MONTECAMPIONE, Italy (VN) — Ryder Hesjedal wiped the sweat from his face, swapped his wet jersey for a dry one, and threw on a jacket and fresh cap. After an oppressive 19-kilometer climb up to Montecampione on which he suffered deeply, the 2012 Giro champ still had a long descent back to the team bus.
He has even further to go to pedal back into the good graces of the general classification here after a brutal first week that saw him seven minutes down on maglia rosa Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Hesjedal lost three minutes immediately when teammate Dan Martin crashed in the team time trial after slipping on a wet manhole cover, forcing those in front of the crash, Hesjedal included, to wait for the fifth man. Climbing ace Martin was forced to abandon.
Hesjedal then lost 49 seconds due to another crash at the foot of the climb up to Montecassino. The Barbaresco-Barolo time trial was also unkind at best, adding three more minutes between the Canadian and the pink jersey.
And yet Hesjedal is still here, and still swinging, heading into what can only be classified as a terrible, but surely beautiful, final week in the northern mountains of Italy.
“I think I’m a rider that should be up there. So when you start in 180-something, normally every day you should move a little bit,” he said. “But it’s not easy. I’m riding well. The team’s helping me as much as it can. I still want to do a good Giro. So I think that’s what we’re doing.”
The first mountain stages of this Giro have gone better for Hesjedal, as riders tumble from the GC ranks. He found himself in 12th after the first mountain stage — in which he attacked — and then moved up another spot Sunday, to 11th.
As it stands now, the lead is a long shot (Uran is 6:44 ahead on general) but a look at the results sheet shows a climate in which the past champion and metronomic climber can surely move up. Wouter Poels (Omega Pharma) is 12 seconds ahead, and Robert Kiserlovski (Trek Factory Racing) is a minute out. A top 10 is in sight, and with a long week in the mountains and up and over the Gavia, Stelvio and Monte Zoncolan, this is a race that’s yet cemented in history.
“I’m already happy,” Hesjedal said of his placement, given the circumstances. “The way that we started the race out, hearing people say the Giro’s over on day one. I mean … I think we’ve shown ourselves well and are just gonna keep working hard. And where I end up is where I end up. And I’m not going to look back at the end and go, ‘Oh, I could have been here or this or that.’ It just is what it is. And we’ll see. It’s going to be an insane last week.”
Insane indeed. Garmin will hurl itself into the mountains in hopes of rattling the results.
“That’s the aim for our Giro,” Hesjedal said of his fighting ways. “André [Cardoso] did an awesome ride [Sunday]. Tough day to be in the break, and to get up there and represent the team … and then I was happy with what I was able to do today. He was there to help me out a little bit of a tough moment before that little bit of respite. I’m not sure what K that was. There was a bit of downhill for a bit — so I decided to gauge my effort a little bit and it made it a bit easier with him to get back on.
“I just had to ride my own pace. I felt a little bit better as I went on; I was able to ride more steady. Those guys were accelerating and then almost coming to a standstill. I’d rather just ride my own pace. … I’m happy with the feeling for sure where I ended up.”
The peloton gets a rest day Monday before a massive mountain stage that begins in Ponte di Legno and runs to Val Martello/Martelltal via the hallowed Gavia and Stelvio passes.