to the bottom of the Stelvio, was just complete chaos.”
Hesjedal finished second on the day and is now in ninth place, at 4:16 back of Quintana. It’s a wide margin, but consider that at one point the Canadian was more than seven minutes down on GC, at that point to Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Among other things, Hesjedal suffered from bad luck in the team time trial, where a crash forced the remaining four Garmin riders to wait on a fifth rider. His opportunistic ride Tuesday vaulted him to within spitting distance of the final podium at just over a minute back on a third-placed Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), which seemed but a dream a week ago.
As for the controversial descent, Garmin didn’t even know its captain was in the front as it happened.
“When we got to the bottom of the Stelvio, we heard that Ryder was in front, and then we moved to the front of the race and from that moment on he didn’t contribute at all to the race, because his objective from there was to try and win the stage,” Wegelius said.
Wegelius said the team had two plans all along.
“One involved him attacking on the Stelvio… And the other alternative was to wait until the end of the stage,” he said. “Of course, the weather played a whole, massive role in that, that just skewed everything, so it just became a battle of survival.”
Hesjedal ceded 3:22 to Urán in the Barolo time trial, but has shown significant improvement since then, and despite his rough start in Ireland, Wegelius said it’s a matter of pressing on.
“Did we want to lose three minutes and 40 seconds on the first day of the race? Of course not. But we dealt with it and we kept moving forward, and that’s why he’s in the position that he’s in,” he said.
Hesjedal will have several more chances to take time. There’s a tricky stage from Belluno to Rifugio Panarotta that includes the Passo San Pellegrino and a 15-kilometer finishing climb. After that, it’s a climbing time trial up Cima Grappa on Friday, and the fabled Monte Zoncolan, which climbs 1200 meters in 10.1 kilometers at an average of 11.9 percent, on Saturday.
As Hesejdal demonstrated two years ago, when he took back the maglia rosa from Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez on the final stage time trial, winning by just 16 seconds, he’s nothing if not resilient. A return to the Giro podium Sunday, in Trieste, might just serve as further vindication.