Giro d'Italia: Hesjedal looks at the bigger picture after first nine stages

'My best days in Grand Tours are normally in the last half,' says Canadian

2012 Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal (Trek-Segafredo) says that despite some setbacks in the first week, overall, he is quietly satisfied with his race so far, and is hopeful that - as in other years - his stellar moments of this Giro d'Italia are yet to come.

So far, Hesjedal has been flying under the radar and not just on the bike. Outside the Trek-Segafredo team bus at the starts so far, the teams’ Italian riders, together with Fabian Cancellara have attracted a hefty proportion of fans’ attention. But now Cancellara has abandoned the Giro d’Italia, and as the mountains approach and the sprinters like Trek-Segafredo’s Italian fastman Giacomo Nizzolo have increasingly fewer options, it could well be Hesjedal’s turn to move closer to the limelight.

In stage 9, the rainsoaked Chianti time trial, Hesjedal finished 33rd at 2:58 on winner Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), 45 seconds down on Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), the key point of reference for all the favourites. Overall, the 35-year-old Canadian is lying 16th at 3:29, a distant orbital path amongst the favourites currently circling the coveted maglia rosa, perhaps, but he remains within contention.

“I was happy with Holland, I did a good time trial there, got through those days, which could have been a bit complicated but were actually straightforward. The Roccaraso climb [stage 6] was good, I managed to stay up there,” Hesjedal tells Cyclingnews on the Giro’s first rest day.

“Some days, I lost a little bit of time, which is not ideal, like that first Italian stage [at Praia de Mare - Ed]. But that’s the way it goes, [in terms of] the big picture, I’m happy with the whole thing so far.

“I got through the first nine days in a good way. I felt good in what was a tough time trial with the rain, too, it was about managing the need to go fast with the need not to crash. There were no mechanicals or anything like that, and I got through a pretty stressful effort, so it’s been good. I’m looking forward to the race going on.”

The departure of Cancellara has not changed the overall structure of Trek-Segafredo’s Giro d’Italia aims, he says. After all, the Swiss star’s main targets were always the first time trial, and the pink jersey in the earliest part of the race but says he didn't end up getting a good shot at it.

“Then Giacomo [Nizzolo] is looking for the sprints and potentially the red jersey [of points leader], so we are carrying on with the other main goals we had. If Fabian had been able to stay around it would have been a huge bonus, but we’ll manage.”

Which brings us back to Hesjedal and his personal goals, given the stages that suit him the most, and therefore what could be his best days of the 2016 Giro d'Italia are yet to come. “I hope so,” he replies. "It’s about managing situations and limiting your losses. It always nice to be on the top of the leaderboard but you also have to be realistic. I know if I can have the legs, I’m capable of something later in the race, and anything’s still possible.”

Although he did not have the kind of buildup to the Giro he totally wanted - “It’s definitely easier for the confidence and mental state to be in the front of races and be amongst potential rivals at least a few times or even once here and there and that hadn’t happened” - Hesjedal says that from about a week prior to the Giro d’Italia, he was satisfied he was on track.

“I just believe in the process and you always just look back and see [ask yourself], 'how did I feel here at this race, how did I feel there?', and sometimes that’s not really the right way to do it. So I just have to keep believing in the idea and the work we were doing.

“My best days in Grand Tours are normally in the latter half. That’s just the way it is. Those are the most important days. Well every day is important but that [the third week] is when you’ve got to keep it together, just hang on or push even up a level.”

Asked then what he thinks he can achieve in the Giro and where he might want to finish in Turin, Hesjedal is experienced enough to keep his options wide open, simultaneously balancing a multiple series of outcomes. “You can’t help but start to assess things and I’ve done enough now [as a racer] to know you can’t take anything for granted.

“If things go the way you hope and they do go the right way, you can’t rule out any possibility. But if those guys [his rivals] stay on their line [of progression], then it’s difficult. I try not to look too far ahead. It’s really about each day and getting through. I’ve been in better situations at this point and I’ve been in worse.” There was 2013, for example, when Hesjedal had to quit the Giro d’Italia with illness, which he says, “That was the worst one, actually.”

Given how well he was going in the last third of the Giro last year, finishing second on the last two mountain stages and only being beaten by Fabio Aru (Astana), in some ways, he says, it would have been better if the Giro had gone on for another week.

“But that was actually my ‘fourth week’ in the third, I’d been racing in Trentino and then Romandie with a view to the Giro, nobody [else] did that, I know for a fact. I need that racing volume and we did the plan that we thought would be the best this year. And from the racing leading into the Giro versus this race and how I feel now I’m very happy with how it all came together. And that’s not the easiest thing to do.”

One stage which Hesjedal is approaching a shade warily is the 10.8-kilometre uphill time trial in Siusi next Sunday. “They’re not too common, we did one in [the Giro] 2008, I struggled a little more, it was a little bit of different situation back then. It was fun, though on gravel roads.

“Then in the 2014 Giro [in the uphill time trial at Bassano del Grappa] my progression in the last week stalled a little bit there. I had a mechanical problem, I had to switch bikes, I didn’t have really the best ride there on that day. So I’m curious myself.

“Being that late in the race I think is good, if it was in the first week I’d be a lot more worried about it. It’s an isolated ten-kilometre climbing effort, and me against the real pure climber guys without any effort in the legs beforehand it’s going to be a bit tough. So I’m hoping that I can hang tough there and who knows? It’s definitely a different kind of effort, I’d prefer to do maybe five or six ten-kilometre climbs also before…the long hard days.”

And as for further ahead? Although he confirms both the Olympics and the much longer-term future, including the possibility of retirement from racing, are at the back of his mind, Hesjedal says that that’s where they will stay for now. “I’ve not been thinking about them recently. This is my main goal of the year, and then I will take stock, look at the rest of the season and plan it out.” he says.

First, though, is the Giro d’Italia. He has no particular upcoming mountain stages marked with an ‘x’ in Il Garibaldi. Rather, he says, “I just clump it all together: last week, last half. The last two years I’ve been going on breakaways in the second half because I was down on GC by so much time. So if I look at those efforts that I did in the second week and even better in the third week, I know a lot can happen.”

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