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.”