Ryder Hesjedal is set to finish the Giro d'Italia in ninth place overall after a remarkable fight back during the three weeks of racing. However Cyclingnews understands that his huge effort and Garmin-Sharp's multiple leadership options could mean the Canadian will target the Vuelta a Espana rather than the Tour de France later this summer.
Hesjedal was down in 165th place after the team was decimated by a crash in the opening team time trial in Belfast three weeks ago, and he lost more than three minutes to Cadel Evans (BMC) and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharm-QuickStep). Yet he never gave up, went on the attack and fought to pull back time, including on the stage over the Stelvio when he was a close second to Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in Val Martello.
He struggled in the Cima Grappa mountain time trial and on the steep slopes of the Zoncolan but will ride proudly into Trieste in ninth overall on Sunday.
"I think I learned a lot about myself in this year's race," Hesjedal told Cyclingnews, looking back at his race.
"I don’t know how many guys who have won a Grand Tour have had a situation like I had on the first day, but then fought back into the top ten. It was not only the time lost but also having important teammates injured and a lot of badness all at once, on the first day of a long, hard event. I'm proud of the four guys that are still here. We're fighting on and I think we can be proud of what we've done."
Hesjedal admitted he has been driven to prove wrong the people who wrote off his and Garmin-Sharp's chances after losing Dan Martin and Koldo Fernandez on the opening day.
"I don’t know why people were so negative at the started and said that our Giro was over on day one," he said.
"I think we showed otherwise. It's like really? Have you ever done a bike race?"
Hesjedal is pleased to have proved he is back as a Grand Tour rider after being hit by injury, illness and crashes since winning the 2012 Giro d'Italia.
"I think I've showed my ability on the bike many times. I might not win all the time but I think it's about the consistency and about knocking on the door. Sometimes everything works out for you but sometimes it doesn’t. That's the beauty of our sport," he explained.
"People said I had a bad year last year, but I helped Dan (Martin) win major WorldTour races and I was at the Giro in top shape but you can't control everything. I crashed on the first day of the Tour and got a broken rib. But I finished the season with third place on the podium at the Grand Prix of Montreal, so I was happy to end the year with a ride like that."
No Tour de France this year?
Hesjedal has raced a Giro d'Italia-Tour de France programme in 2012 and 2013, convinced he can recover between the two races and be competitive in both races.
He has been a near automatic selection for Garmin-Sharp's Tour team but as the Giro d'Italia ends, Cyclingnews understands that Hesjedal might not be in the final line-up that heads to Yorkshire for the Grand Depart of the Tour de France.
"We've got a schedule laid out… I'm not going to talk about that right now," Hesjedal told Cyclingnews diplomatically.
"I think it'll be made known sooner than later. I'll wait for the team to get together before we announce my programme."
Team manager Jonathan Vaughters and his directeur sportif have yet to discuss and decide on the team line-up for the Tour de France but the need to protect Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky early in the race and especially on the cobbled stage in northern France, could mean the team opts to select an extra strong and experienced domestique rather than spread its resources to help a third team leader.
If Hesjedal does not ride the Tour de France, he is likely to lead Garmin-Sharp at the Vuelta a Espana.