Monday, May 13, 2013

The Giro at the rest day: Favourites reassess but don't necessarily relax

Sir Wiggins appeared ready for battle
before the start of the Giro but has yet
to assume command.
The competitors in the three-week Giro d'Italia arrived at the first rest day today, which couldn't have been better-timed for a pair of the pre-race favourites.

Honorary, adopted St. Louisan and defending champion Ryder Hesjedal lost a minute to the other faves Sunday, on a final climb that should have caused him little or no trouble. He dropped to 11th from sixth and trails overall leader Vincenzo Nibali  by 3:11. Earlier in the week, Hesjedal, husband of McCluer grad Ashley Hofer, appeared in fighting form when he attacked his rivals on Stage 3. The attack showed the kind of panache often missing in the calculated, BORING tactics that most GC riders use.

"It wasn't even a bad day; it was a bad moment," Hesjedal told cyclingnews of the final climb Sunday. "I could already feel on the second-to-last climb that something was not right. I couldn't get the power out of my legs. The last one was even steeper, and the way the race was going I had to ride tempo and limit the damage."

Perhaps the damage was done the day before in the long time trial, when Hesjedal  worked hard for an 18th-place finish.

"Maybe I had a severe case of time trial butt as well, and the cold got through to my muscles," he told cyclingnews. How can you not respect a man who feels comfortable turning a phrase like "time trial butt?"


Many pundits expected Bradley Wiggins to take charge of the race Saturday, in the long time trial. Sir Wiggins finished second, 10 seconds behind Alex Dowsett, and moved into fourth. Wiggins had lost a chunk of time of the favourites the day before, thanks to a mechanical problem. The rainy conditions seems to be messing with his psyche. His Excellency has been unhitched from the group of contends on several downhills, tentative in the slick corners on rain-soaked roads. His Grace is fourth overall, 1:16 behind Nibali, and has been unavailable to the media, which has grown as petulant with him and he is with them.

Nibali, on the other hand, has ridden a flawless race, keeping himself out of trouble in the group and in foul weather, and was especially impressive in the long time trial. Expected to lose chunks of time to Wiggins, Hesjedal and Cadel Evans, Nibali finished fourth, conceding just 10 seconds to the Lord of the Manor and beating Evans and Hesjedal outright.

The biggest surprise is Evans, who had seemed off his game since winning the 2011 Tour de France. Evans was a last-minute entry into the Giro, leading most to conclude that he was using the race as a three-week training ride. Instead, Evans has been almost as steady as Nibali and sits in second overall, 29 seconds behind Nibali.

With 11 stages to go, including the hardest mountains, the shuffling will continue. The next scrambling could come as early as Tuesday, with the Giro's first mountaintop finish at Altopiano del Montasio.

"Wiggins and Hesjedal are still the principal rivals, along with Evans and (Michele) Scarponi," Nibali told reporters through an interpreter. "The Giro is long, and anybody can have a bad day."

Nibali was referring to himself.