The many labours of Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) at the Giro d'Italia continue. In 2012, the stars aligned in the Canadian's favour at almost every turn en route to final overall victory. In his three appearances at the race since, he has scarcely been able to catch a break.
Sunday's stage 15 to Madonna di Campiglio was a case in point. Hesjedal was still within sight of the pink jersey group over the top of the Passo Daone, but just a few bends into the plunge towards Pinzolo, he was irretrievably distanced after Darwin Atapuma's crash interrupted the chasers' efforts.
"I must have been near the front. I could see the pink jersey and the Astana guys," Hesjedal said afterwards. "There weren't that many guys over the top there. I came around the corner and I could tell guys had come off the road but I was still on guys' wheels and I couldn't really see but then all of a sudden there was quite a big gap."
By the time the dust settled at the base of the descent, Hesjedal found himself in a sizeable group that contained a large portion of race leader Alberto Contador's Tinkoff-Saxo guard. With the maglia rosa isolated in the front group, his teammates gave forlorn chase on the approach the final climb, but their effort appeared to peter out at the base of the haul to Madonna di Campiglio.
"They couldn't do anything," Hesjedal said bluntly of the Tinkoff-Saxo effort as he changed into a jacket at the summit of Madonna di Campiglio. A kilometre or so into the climb, he made a quick calculation and opted to go it alone.
"When I got off that descent there was that gap there. It was a little disorganised and those guys were gone and fully committed up front, so I never regained contact," he said. "But my legs felt good. I basically did the whole climb by myself."
As he began his solo effort with more than 13 kilometres still to race, Hesjedal was a minute down on the leaders, and that gap had stretched out to 3:11 by the time he crested the summit in 12th place on the stage. He acknowledged that bridging across alone on the shallow lower slopes of the final ascent was never a possibility.
"It wasn't a good climb not to be in the wheels, there was a tailwind too. I would have liked to have been playing in the front today, I think I had the legs to do that," he said. "It's unfortunate, but it's ok."
Hesjedal was Cannondale-Garmin’s best finisher on a trying day for the team. Tom Danielson abandoned the race, citing the lingering effects of a knee injury. "Really sad to leave the Giro today with my messed up knee from the Stage 2 crash. #heartbroken," Danielson wrote on Twitter.
After crashing on Friday and struggling in Saturday's time trial, stage 4 winner Davide Formolo incurred further losses on the road to Madonna di Campiglio, coming home in 36th place, eight minutes down on the day's victor, Mikel Landa. The 23-year-old now slips to 21st overall, though he remains second behind Fabio Aru (Astana) in the young rider classification.
Monday sees the Giro break for its second rest day at Pinzolo, with Hesjedal lying 13th overall – 11:17 behind the maglia rosa, but just over a minute off the top 10 on general classification. Twelve months ago, at the end of a Giro compromised by his squad's crash in the opening team time trial, Hesjedal moved up to ninth overall thanks to a series of strong showings in the mountainous final week. He was coy about the prospects of a repeat this time out.
"I don't know. I'm just going to ride well. At the end of the day, you can say 'If he didn't lose that silly time and blah blah blah,' but it's about the performance and the result doesn't always reflect that, in terms of how you ride," Hesjedal said. "We'll see at the end of the race. I already know I feel good."
As he turned to pedal back through the finish line and descend back down the mountain to his team hotel, Hesjedal could only smile as he considered his travails on this Giro. "The consolation is that I've won this race before," he said.
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