Three weeks and 3,500km make it hard to pick one moment. But when Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) attacked on Stage 14 from Cherasco to Cervinia he rode away and took 26 seconds from Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). In simple arithmetic this gave him the advantage to win today but crucially he showed he was able to attack the others in the mountains and take time. This was the moment he won the Giro.
A stage race is all about the accumulation of small things so a winning moment can be hard to attack. Even a decisive attack can be the result of plenty of rest and being careful to eat the right things. It is also the result of a team, whether riders who shelter a leader from the wind or team managers advising on strategy as well all the support staff, from mechanics and masseurs to cooks and publicity officers. The team’s victory in the team time trial was vital for placing Hesjedal in the lead early in the race. Either way picking one instant in time is too simplistic. Still, Hesjedal’s attack on Stage 14 was a bold move that saw him take time on the others. With hindsight this was enough to win the Giro outright.
Saturday 19 May was cold and wet. The riders faced a long stage across, first across the plains of northern Italy and then suddenly into the Alps of Aosta, via the Col de Joux and then the summit finish to the ski town of Cervinia. It was raining and close to freezing on the finish line and clouds hugged the sides of the valley. The stage was won by Costa Rica’s Andrey Amador (Movistar), who took the biggest win of his career by winning the first high mountain stage of the Giro d’Italia after battling with Jan Barta (NetApp) and Androni Giacattoli’s Alessandro De Marchi.
But another winner on the day was Hesjedal who attacked from the group with 3km to go. Basque rider Mikel Nieve was the first to go and Hesjedal powered across. The Canadian didn’t hold back, he was bent over his bike, elbows angled out. It wasn’t elegant, at the time I likened him to a pedalling giraffe. But it worked.
But Nieve melted and Hesjesdal powered on alone. I thought the finish suited Hesjedal, it was a large open road with a gradient, ideal for a rider to power away. You needed to be climbing exceptionally well to do this but at the same time it was one thing to do this and other to be able to control things on the steep slopes. Interestingly when he won back the pink jersey he was visibly delighted with the acquisition.
Indeed previously in the race we’d seen Hesjedal outfoxed on Stage 10 when Rodriguez jumped away on the stunning finish to Assisi which made me think the Canadian could suffer on the steeper slopes later in the race. Indeed on Stage 15 to the Pian dei Resinelli we saw Rodriguez jump away again.
But Hesjedal kept in there. The final week flew past. The Passo Giau and the Cortina d’Ampezzo saw Hesjedal attack again, first on the climb and then the descent but he was contained. At this point Ivan Basso looked stronger than ever but his tactic of driving his team hard and then trying to asphyxiate his rivals wasn’t enough to take time. After two weeks of hard riding his team began to fade too.
Then came the stage up the Mortirolo and on to the Stelvio. Again I thought Hesjedal could crack but each time I thought this would happen, no he would attack. First he survived the accelerations on the Mortirolo with relative ease and then on the Stelvio the overall contenders sat tight for some time. First Michele Scarponi went and then Hesjedal and Rodriguez ended up together until the Spaniard took off and won enough points to win the Giro’s red points jersey. But Hesjedal left the others trailing and came into the final time trial stage 31 seconds behind. Meanwhile Thomas De Gendt went from top-10 lurker to possible overall winner.
In the time time trial Hesjedal was quickly taking back time but finally beat Rodriguez 47 seconds. He therefore won the Giro with 16 seconds on Rodriguez with De Gendt winning enough time on Scarponi to join them on the podium.
History: Hesjedal’s winning margin is the
third fourth smallest. Fiorenzo Magni won the 1948 edition by just 11 seconds, Eddy Merckx won the 1974 edition by 12 seconds and Magni did it again in 1955 to win by 15 seconds. He is the first Canadian to win a grand tour, bettering Steve Bauer’s previous achievement of fourth place in the 1988 Tour de France.
No stage win? Hesjedal won without winning a stage but he can claim the team time trial victory in Verona, especially since he was one of the big engines of the team. Instead this was a consistent performance but note he didn’t follow the wheels and wheelsuck his way around Italy. He attacked and grabbed time where it counted and if it wasn’t for breakaways being up the road he could easily have won a mountain stage or two. This was a consistent performance, Hesjedal only cracked once during the three weeks and it was when the Canadian anthem played on the podium in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo that tears began to form.
- Joaquim Rodriguez won the maglia rosso, the red jersey. The winning moment would be on the Stelvio when he jumped Hesjedal to ride away. If he didn’t take enough time with this powerful late move it secured the points competition.
- Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini – Selle Italia) won the maglia azzura or blue jersey for the mountains. “Rambo” was on the rampage during much of the race, this was a consistent performance by a modest rider who racked up a giant quantity of kilometres on the attack as opposed to being the best climber in the race. But this is a complement, he went for it and won it.
- Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky) won the best young rider’s white jersey. A fitting winner of the maglia bianca the Colombian was consistent in the mountains and honourable againt the watch for a mountain specialist too. He’s 25 but for a young rider he’s been a pro in Europe since 2006.