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SYDNEY (VN) — The team time trial opened some unexpected early gaps between the general classification contenders with six-time grand tour champion Alberto Contador sitting in the driver’s seat at the 98th edition of the Giro d’Italia.
The 2008 Giro winner, who has won two Tour de France crowns and three Vuelta a España titles, including one in 2014, can thank his Tinkoff-Saxo teammates for piloting his paceline to a solid second place behind Orica-GreenEdge, who took the opening team time trial for the second straight year.
After three stages, the 32-year-old Spaniard sits 17 seconds off stage 3 winner and current race leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) and holds a six-second lead over Italian rival Fabio Aru (Astana), 12 seconds over Colombian Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step), 20 seconds over Australian Richie Porte (Team Sky), and 46 seconds over Canadian and 2012 Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin), whose team finished 19th out of the 22 squads on the first stage.
“It’s to be determined if that’s a lot of time in this Giro,” Hesjedal told VeloNews. “Contador is obviously a favorite and a huge talent, but it’s not just about Contador, the field here is full of talent.
“As a team, we did the best performance we could and we are focused on the days in front of us.”
With 18 stages remaining over the next two and a half weeks, the Victoria native says there’s no time to panic even if he finds himself trailing his fiercest competitors.
“Less than a minute to all the contenders is nothing in a race like the Giro, where the racing is so hard and situations change daily,” he said. “We’re excited for the stages ahead.”
The 34-year-old former national road race champion struggled in 2013, a year after the three-time Olympian became the first Canadian to win a grand tour.
The Olympic mountain biker-turned-roadie was plagued by illness, injury, and crashes following his historic win in Italy. That same year, Hesjedal admitted to doping earlier in his career (2003) following allegations in Michael Rasmussen’s book, “Yellow Fever.”
“I chose the wrong path,” explained Hesjedal after his confession. “I have lived with that and been sorry for it ever since.”
After a turbulent year, the Garmin rider returned to form in 2014, finishing ninth at the Giro before picking up his second career stage win at the Vuelta.
Now riding with Cannondale-Garmin — the result of the merger between Cannondale and Garmin-Sharp following last season — Hesjedal and company look to rebound from a slow start and still contend for the maglia rosa.
“I feel good, and I am looking forward to testing myself against the field that’s here,” said Hesjedal.
“The team morale is high,” he added. “This is the Giro and we’re excited to be here. After all, this is why we get out of bed every day and work so hard.
“If you look at our team we are built for the majority of this race, not the 17 kilometers that was the team time trial.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews