RUPERT GUINNESS May 28, 2012
Garmin-Barracuda's Ryder Hesjedal of Canada. Photo: Reuters
Ryder Hesjedal savoured two spells in the Giro d’Italia race leader’s pink jersey before claiming it for the third and most important moment of them all on Sunday - after the 21st and final stage.
Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) went into the final time trial 28.2km stage, placed second overall at 31 seconds to Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). But his sixth place at 1 minute 9 seconds to the Italian stage winner, Marco Pinotto (BMC) was enough to lift him into first overall.
Rodriguez threw everything into his ride but he still finished 26th at 1m 56s which was 47 seconds slower than Hesjedal. That made Hesjedal the overall winner over Rodriguez by 16s.
Both Hesjedal and Rodriguez attacked the course that began at Piazzo Castello and finished on the Piazza Duomo. On a course that also had numerous stretches with small cobblestones, Hesjedal even rode on the smoother yellow lane markings to gain time.
But Hesjedal was the stronger rider and showed that early by taking a quick lead over Rodriguez that reached 40 seconds mid-way in the stage.
Later, after the fanfare of his pink jersey presentation in the Piazza Duomo where the Canadian national anthem was played and during which Hesjedal’s eyes glistened with emotion, the 31 year-old said it was not until the last kilometres that he felt he had the overall victory secured.
Asked about the tactics of his major rivals like Rodriguez, Scarponi and Basso who, after realising that he was the major contender he always believed he was, set about trying to eliminate him - especially in Saturday’s 20th stage to the Passo dello Stelvio in the Alps - he said: ‘‘My rivals were showing me respect in my strength. That was something that made me even stronger. To compete with them was the highlight of my career so far.’’
Rodriguez confirmed that he did not surrender his pink jersey - mentally - until after he had heard the final results, that confirmed Hesjedal’s win.
He said: ‘‘Valerio [Piva, his sports director] was telling me it was my moment in the time trial. I risked it all. I pushed it, in every corner, I thought, maybe he was doing the same. Up until the last kilometre, I believed, we were talking seconds. I had a chance to win this race up until the last moment.’’
Asked if there were any mistakes that may have cost him the win, other than the time trial, Rodriguez conceded they underestimated Hesjedal.
‘‘To think of some error now ... [in] the first week ... to try to drop Ryder, [but] maybe [then Ivan] Basso would’ve won,’’ he said. ‘‘The race took its shape, it went how it went. Ryder won. Maybe if something changed, something would’ve changed. I could’ve won, but De Gendt could’ve won.’’
Rupert Guinness has been covering the Giro d’Italia courtesy of Eurosport