When Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) triumphed at the Giro d’Italia last May, he can hardly have anticipated that one of the duties of the incumbent would be to participate in a cookery demonstration alongside Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Mark Cavendish at the presentation of the following year’s race.
After shyly cooking up a risotto under the watchful gaze of celebrity chef Davide Oldani and the gathered multitudes at Milan’s Spazio Pelota on Sunday, Hesjedal will have felt considerably more at ease when he settled back to watch the unveiling of the 2013 Giro route and discovered a balanced course that gives him a fighting chance of repeating his victory of this year.
As was the case in 2012, the Giro’s toughest mountain stages are shoehorned into the final week, with consecutive summit finishes at Polsa, Val Martello and Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the final four days of racing, but Hesjedal noted that the early exchanges are not without their difficulties.
“It’s difficult right from the beginning,” he said. “There’s the team time trial and then the first long time trial and that’s before you get to the first rest day. After that, you have the big mountains in the last half of the race, so you need to be complete for the whole time.”
The stage two team time trial on the island of Ischia will delight the photographers and the uphill finish at Serra San Bruno on stage 4 could catch some contenders unawares, but the Giro’s first real rendezvous is the 55.5km time trial to Saltara at the end of the opening week, a thinly-veiled overture to Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins (Sky).
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“Anytime you have a time trial it can change things,” Hesjedal said. “Whether big differences can be made or not at that distance depends on where guys are with their condition. I’d still be more concerned about the big mountains at this Giro.”
Among those big mountains is the mighty Col du Galibier, which features as a summit finish on the penultimate Sunday of the race. “I think it’s great,” said Hesjedal. “It’s in the race because the Giro thinks it’s good. The Galibier is an iconic mountain in Europe.”
Whereas last October, Contador inadvertently embarrassed his hosts by admitting on stage that he would not return to defend his pink jersey in 2012 (of course, by then, he would have no pink jersey to defend after the Court of Arbitration for Sport stripped him of his 2011 title), Hesjedal was resolute in his intention to line up in Naples on May 4 next.
“As of right now, we approach the season the same as this year and really focus on the Giro and do the season leading into that,” he said.
After beginning his season at the Tour Down Under in 2012, however, Hesjedal plans to begin his campaign significantly later next year. A crash ruined his Tour de France challenge this season, but he remains confident that it is possible to contend at both the Giro and La Grande Boucle.
“Last year I ended my season in Montreal but this year I’m going on to do the Tour of Beijing,” he said. “That’s an extra month of racing so maybe I’ll start a little bit later in 2013. I like to focus on the Giro 100%. I need the Giro in my legs before the Tour and I can get even better after that.”