After a disappointing outing from his Garmin-Sharp squad in the Giro d’Italia team time trial in Ischia on Sunday, Ryder Hesjedal bounced back with an aggressive ride in the finale of stage three to Marina di Ascea.
As nerves frayed during the sinuous finale on twisting roads, Hesjedal went on the offensive on the climb of Sella di Catona, slipping clear alone with 25km to go and forcing Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana team to take up the pursuit.
Hesjedal was reeled in shortly afterwards, but his acceleration had the effect of reducing the lead group significantly and heightening the tension at the head of the race, as the other overall contenders scrambled to get back on terms.
The Canadian repeated the dose on the technical descent, stretching things out at the head of the race and again forcing his rivals to use up vital energy as they arranged their pursuit. For good measure, after Luca Paolini (Katusha) had slipped away with 6km to go to take stage victory and temporary possession of the pink jersey, Hesjedal led out the sprint in the chase group behind and picked up an eight-second time bonus for his third place finish.
Hesjedal’s aggressive afternoon reduced his overall deficit to Bradley Wiggins (Sky) to 17 seconds and also spoke volumes about his aspirations of defending his Giro d’Italia crown. It was a good thing, too, seeing as Hesjedal was reluctant to speak for himself on crossing the line.
“We had a plan to race today. We’re here to race,” Hesjedal said. Asked by a television crew if his ride was a response to those who doubted him after Sunday’s sub-par team time trial showing, he simply said: “If anyone doubted, then that’s their problem.”
With that, Hesjedal retired to the sanctuary of the Garmin-Sharp team bus and did not re-emerge to talk to the reporters who waited patiently outside. Instead, it was left to his directeur sportif Charly Wegelius to analyse the day’s action.
Wegelius confirmed that Hesjedal’s move had been a pre-meditated one and explained that on a technical finale such as Monday’s, chasing down breaks uses up as much energy as sparking them.
“On a stage like that you could conceivably spend the same amount of kilojoules chasing after someone else, so I think in that case you might as well take the initiative yourself and have a clear road in front of you,” Wegelius said. “If you make a mistake, then it’s your own and obviously you spend some energy to potentially gain something rather than just turn back to zero.”
The thinking was similar behind Hesjedal’s repeat attempt on the descent into Marina di Ascea. “You can pick your line a bit better and be picky and choosey about it, so it’s a question of retaining control of your own destiny,” Wegelius said.
Hesjedal won last year’s Giro d’Italia by the strength of his regularity and the regularity of his strength, chipping away at the clock and at the reserves of his rivals over the course of the three weeks. There are still 18 stages to go in this Giro, but every effort counts between now and Brescia, as Wegelius hinted. “I think Astana had to ride a bit today, didn’t they?” he said.