After 10 days of batting away questions about his chances of final overall victory at the Giro d'Italia, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) now finds himself discussing his possibilities of simply continuing the race all the way to the finish in Brescia. Proof, as if it were needed, of the old adage that there is more heartbreak than happiness in cycling.
Hesjedal had begun the defence of his Giro title in impressive fashion by firing the opening salvoes in the fight for pink on the sinuous road to Marina di Ascea last week, but his forces gradually ebbed away as the days ticked by. A brace of disappointing showings over the weekend in the Saltara time trial and in the rain of Florence pre-figured what was to come when hostilities resumed after the rest day.
On the first summit finish to Altopiano di Montasio, Hesjedal surrendered over 20 minutes and all hopes of retaining his Giro title, his leaden pedal strokes a lifetime removed from his vim in southern Italy. In spite of that disappointment, and concerns regarding the undiagnosed cause of his sudden loss of power, Hesjedal opted to take the start of stage 11.
With tired legs aplenty in the peloton and with the general classification contenders happy to let a large break drift up the road, Hesjedal had few problems in holding the wheels on the Sella Ciampigotto but he was distanced when the road climbed towards the finish near the dam at Vajont. A tired and drawn Hesjedal rolled in almost eight minutes behind the pink jersey group but stopped to talk to reporters before riding back down the climb to his team bus.
"I was just happy to finish today and I'll take that for what it is today and look forward after that," Hesjedal said softly, when asked if he was planning to stay in the race until Brescia or cut his losses and look to recuperate in time for the Tour de France.
Speaking to reporters before the stage, Hesjedal had explained that his problems only manifested themselves when he was forced to ride at full pelt. There were few conclusions to be drawn on his condition, then, from stage 11, where the peloton was happy to maintain a sedate pace for most of the afternoon.
"I don't know," Hesjedal said. "I think you can hear my voice is gone. Today was the most regular, easy day of the race so it was easy to follow. I never had to go into the red but it was a nice day out there."
Rather than talk about his own labours, Hesjedal was happier to pay tribute to his teammate Ramunas Navardauskas, who helped to put a positive slant on Garmin-Sharp's Giro by claiming victory in Vajont. "Today it was all about representing the team and going for it. Everyone has a free card now to go for the race," Hesjedal said. "Ramunas is incredible. Give him an opportunity and he makes good on it. It's not surprising at all.
"I was happy to help him today. I got the guys bottles after 50k full on at the start today and handed Ramunas a bottle when he was fourth wheel from the front just trying to get in the break. It eventually went and it was just him up there, so it was a beautiful way to win."
Hesjedal's dismay at the finish in Altopiano di Montasio on Tuesday was palpable, just as his fatigue was obvious at the end of stage 11. It thus remains to be seen whether the Canadian will indeed continue to Brescia but he was keen to stress that he was part of a bigger project.
"It's not about me, it's about the team and the organisation and everyone who's been working so hard," Hesjedal said. "This kind of event is not easy by any means especially coming in here after winning the event last year with all those expectations and the pressure that everyone puts on themselves."