The smallest mistakes can so often prove so costly at the highest level, but surely few could have anticipated just how little margin for error there would be as the Giro d’Italia tackled the headlands and coves of the Ligurian Riviera on stage 4.
Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) began the race with aspirations of trying to repeating his 2012 overall victory – as he told Cyclingnews beforehand, “I’m not shooting for 40th place” – but his hopes of a podium finish in Milan evaporated when he lost over five minutes to the principal favourites on the road to La Spezia.
On a similarly rippling stage further down the Tyrrhenian coast at Marina di Ascea two years ago, Hesjedal had been on the front foot by attacking ahead of the finale. This time around, the Canadian opted for a more conservative approach and looked to save energy on the penultimate ascent of the Passo del Termine.
When the Astana team of Fabio Aru seized the initiative on the climb in a bid to isolate Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), however, Hesjedal was among those caught out when the bunch was whittled down to just 25 riders. Although he was almost within clutching distance of their coattails over the summit, he eventually had to give best and he conceded further ground in the rugged finale, crossing the line in 37th place, 5:25 down on the winner, his teammate Davide Formolo.
“I’ll have to see the final results but it’s frustrating because it’s pretty much my fault,” Hesjedal told Cyclingnews at the finish. “You try to relax, you try to save energy… Who would have known that the front group would have gone with 15 guys on that second last climb? I just got a little bit isolated. The legs are there, and I stayed just behind that group for a long time but…”
The immediate aftermath of the most demanding stage of the Giro to date is hardly the ideal place for a detailed post-mortem, and the situation was confused still further by the fact that, despite Hesjedal’s disappointment, it was a day of celebration for his Cannondale-Garmin team.
“I don’t know, I’ve got to think about it some more. We won the stage, you know, so that’s good,” he said. “But you definitely don’t want to lose time on this stage. And when it wasn’t because of the legs, well that makes it even more frustrating.”
Hesjedal apologetically waved away a camera crew who asked for an interview, but as he continued to soft-pedal through the side streets of La Spezia in search of his team bus, he began to look, too, for a more positive perspective on his losses.
Other overall contenders such as Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) conceded some ground to Aru, Contador and Richie Porte (Sky) on the final climb of Biassa, and indeed there were just 12 riders in their group at the finish. Having considered his race lost at the finish line, Hesjedal now seemed open to revising his ambitions once again.
“There weren’t that many guys up there and it’s still going to be a big battle for fifth and those placings,” Hesjedal said. “Alberto, Richie, Aru and Uran, they’re at a high level. But after that, guys who gained time today could lose it tomorrow, it’s been very tough. It was agonisingly close, I was right there and I was surprised to see how small the front group was at the finish.”
Hesjedal would later spend almost 20 minutes warming down alone outside his team bus, as if exorcising the disappointment of his afternoon, but before reaching that personal sanctuary, he made one final observation, perhaps speaking to himself as much as to anyone else.
“I lost five minutes today. Who would have though the racing would be like this in the first few days, over this kind of terrain? I mean it’s brutal.”