Persistent Hesjedal can’t be ignored by Italian media for long

The new Giro leader isn't on Gazzetta's list of favorites, but that can't last for long

Photo: watson

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ROCCA DI CAMBIO, Italy (VN) — Ryder Hesjedal deserves all the praise he receives today, after the 31-year-old on Saturday became the first Canadian to wear the pink jersey in the Giro d’Italia.

Peter Stetina and Christian Vande Velde delivered Hesjedal to the final climb today, the 19km Rocca di Cambio ramp. Hesjedal, who entered the day as the top-placed GC favorite, hovered around the wheel of Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), marked immediate rival Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) and placed fifth on the stage.

The effort kept Rodríguez at bay, he started the day just 19 seconds back, and put a persistent Hesjedal in the coveted pink top.

“It’s the team coming together, we’ve never done anything like this before. The boys setting up for (Hesjedal) at the bottom of the hill, I dropped him off with 900 meters to go at the bottom,” Vande Velde told VeloNews.

“It’s great to see Ryder take the initiative, coming where he came from in 2008 until now, it’s f—king awesome. The biggest thing is that finally, as a team, we are not just here for the team time trial, we’re here for success in sprints and overall. That goes a lot further than how we used to be looked upon.”

Hesjedal joined Garmin in 2008 after spending a year back home with Health Net-Maxxis following the demise of the Phonak squad. Jonathan Vaughters put his faith in his new charge and supported him in races in Europe from the beginning. Hesjedal placed eighth overall in Tirreno-Adriatico that March and helped Garmin debut with a grand tour stage win on day one at the Giro. The team rode into the maglia rosa on that first day with Vande Velde when it won the team time trial in Palermo.

Vaughters continued supporting Hesjedal, including him in the Tour de France every year since. Hesjedal rode to seventh place in 2010 and last year he helped the team win the time trial. Over the winter, Vaughters gave him the nod to race for the overall win at the Giro.

The team started the Giro d’Italia with three objectives: stage wins for Tyler Farrar, the TTT in Verona and the GC with Hesjedal. It nailed the time trial, putting Ramunas Navardauskas into pink and that ride paid today when Hesjedal wrestled the maglia rosa from overnight leader Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD).

“I’ve been around for a while, just persisting and plugging away, and the team’s been incredible,” Hesjedal said in the press conference in his slow, friendly tongue. At one point, emotions seemed to take over and his eyes seemed to water.

Hesjedal spoke about Tyler Farrar, who crashed and abandoned yesterday, and team director Charlie Wegelius, who is at home with his new baby, born today, and his wife, Ashley. When asked if he was married, the Canadian proudly showed off an argyle wedding ring.

“Yesterday was hard to take, with the crash of Farrar, I was pretty upset because we just missed out and Ramunas lost the pink jersey. The team kept confidence in me and just supported me. This is definitely the product of perfect team work and a strong team.”

The La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper publishes the virtual general classification of the top riders, the “bigs,” following every stage. Its editors have continued to ignore Hesjedal as a favorite, despite his grand tour history. Tomorrow, they surely won’t be able to turn their eyes.

Is it too early to take the lead if he wants to win the overall? And, can he win the overall?

“It’s one of those things, if it’s in grasp, take it,” Vande Velde said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. You could do something stupid, break your toe going to the bathroom in the middle of the night or worse.”

Hesjedal is confident.

“I’m the strongest in the third week,” he said, studying the overall classification sheet. “The idea has been to get there and be in good shape.”

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