Hesjedal breaks even at Giro d’Italia

In the heightened world of the Giro d’Italia’s nervous opening days, every second won and lost is magnified in its significance, and even the most minor of crises turns into a melodrama, but defending champion Ryder Hesjedal seems largely unperturbed by the pervading atmosphere.

After his Garmin-Sharp team coughed up 25 seconds to Sky in the Ischia team time trial, the Canadian’s chances of defending his crown against Bradley Wiggins were hastily estimated to have suffered an important blow.

Yet in the space of two sinuous days in the southern Italy, as the race travelled deep into Calabria, Hesjedal quietly made up his deficit through a combination of attacking, picking up bonus seconds and positioning himself well during technical finales.

Speaking to Cyclingnews on the start line in Cosenza on Wednesday, as the public address system pumped out cheesy Euro-pop and the speaker whipped the crowds into a frenzy, Hesjedal looked to retain a grounded view on the race’s foray into Italy’s deep south.

“I’m happy with how it’s gone so far. There’s been some hard racing and some technical racing and to be still there is kind of all you can ask for, so it’s all good,” Hesjedal said as he inspected his handlebars.

Hesjedal’s disappointment at the finish of the Ischia team time trial had been palpable, but at a remove of three days – and now standing level on time with Wiggins in the overall standings – the Canadian had a different perspective on that trying afternoon.

“In a situation like that, it’s one day and 17k, so everything’s got to fire just right,” he said. “Losing David Millar wasn’t the best-case scenario, and that definitely cost us some seconds, but I think we rode well. You can look at it all day long, and they said people who went late like we did got some bad wind, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s all back to even.”

Hesjedal won last year’s Giro by managing the clock like a quarterback on a two-minute drill, moving the chains with purpose but always taking care not to lose vital yards on a play. It has been a similar scenario thus far at the 2013 edition, and Hesjedal chipped away at his missing seconds with an aggressive showing on stage three to Marina di Ascea.

“You have to take the opportunities every day you can when you have the legs but that day was more a case of just being on the front and being able to control things by being up there,” he said. “On a technical finish like that, you want to be out in front. It worked out well. I was able to pick up some seconds and that’s what it’s all about.”

Time trial

Hesjedal will carry that philosophy into Saturday’s lengthy time trial from Gabicce Mare to Saltara. At 55 kilometres, the stage is widely seen as an opportunity for Wiggins to put serious time into his rivals for the pink jersey but Hesjedal refused to put a number on what would constitute successful exercise in damage limitation.

“All you can do is just do the best ride possible and all you can do is just be happy with that. There’s no sense in trying to figure things out that are out of your control,” Hesjedal said. “It’s pretty straightforward.”

That said, Hesjedal – and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), for that matter – might well have been buoyed by what they have seen of the time trial. The rolling parcours is not an outright tester’s course and, in theory at least, should provide them with a chance to limit Wiggins’ (potential) gains.

“I’ve previewed it. It’s going to be pretty hard,” Hesjedal said. “It’s really long and really hard. There’s a thousand metres of climbing. It’s technical and it comes after a long first week and a really hard day the day before. It will be a big test.”

Hesjedal retained a neutral stance, too, on Gazzetta dello Sport’s conjecture of mutiny in the Sky camp on stage 4 to Serra San Bruno, where Wiggins lost 17 seconds in the finale while Colombian pair Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran rode in pursuit of stage victory up ahead. For Hesjedal, the confusion was simply par for the course in the Giro’s chaotic opening days.

“It’s just pretty hectic in that kind of final,” Hesjedal said. “You just assume everyone’s there and I don’t really know what goes on in other teams but it’s a long race and there’s a lot of racing to go.”

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