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"I know I can go with the best when the going gets tough"
Ryder Hesjedal sat slumped in the front seat of the Garmin-Sharp team car near the finish of the stage in Val Martello, struggling to talk and take in what he had done during one of the toughest ever stages in the history of the Giro d'Italia.
The Canadian survived in the cold and snow over the Passo Gavia and the Passo dello Stelvio and then went away on the descent of the Stelvio with eventual stage winner and new race leader Nairo Quintana, Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and several other riders, unaware that other riders were stopping to put on capes and take the descent at a steady pace behind official motorbikes.
They ended the descent with a one-minute lead and then gained further time in the valley and especially on the 22km climb of Val Martello.
Hesjedal was unable to stay with pure climber Quintana on the tortuously steep final kilometre of the climb but dug ever so deep to finish just ten seconds behind.
"People seemed to have forgotten 2012 but I've been getting better as the race went on. That's what I'm going to think about now," he told Cyclingnews, somehow able to look to the rest of the Giro d'Italia despite racing in terrible conditions.
"I felt good and this is what I know I can do. I know I can go with the best when the going gets tough."
"I just stayed heads up today. The race developed the way it did over the Stelvio and I felt I was in the right place. Chapeau to Quintana. He deserved that win. As much as I'd have loved to win it, he deserved it. We put the race on him and he did the lion's share of the work and I was able to hold on."
Hesjedal gained 4:03 on previous race leader Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and almost as much on the other overall contenders. He rose to ninth overall, 4:16 behind Quintana but just 35 seconds behind Cadel Evans (BMC) in third place.
Hesjedal lost more than three minutes to both Uran and Evans when the Garmin-Sharp team crashed in the opening time trial. It is conjecture but without losing the time, he would be close to a place on the Giro d'Italia podium.
"I haven't seen the full shakedown in GC but I'm happy with what we've gained. I'm disappointed not to win the stage but considering on how this Giro started out, I'm really pleased," he told Cyclingnews.
"I've never done the final climb before. It was tough but I think I rode well, rode smart and got something out of it."
Hesjedal said he did not understand the confusion about the descent of the Stelvio. He was in survival mode as the snow swirled at the summit and the riders faced 48 hairpins bends in the cold during the 25km descent.
"I don’t know what happened. I just stayed out of trouble, rode with the guys I was with and we came off the bottom with a lead," he said.
"I think on a day like this, I just hope that everyone got through it OK. It was insane out there. We went over those passes and it turned into full survival mode. The radios work at best half the time. I was focused on staying up right and staying warm."