It was a rare day of détente in the Giro d’Italia gruppo on stage 11 as the general classification contenders opted to temporarily lay down arms after their ferocious combat on the summit finish at Altopiano del Montasio the previous day.
Robert Gesink (Blanco) was among those to suffer a blow on Monday’s stage but his wound is far from a fatal one. He floundered and lost contact with the leaders when the road pitched up to 20 per cent in the finale and when hostilities ended, he had slipped to 5th overall, 2:12 down on maglia rosa Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
“I hoped for a bit more on the first mountain finish yesterday but that’s the way it was and there’s still a lot to come,” Gesink told Cyclingnews at the finish near the Vajont dam on Wednesday, after his soigneur had carefully wrapped a towel around his neck and dutifully zipped up his long-sleeve jersey for him.
Gesink admitted that he was glad of the temporary ceasefire in the fight for pink given the difficulty of the preceding stage. The Dutchman came home alongside all of the other general classification contenders, 5:41 down on stage winner Ramunas Navardauskas.
“Thankfully, it was only in the last kilometre that they went at a higher tempo. It was not my best day but there’s still a lot to come,” said Gesink. “I think everybody was really, really tired today. You could see that in the peloton on the climb before, everyone was happy to ride tempo and let the big breakaway go up the road. I think it’s been a really tough Giro so far and you can see that in a lot of riders already.”
In the past, Gesink’s grand tour ambitions have been scuppered by crashes in the opening week, but after negotiating the pitfalls of the opening stages in southern Italy, he acquitted himself well in the Saltara time trial and reached the foot of the mountains lying in 3rd place overall.
In spite of suffering a setback in his favoured terrain on the Altopiano del Montasio, Gesink insisted that his ambitions have not changed since the start in Naples. 27 at the end of the month, the eternal promise is keen to deliver on that potential by landing the first grand tour podium finish of his career.
“In Holland, they always said I should go for the podium on the Tour but I said that first I should try and get the podium in the Giro or Vuelta because I think the Tour is a bit harder than those two,” Gesink said. “So I’m here to get on the podium, like you always try when you start a grand tour but we’ll see in the end if that’s possible.”
After losing 45 seconds to Nibali and Cadel Evans (BMC) on Tuesday – and 8 to Bradley Wiggins (Sky) – Gesink was circumspect about his chances of upsetting the odds and claiming overall victory. “Well, first I have to make up two minutes to the guys who were better in the first mountain stage but you never know,” he smiled. “Nobody expected Ryder last year so you never know.”
Disappointed though Gesink may have been by his showing in the Giro’s first major summit finish, he awoke to some encouraging news on Wednesday morning as reports in the Dutch media suggested that American consumer electronics manufacturer Belkin was considering coming aboard as Blanco’s title sponsor from 2014.
The squad was suddenly left without a backer in October of last year when long-term partner Rabobank withdrew from professional cycling, citing the endemic doping culture that had existed on the team and in the sport at large. The Dutch bank did guarantee funds to back the team through to the end of 2013 and it has operated under the Blanco moniker this season in the hope of attracting a new sponsor.
“I’ve heard stories today. I don’t know if those are right but I hope so,” Gesink said, as he began pedalling off towards the Blanco team bus, parked some eight kilometres away in the valley near Longarone. “It would be nice if it’s true but I didn’t hear anything from inside the team. They’re looking at all possibilities but I don’t know anything about the rumours. I hope so, I hope so.”