The Moment The Race Was Won: The Giro


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.

Hesjedal pink jersey

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.

Hesjedal Mortirolo

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.

59 thoughts on “The Moment The Race Was Won: The Giro”

  1. Nice write-up. I really enjoyed the race and it was brought alive by the daily preview on here.

    Congratulations to Ryder and the team.

      • The inclusion of the ascents of the Mortirolo and the Stelvio followed a vote by fans on Facebook and Twitter, with RCS Sport providing a 21st century example of how a cycling event can interconnect with the public through social media. Pretty cool stuff, and it worked out quite well indeed:)

        • Not just that, but RCS’ live feed was awesome. ASO has a thing or two to learn from RCS on how to best present a Grand Tour in the 21st century.

          • It was a pleasure to follow the race with you all.

            Personally I tip my hat to Mark Cavendish. He finished, and within a bee’s of winning the Points Jersey. Respect.

  2. What a change from last year! Then most of us knew they should be taking TWO sets of photos of the “winner”. Not this year. All three guys on the final podium got there by TRYING TO WIN rather than racing not to lose. The result was an exciting race for pretty much the whole three weeks. Boring calculators like Ivan Basso lost out. Will this result in more attacking in the future? I hope so, especially as this year’s TdF is more open without Mr. “it was the steak” around. I’m really glad I froze my a__ off at Cervinia to “be there” for what ended up being the winning move of the race. And BRAVO to Inner Ring for sharing great insights and also to all those who weighed in with interesting and thought-provoking comments. This continues to be among the best cycling blogs out there!

    • Well said Lorenzo. The top four guys, including Scarponi, all tried to do something at one time or another and the little digs on the mountain stages by Rodriguez and Hesjedal were a treat. I think the riders were as surprised as I was to see Hesjedal attack on hilly stages but he needed those seconds in the end. As a Canadian, I was rooting for Hesjedal but I’d have to say I’ll root for Rodriguez any race Hesjedal’s not at because he was a class guy and, along with Hesjedal, made the race so interesting.

      I have to admit that I was a little nervous yesterday when Stetina was gone, De Gendt way up the road, VdV up ahead and the rest of the pink jersey group expecting Hesjedal to do all the work. It was a relief to see VdV back with the group. Stetina and VdV were great helpers throughout the race and a key part of the win.

      Now you’ll have new routes for your tours Larry. Maybe a Mortirolo triple with the original, your petite, and the one they used yesterday? And a Stelvio doubleheader Bormio to Prato and back. What days those would be!

  3. Great post. This victory is a sort of “once-in-a-career” type win since the favorites did not take him seriously until the last few days, even though he took time on them in Stages 1, 4, and 14.

    In future races, of course, he is “former Giro champion Hesjedal,” and a marked man. You only get to fly under the radar for so long. Its good to grab a win while you are not yet a race favorite.

    • I think they took him seriously, I remember Rodriguez saying he needed a couple minutes on RH with all the big mountains still ahead. He never was allowed to get away in a break or anything, so I don’t see any advantage he got. Well unless you mean the lack of pressure – I guess that might have been important to him, but the confidence from winning would offset that.

      • After the race Rodriguez was asked how he would do things differently and he said it might have been possible to take more time from Hesjedal in the first half but that he wasn’t thinking about it at the time.

        I think Hesjedal and Garmin benefited mightily by flying under the radar. I am thrilled they won (I’ve been a Garmin fan for a long time) and I hope they race future GTs with expectations greater than a Tyler Farrar stage win.

      • I think the difference between the budget of team Sky and Garmin goes a fair way to balancing that back in Garmin’s favour. Agree that we do need to wait till after the Tour though.

    • Well played!
      We all have to admit that Garmin deserves way more credit than Sky; they’ve made the most of guys who were never considered favorites, rather than just snatching up talent. How many riders did Garmin grab from Highroad? How many did Sky?

  4. Big exhale! What a race. Yes, a GT is an “accumulation of small things.”

    Huge congrats to Ryder Hesjedal, Team Garmin and Canada! Vaughters has gotta be pretty puffed up right about now:)

    This race had too many amazing moments for me to recall here, but I also think Stage 19 on the Passo Pampeago was another “nail in the coffin” on this Giro for Hesjedal. He finally rode clear of Scarponi after an “Armstrong-like look” back at him and took 2nd to a victorious Kreuziger. Stage 19 was also the undoing of Basso, where he lost 35″ to Hesjedal — it was here that I did not see Basso on the final podium.

    Cannot say enough about Thomas de Gendt, gaining 4:01 in 3 days! Winning decisively on the Stelvio was a mammoth accomplishment and he so deserved the 3rd step in this Giro. With sore legs after yesterday, his TT was nothing less than magnificent! What heart.

    Rodriguez rode a heck of a race and his ITT was better than many thought it would be, enough to take the 2nd step! A true warrior of the sport.

    Scarponi was consistently an aggressor in this Giro, and not making the podium is a shame for him and Italy. Impressive performance.

    And for Basso, I believe his big glory days are behind him, but he’s been most gracious in accepting his defeat. For a big diesel, he still impresses me in the high mountains, though he wore out his gregarios trying to attain his goal.

    And to all the gregarios and domestiques, you may not get the spotlight, but the GC riders, their teams and we fans know that no podium would even exist without the suffering of your seemingly endless work. Brilliant riding and support for your respective captains!

    @INRNG: First-rate presentation of this Giro! I’ve never before experienced such breadth and fine detail all in one “package.” The work you put into this blog is appreciated more than you know. It made my experience so much more complete than any race before. Hats off to you, my friend!

  5. Great race – I love it as much as the Tour – and thanks again to INRG! How about an article about exactly how time gaps are calculated during a stage? It sounds like a silly question but when you think about it there are different ways it could be done…

    • I have often wondered about that too. I’m interested to know how the data is (constantly?) gathered and then how it is calculated.

  6. Mr Ring; you are a highly assured, knowledgeable and enthusiastic source of commentary on the sport of cycling. Never scared to state an opinion, yet far from opinionated. Thank you for your work. Your anonymity only makes your output all the more interesting too. Guy

  7. Ryder’s win was enough to move Canada up to #10 in the UCI Country rankings passing France, Germany, and Russin among others for now. #globalizationofcycling

    Great coverage, thanks for all of the work!

  8. All-in-all a great Giro! My only suggestions for changes would be to sprinkle a few decisive stages earlier in the tour instead of having everyone wait for the last 3 stages. Maybe a more decisive prologue, and a couple of early hilltop finishes would coax the GC favorites out of hiding earlier. Last year’s Tour de France was a good example. Also, get rid of the stupid, dangerous turns in the last kilometer of the obvious sprint stages. Sprinting is dangerous enough! Including dangerous turns in the finale makes it look to me like the Giro organizers were hoping for crashes. NOT cool. On the flip side, I love the TTT. Great indicator of team strength. Also, I love that the Giro finishes with a TT-just a mano y mano, race of truth. So much more exciting than the “champagne parade” of the Tour. Congratulations to Ryder and Garmin-Barracuda. It will be interesting to see who they bring to the Tour now, with all their GC riders. But that’s another post…

    • @SilverSurfer8: Since you mentioned Garmin and who they might bring to Le Tour for GC, I was realizing that Hesjedal is really their strongest GC, GT rider now. The team has done very well in GT’s in the TTT, but not as well on the overall, until today.

      CVdV is 36, and though he left everything on the roads of Italy for Ryder, he’s never won a GT, though he’s placed fairly well. Great climber, but can’t seem to win a GT. And how will the legs of all the Giro riders be come July?

      T. Danielson is 34 and finished 9th GC in last year’s Tour, but has also never won a GT or placed Top 5 on the overall.

      P. Stetina was so impressive as a 2nd lieutenant with CVdV, but he’s only 24 and that’s asking a lot to ride the Giro-Tour double, no matter what capacity. Sooner than later he will be a great GC rider for GT’s, but I don’t think it’s this year. One tired puppy.

      D. Zabriskie is in great form at 33, climbs well and TT’s with the best of ’em, but his palmares is also lacking a GT win or high placement on GC. He rides best in the states.

      D. Martin has the perfect build to be a world-class climber; he’s 25 and took 3 Top Five’s in last year’s Vuelta. If he’s chosen for this year’s TdF, he could surprise, who knows?

      And of course, Hesjedal. He left it all, I suspect, in the Dolomites and Alps of Italy, but he now defines Garmin as their go-to GC captain. He plans to ride in the TdF, but his legs might have something to say about expectations. Domestique? Or, like some teams, throw a few in-form riders into the mix and whomever excels the most on GC becomes the on-road captain.

      I’ll let Ryder enjoy this moment of glory before I get ahead of myself:) Just food for thought…

        • Can’t resist temptation…yeah, Le Mevel is a power climber who loves Le Tour and a definite choice for my roster. Unfortunately, I don’t see a podium finisher here, but hopefully a Top 5.
          If Ryder hadn’t emptied his tank in Italy, he’d probably have done really well in the Tour, and who knows how his legs will be in a month?

          Here’s my best guess for Garmin-Barracuda’s TdF:

          – Ryder Hesjedal
          – Christian Vande Velde
          – Heinrich Haussler
          – Peter Stetina
          – Tom Danielson
          – Christophe Le Mevel
          – Tyler Farrar (secondary sprinter to Haussler)
          – Dave Zabriskie
          – Dan Martin

      • I think Talansky is the future of Garmin. I doubt we will see him at the Tour or Giro as a protected rider for a couple years. Maybe the next Vuelta or ’13 will see him get a chance to lead the team.

  9. Fantastic Giro, electrifying to the final moment.

    I totally agree with @inrng about the key moment. Through the first two weeks I was pleased that Ryder was lining up for a podium place and wanted him to do well as a Canadian and member of an American team (I have dual citizenship). I was expecting to cheer him on while watching the action for the top spots ahead of him with interest.

    So I was holding my breath that he would be able to stick with the leaders up the last climb on stage 14–my worry is that he would be dropped and have to settle for a low top 10 GC finish. So imagine my delighted shock when he attacked and took serious time! From then on my Giro experience was cooked; no longer a fan who could appreciate whomever won for their accomplishment, I was a hopeless partisan. This Giro is the most I’ve been in the bag for any single cyclist since… er, well, it’s been a number of years and people climbed mountains a lot faster at the time.

    The ideal Grand Tour features competitors with different strengths trading haymakers, swapping seconds and jerseys throughout the race. That’s pretty much what we had here (though gaps like 17 or 25 seconds are not exactly “haymakers”). Ryder attacked on three different mountain stages; Rodriguez attacked late on the last one. Ryder had better time trials; Rodriguez won stages.

    What’s perhaps most remarkable is that so many Grand Tours have been so interesting in the recent years; a golden age.

  10. Great write up Mr Ring! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this giro. I just wanted to say that J-Rod’s attitude and behaviour on the podium was exemplary, rather than rueing potentially his biggest career disappointment, he looked pleased and proud just to be second, a true champion, and if he can continue to improve his TT skills, it surely can’t be long until he get’s his own win.

  11. Thanks Inring,
    Your insights and commentary are obviously appreciated by us all.

    We as a group do tend to act a bit emotional at times in our postings and opinions. In my view it’s only for our collective love of the Giro, and bike racing with the risks, energy, heart and emotion.

    I must of course include you in the mix as you stimulate our passions for our sport through your deduction to your blog and us.

  12. Great write up to sum up the entire Giro with since I could not watch all of it (save for the last 3 stages when I knew Ryder was going to take the Giro). You bring to light a good point about Ryder: “…but note he didn’t follow the wheels and wheelsuck his way around Italy. He attacked and grabbed time where it counted…”. This makes his win that much better! #OHesjedal OCanada! Finally Canadian cyclist are coming to the forefront of Professional Cycling. A force to be reckon with.


  13. Being a Canadian I am super happy and proud to see Ryder win! I also have to say though that Rodrigez showed serious TT improvement! Earlier in the race I felt certain that he was doing a little mind gaming and that he probably improved his TT but this was a huge improvement. If he races the Vuelta he is my early favorite now.

  14. Just a Brilliant edition of the Giro, truly superb. Last year the writing was on the wall with the Etna stage if not sooner. This year it played out to the end with an A-class group of riders dueling in the final week. Hats off to all of them especially the Weight of a Nation Hesjedal (congrats).

    //inrng. as always has become an essential part to my distant spectating. Cheers!

  15. Thanks inrng. The media maglia rosa for you.
    In the wash up, I’d also be interested to read your take on who were the big losers of the Giro. The individuals, and particularly the teams, that promised much but came up empty handed.

  16. echo all of the comments here on the enjoyment of this blog and the Giro. My original prediction was J-Rod, Ryder, Cunego but more that happy that Ryder and J-Rod swapped placed on the podium and exhillarating riding by de Gent to force his way up there as well. Great stuff.

  17. Great ride by Ryder, no doubt. Always exciting to see a close GC, congrats to him and Purito.

    What I found extremely interesting is that we saw only a handful of ‘explosive’ attacks in this Giro. We had Pozzovivo on Stage 8, Ryder in Cervinia, and Purito in Assisi. Pozzaovivo’s and Ryders were stages proceeded by flat days and didn’t have a lot of ‘stress’ accumulation before them. Purito’s in Assisi was hardly a massive drubbing and was a relatively short climb.

    Maybe it was the lack of A. Schleck or Contador, but I found it heartening that people did go flying off the front after multiple big days in the mountains, it was more a survival of the fittest. Guys were grinding rather than flying away.

  18. I dont share the excitement of this Giro. In fact I think it was the most boring since Ivan “Brillo” Basso won in 2006. There very few stages where the favourites went on the attack. If they attacked at all it was always inside the last 3 km. Stage 8, when Pozzovivo attacked, it was only Intxausti that had the courage to try to follow. At the same time we saw Hesjedal hurting big time. No one did take advantage of the situation to try to distance him. For me, this was the stage everyone else lost the race, in hindsight of course.

    A rest day after only three stages was a big mistake, and the Pampegao-Stelvio double at the end made the favourites race extremely conservative for three weeks. If we compare it to other Giros in the recent years, this edition comes out very poorly. Usually the favourites show their cards already in the first week and take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. This edition lacked that completely. Take 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 every one these editions had the favourites attack each other in the first week, and the battle lasted to the very end.

    Sadly this didn’t happen this year, and as I see it Michele Acquarone has a lot to work on. A tip might be to look to the Giro d’Italia 2005.

      • If Liquigas pacemaking neutralized the attacks, then explain how Pozzovivo, Intaxausti, Nieve, and others could jump out of the pack and never be seen again or caught many km later? And these guys weren’t the best climbers in the Giro. So if Liquigas are the main explanation for the lack of attacks from the favourites, then how did so many attacks stick from those who managed to escape the peloton on the climbs? The favourites never relay tried to attack Liquigas and always waited to Basso himself had to do the pacemaking. Even Rabottini managed to keep the distance to the Liquigas led peloton for a very long time when he was doing his epic solo breakaway. Liquigas can only partly explain the negative riding by the favourites, but not all. I find the back loaded rout, the “lost” rest day, and the gutless favourites as the main explanations for a forgettable Giro d’Italia.

  19. I thought Basso would’ve got more out of it then he did. His Liquigas team looked a strong team and seemed to do the majority of the work, but the tactics were not good and they didn’t profit from it. Infact I think that played into Garmin’s hands, as they didn’t have to do the riding to bring back breakaways.

  20. Some wrap-up comments about this Giro:

    1) Teams with enormous GC potential like RadioShack or Rabobank have sent very weak squads (and apparently not very motivated). Big mistake. Andy Schleck and Gesink could have won this Giro easily (ok, we still didn’t know how fit Gesink was, but still). Horner, Klöden, Mollema, Kruijswijk… could all have been near the podium. Quite a few others would have made the top-10. Not only they diminish the race, but they belittle themselves by harvesting a big FAILURE in this part of the calendar. Garmin, Vacansoleil or even Euskaltel, without being Italian, and without so much potential, were much more serious about their Giro, and end up with good results and quite a few “points”.
    2) The parcours was not very good. I mean, the Italian mountain passes are always spectacular, and we didn’t know the winner until the last day. But there weren’t enough alternatives in the GC, which remained blocked throughout the Giro. An early long ITT should be practically mandatory (so that climbers can know whom to attack), and a little mountain TT would have been good right before the hardest stages, to empty the riders’ reserves and widen the gaps. Most importantly: the last decisive stages should be mountain, not TT. (A GT that finishes with 2-3 or 4 riders in one or two minutes before a TT is exciting only if there have been lots of alternatives through the race, like the 68 and 89 TdF. If it’s because nothing much has happened till the last day, let’s save time and watch Paris-Nice or Romandie).
    3) “Strike when you can”. I think riders should keep this motto in mind. We commented how Hesjedal was allowed to get out of Lago Laceno alive. And we commented that Liquigas should have been challenged earlier, because they seemed to be buying time and covering Basso’s weaknesses. Purito-Katiusha, Sky-Colombia, and others, were simply not audacious enough.

  21. I thought this was an entertaining Giro, close in all major categories. Congrats, Inrng, for the usual excellent analysis.

    Though the points jersey was as close as it gets, the scoring made for a weird situation. With a sprinter and a climber in contention, they never really raced mano a mano. On any given stage, one or the other scored, not both. Strange way to run a contest!

  22. I’m Canadian so I’ve been on the edge of my seat since Friday. Great job Ryder.

    However, I can’t help but think that this puts Farrar in an uncomfortable position. He hasn’t shown the ability to beat Cav in the last couple years, and now with the rise of Sagan, Kittel, Degenkolb and Guardini, should Garming keep bring him, Hunter and Fischer to races? Haussler’s the more versatile fast man. Watching the onslaught against Ryder on Friday and Saturday I couldn’t help but wish that Garmin had brought more climbnig support to the race (while I acknowledge that may have resulted in a slightly slower TTT).

  23. the decisive moment: when he attacked on alpe di pampeago, the sharpest climb of the race. he gained to purito just as may time he needed towin the giro, in his rivals’ terrain. strange you didn’t talk about that.

  24. For me, the ‘moment the race was won’ could not be better illustrated than a picture of Jonathan Vaughters whispering into Hesjedal’s ear.
    Vaughters gave Ryder the self-belief and confidence to feel he had a right to consider himself a potential grand tour winner. His bold attacking in the latter stages of the race was demonstrated how calculated and measured his thinking was.
    Congratulations Ryder…you gave us a great race.

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