Upon the conclusion of the Giro d'Italia's stage 9 in San Giorgio Del Sannio, Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) reflected on the fact that at one point his team had two riders ahead and it looked like it was gong to be a hugely successful day for the American team. But instead, as he ruefully concluded, it ended up "being almost nothing, really, at the end."
The high point of Cannondale-Garmin's day came near the end with Tom Jelte Slagter, who like Hesjedal was a part of the early break of the day, soloing towards the finish and Hesjedal himself simultaneously gaining time on GC while playing watchdog for his teammate up the road.
But after Slagter was caught and dropped by winner Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) in the closing kilometres, Cannondale-Garmin's ideal scenario crumbled away. On top of that, with Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana chasing hard behind, the advantage of the remnants of the breakaway including Hesjedal, which had reached six minutes at one point, melted to around 30 seconds on the race leader's group by the finish.
Slagter finally came home in seventh and Hesjedal crossed the finish line in ninth place, 29 seconds ahead of the maglia rosa group. He moved up one spot overall, from 22nd to 21st and is now 6:16 back - that represents a gain, but far less than seemed possible at one point.
"You've got to try, ya know," the 2012 Giro d'Italia winner told reporters at the finish. "I think we did an incredible ride on a hard day.
"Obviously, I don't know what was going on behind, but it looked really promising at one point that Tom would have been able to win when he went solo, and I could sit on the wheels and hopefully gain some time on the guys.
"But I don't know if it was that much at the end. At one point it looked like everything was going to happen and then we got almost nothing, really, at the end."
Within his usual laconic style of speaking, Hesjedal was upbeat as it was possible after such a defeat, pointing out that their plan had always been very ambitious. "It was a pretty tall order looking to make up a bunch of time on GC and come up with the stage win too. But it looked like we were pulling it off for a while and you've got to be happy with that."
Former Tour Down Under winner, Slagter, told reporters he was disappointed with having come so close to bagging his first-ever Grand Tour stage win. "I tried to follow Tiralongo, I couldn't work, I thought the only way is to try and stay on his wheel but he was too strong.
"As a team, we did the maximum, with Ryder I had the best guy in the team on the climbs ... I pointed to [had targeted] this stage, but we couldn't pull it off."
Cannondale-Garmin's constant targeting of breakaway moves has already paid dividends on one stage, however, thanks to Davide Formolo taking a prestigious solo win at La Spezia. And even if their two-up attack on stage 9 failed to flourish, more opportunities await in the second and third week.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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