A tired Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) reached the summit of Pian dei Resinelli 39 seconds down on Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) but he remained upbeat about his chances in spite of losing the maglia rosa on stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia.
The Canadian was defending a narrow 9-second lead overall coming into the day’s stage, a testing 171km into the heart of Tour of Lombardy country that was made all the more difficult by constant rain and treacherous roads, including the descent of the Valcava.
While Liquigas-Cannondale succeeded in controlling the tempo of the pink jersey group most of the way up the final climb above Ballabio, the racing ignited inside the final three kilometres, as first Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) and then Rodriguez attempted to jump clear.
Mindful of his own qualities as something of a diesel, Hesjedal understood immediately that the best option was to continue at his own pace rather than attempt to match the ferocity of Rodriguez’s acceleration.
“I can’t get sucked in to trying to accelerate with those guys, especially today as I didn’t feel that good,” Hesjedal told reporters shortly after wheeling to a halt beyond the finish line. “But if today was my bad day then I can be happy with that.”
As Hesjedal covered up his mud-splattered pink jersey with a jacket, Rodriguez was preparing to mount the podium to accept a pristine version. However, with just 30 seconds separating them and with a 30km time trial still to come in Milan, Hesjedal was bullish about his chances of staying in the hunt through the Dolomites.
“It was a good finish for him again today, very explosive at the end of a hard day,” Hesjedal said. “It’s clear that he’s in good shape and we’ve got quite the little battle shaping up here.”
Hesjedal explained that he was still suffering the effects of his acceleration on the previous day’s stage to Cervinia, when he had upset the odds by clipping off the front of the group of contenders and moving back into the pink jersey. In such circumstances, he declared himself satisfied to have limited his losses in the mountains overlooking Lake Como.
“I didn’t feel that good today all day so I’m pretty pleased with the ride today,” he said. “I had some problems. I had to ride my spare bike today and it was wet and cold. Plus it was a big effort yesterday. Tomorrow’s the rest day so I’m happy because I don’t think I lost too much time.”
The weight of defending the jersey now passes to Katusha, while Hesjedal’s brief will be to stay as close as he can to the Catalan and the other favourites in the troika of stages in the Dolomites next week. The strongest of the overall contenders in the time trial, he is aware that he has a 30km test to come in Milan to try and recoup any additional losses.
“The team was awesome again on a real tough day to be in the jersey and I enjoyed it again,” Hesjedal said. “It was exciting to take it back yesterday and I’ve got no problems giving it back.”
There was a brief moment of levity as Hesjedal prepared to ride off to his team bus, parked at the foot of the final climb. Asked if his Norwegian ancestry had helped him to cope with the mountains and the cold, Hesjedal managed to raise a smile in spite of his fatigue. “Yeah, probably it’s in the genes.”