Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) made history Saturday by becoming the first Canadian to wear the pink jersey.
But like most things in modern-day cycling, it didn’t happen by accident. Behind Hesjedal’s journey to the top of the Giro leaderboard is months of planning and hard work.
Hesjedal and the Garmin-Barracuda brain trust began targeting the Giro all the way back in November, when the team had its first meetings to start mapping out the 2012 season.
“We sat down with him back in November and said, ‘Ryder, the Giro is a chance for you to ride for GC,’” Garmin-Barracuda sport director Allan Peiper told VeloNews.com. “So we mapped out a plan for him to come in slower to the season, something he’s not done before.”
Typically, Hesjedal is hot out of the gates, racing for results in such races as Strade Bianchi and the Vuelta al País Vasco, but this season, the former mountain biker has been keeping things on a slow simmer.
The idea is to hit the final week of the Giro in top, podium-fighting form.
Hesjedal rode well at the Basque Country and the Ardennes, where he rode strong in a late-race breakaway at Flèche Wallonne and posted ninth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
For Peiper, that was a signal that Hesjedal was right on target.
“Usually, he’s guns-a-blazin’ by Tirreno, Basque Country, the Ardennes, and we told him this year just come in a little slower. Do not put pressure on yourself for the early-season results,” Peiper said. “Look to build for May to hit the peak form. We saw good rides at the Ardennes, and his confidence was building. His rides in the Ardennes were confirmation that he’s back at that ‘look, I can play with the big boys’ level.”
Peiper has also been quietly urging Hesjedal to take more confidence in himself.
Hesjedal prefers to let his legs do the talking and rarely makes a fuss about his own ambitions, but Peiper said Hesjedal has the motor to surprise some people during this year’s Giro.
Peiper pointed out that Hesjedal won a stage at the Vuelta a España and finished in the top-10 at the Tour de France, results that the team took into consideration when they decided to build the Giro around his legs.
“That helped him to get the confidence as the team leader for the Giro. Hopefully he’s on a roll,” he said. “We don’t want to compare him to anyone else. If you want to win, you got to think about it. He’s been second at Amstel Gold, so why not think about winning? It’s also a mental thing. The team will be there for him. We hope that comes together.”
Stetina rides into white jersey
Peter Stetina, also on Garmin-Barracuda, earned some well-deserved podium time after slipping into the best young rider’s white jersey. Riding in his second Giro, Stetina will be one of Hesjedal’s key men for the mountains in the second half of the Giro.
Stetina nearly popped into the top-20 last year in his Giro debut, when he rode hard to protect GC captain Christophe Le Mével in the opening two weeks of the race before the team finally allowed him to fight all the way to Milan.
Speaking to VeloNews at the start of this year’s Giro in Herning, Denmark, Stetina said he’s starting the Giro in even better condition than last year.
“I feel stronger after getting that Giro in my legs last year. That was brutal, but it made me stronger in the end,” he said. “I will be there to help Ryder to try to get to the podium. I want to be there for him on the final climbs. And if I am there in the final week in the mountains, that means that I should have a good GC. I think a top-10 is possible.”
Stetina’s second Giro almost didn’t happen – he was struck by a motorist just two days before the start in Herning when training on the opening time trial course. He was knocked off his bike, but luckily not seriously injured.
Stage-winner: Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), second career Giro stage win
Pink leader: Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda), first Canadian to wear maglia rosa
Red points: Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge), Aussie sprinter keeps points lead
Blue mountains: Miguel Rubiano (Androni Giocattoli) successfully defends the KoM jersey
White young: Peter Stetina (Garmin-Barracuda) takes over best young rider’s jersey from Andrea Malori (Lampre-ISD)
Weather: Chance of showers
Continued summer-like conditions, with temperatures in the high 70s, northerly winds of about 10-15mph, and a 40-percent chance of showers in the afternoon.
Tomorrow’s stage: Long push south
The 95th Giro d’Italia continues Sunday with the 229km eighth stage from Sulmona to Laco Laceno, with another mountaintop finale in what will be the southern-most point of this year’s Giro.
The lumpy stage features two rated climbs, but it’s rarely flat at any point of the race, and should prove very difficult to control. There is a steep, 700-meter unrated climb right from the gun that could blow apart the peloton as riders try to attack into the day’s main breakaway.
The day’s first official hurdle is the Cat. 4 Valico di Macerone at 65km –the day’s main break should be firmly established by then. Riders get a breather of sorts to organize a chase on some rolling flats in the middle of the stage, before tackling the hilly final 70km of racing.
The final Cat. 2 climb up Colle Molella is even steeper than what the peloton faced Saturday, though about half the distance. The 9.9km climb features an average grade of 6 percent, with ramps as steep as 12 percent, and will certainly provoke some attacks in what will be the GC riders’ first real chance to test the legs of their rivals.
The climb tops out about 4km from the finish line over a smooth, undulating road with a slight descent to the line in the final 500m.
The stage should produce a real doozy of an afternoon of racing, with the big question whether a breakaway will be able to make it to the line against the GC attacks coming from behind.
Garmin-Barracuda will be under the gun all day to protect Hesjedal’s leader’s jersey.
Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood’s covered every Tour since 1996 and has been VeloNews’ European correspondent since 2002. He lives in Leon, Spain, when he’s not chasing bike races.