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ALTOPIANO DEL MONTASIO, Italy (VN) — Garmin-Sharp sport director Bingen Fernández couldn’t see what was going on, but he could hear it.
Race radio was crackling with the news: defending Giro d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal was getting dropped. Hesjedal faded on the Cat. 1 Passo Cason di Lanza partway through Tuesday’s first mountain test and never made it back. Empty and dejected, Hesjedal stepped onto Garmin bus without speaking to reporters.
The day’s GC said it all. Hesjedal lost 20:53 to leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and plummeted out of GC contention to 33rd, at 23:45 back.
“We still don’t know the reason why, but it’s obvious that he’s not at the same level as he was last season,” Fernández told VeloNews.
No one seems to know why Hesjedal has been struggling over the past few days. Or at least they’re not saying anything publicly.
The Canadian, who typically is one of the steadiest riders in the bunch, lost more than two minutes to the GC favorites in Saturday’s time trial and then ceded another 1:04 after losing contact over a relatively easy climb late in Sunday’s stage.
Following Monday’s rest day, Garmin sport director Charly Wegelius told VeloNews on Tuesday morning that Hesjedal was feeling better and the team was cautiously optimistic that the worse was behind them.
Garmin put David Millar and Thomas Dekker into the early breakaway based on the assumption that Hesjedal was better and the team wanted to have some friendly wheels up the road.
Instead, Hesjedal struggled under the searing pace set by Sky over the Cat. 1 Passo Cason di Lanza with more than 50 kilometers to go.
Fernández, who was following in the team car behind the breakaway, could only listen to what was happening over the radio as Garmin’s GC aspirations slowly unraveled.
“Seeing how his preparation was going and how he was racing in the Ardennes, we came here with full expectations of fighting for everything,” Fernández said. “Even in the first week, seeing how he was attacking, things were looking good, but he just couldn’t follow.”
Garmin teammate Peter Stetina witnessed first-hand as Hesjedal tried in vain to keep pace.
“[Ryder] must have been empty today. It was amazing how small and twisting that first climb was. The roads seemed to be built for an ATV, and Sky started smacking it,” Stetina told VeloNews. “Ryder was just flat. We [Tom Danielson and Stetina] stayed with him and tried to pace him all the way to the top. Then we paced him through the valley, but there was such a headwind and the group was gone, that was all she wrote.”
Garmin buried themselves to try to close the gap coming down the descent and on the flat 15km approach to the final climb, but Sky was upping the pressure on Astana and there was no way Hesjedal and co. could chase back on.
“We gave it a good try to try to get him back, but the writing was on the wall,” Stetina continued. “The poor guy was just empty. I don’t know if it was a case from being flat on the rest or what. It is obvious things have changed now for us.”
Garmin will take stock after meeting later this evening, but it’s now clear that hopes of defending pink are over.
“First, we’re going to see how he is and how he feels, but it’s obvious that our tactic will change dramatically,” Fernández said. “Before, we were 100-percent riding for the GC; now we have to think of taking something else out of this Giro. The race continues. We have to push forward.”
ALTOPIANO DEL MONTASIO, Italy (VN) — Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) proved on Tuesday, on the Giro d’Italia’s first summit finish, that he is truly in the hunt for a second grand tour victory to follow his 2011 Tour de France triumph.
“I have done a lot of work on my climbing,” Evans said, “but this was always going to be the first big test for me to see where I am placed with my climbing.”
Evans rode away into the crisp mountain air with race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) today. At the relatively new ski resort sitting in Italy’s northeast Friuli region, he got a good view of the overall classification.
Bradley Wiggins’ Sky teammate, Rigoberto Urán, rode clear for the stage win in the race’s first true mountain test. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) was second, and Nibali and Evans were the top GC favorites, finishing third and five, respectively.
Nibali snapped up bonus seconds at a late sprint partway up the finish climb and by placing third on the stage. Those 12 seconds added to the 37-second gain Nibali, Evans, Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia), Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff), and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) put into Wiggins.
The 2012 Tour de France champion lost ground on the newly introduced climb’s 20-percent pitches four kilometers from the finish. He kept his head, but conceded time to the five-man group of rivals.
The net result has Nibali and Evans in pole position for the Giro title. Nibali leads by 41 seconds over Evans, who is second overall. The rest are at more than two minutes.
“This was the first stage that would also show where everyone is placed, and some riders lost time,” Evans said.
Evans shows his experienced eye
Evans lost the Tour de France more times than he cares to remember. He also became the race’s first Australian winner in 2011. In the Giro, he has placed fifth and wore the maglia rosa in his grand tour debut in 2002. In short, Evans has an experienced eye.
“It was not ideal to lose some seconds to Nibali, but then it was good to still hold my place,” he said. “To lose some seconds wasn’t too bad. I tried to go for those [bonus] seconds at the end.”
After nixing the bonus seconds on the key mountain stages in 2012, race organizer RCS Sport brought them back for every stage other than the time trials, awarding 20, 12, and eight seconds for the top three finishers, respectively.
The race heads upwards again tomorrow to Vajont, where 50 years ago nearly 2000 died in a dam tragedy. The climb rises to just 809 meters and drops off in the final 250 meters. As a faster finisher, Evans is better suited to take bonus seconds there.
The race then heads west via stages designed more for the sprinters and breakaway riders, culminating on the weekend with a run-up the Col du Galibier’s northern slope. Evans defended himself on that pass and the following day up Alpe d’Huez before stomping the time trial and taking yellow in the 2011 Tour. It could be a good omen for the Aussie. The Giro wraps on May 26 in Breschia.
“It’s still too early to say how things will happen,” Evans said. “It’s still a long way until we get to Brescia.”
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