Race leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) won stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia, the first mountainous foray in the Dolomites, but the main beneficiary of the stage's outcome is Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda). The three Italian general classification contenders echoed "Purito" who concluded clearly: "Hesjedal is the hot favorite now. With the current time gaps, it's impossible for me, for [Ivan] Basso or [Michele] Scarponi to beat him after the time trial."
"Today in the climbs, Hesjedal is the rider who impressed me the most," said Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF Inox). "Unfortunately, there was no way to get rid of him."
The Italian climbers were hoping that the lanky Canadian wouldn't be able to follow on the Passo Giau, but their racing tactics actually suited Hesjedal to perfection. Like in the previous hard stages, Basso got his teammates to increase the rhythm in order to prevent attacks. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) was the victim of the day rather than Hesjedal, a former wearer of the pink jersey in this Giro, who is only 30 seconds down on Rodriguez. The Garmin-Barracuda rider is considered the best time triallist of all GC contenders ahead of the closing 30km race against the clock in Milan on Sunday.
"Have you seen how easily he came across to me when I accelerated?," Basso said. "Today's confirmation is Hesjedal's favorable position for winning the Giro. This stage has given some signals ahead of two harder stages to come on Friday and Saturday. The overall classification has moved a little bit but not as I wanted because of Hesjedal."
Basso was expecting Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) to team up with him towards the top of Passo Giau. The Liquigas-Cannondale captain imagined an Italian duo to escape and play a man-to-man sprint in Cortina d'Ampezzo. Instead, six riders contested the stage victory after the descent to the finish line.
"Scarponi is a generous guy," Basso said. "Had he contributed to my actions, we would have created a bigger difference but if he hasn't done it, it means that he just couldn't do it."
Scarponi, however, was cramping and had to use his descending skills to regain contact with the leaders in the approach to the finish. "I'm sorry," he said. "I knew the final downhill pretty well. I could have invented something. In those difficult moments, I just managed to save myself.
"I got dehydrated. I drank a lot, though, but probably not as much as I should have. Hesjedal is respected and feared. We've failed to putt him in difficulty. These hard stages are difficult for everyone but now that Hesjedal has showed that he can overcome them, he's in a perfect position: the time trial favors him."