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CERVINIA, Italy (VN) — Cold, wind, rain and snow in the upper edges of Italy marked stage 14 of the Giro d’Italia. And as the Giro pushed towards the French border, up into the Aosta Valley and the Cervinia ski resort, Garmin-Barracuda was pushing for the pink jersey again for Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, after losing it four days ago.
Jack Bauer and Garmin’s other helpers covered the early kilometers and the elite guard, Christian Vande Velde and Peter Stetina, arrived for the upper elevations – down into the St Vincent valley, parallel to the A5 Autostrada, and face to face with the 27km climb to Cervinia.
This was also another “Garmin’s” ground: Maurice Garmin, the Italian/French rider who grew up here amongst the castles and went on to conquer the first Tour de France. And it was Ivan Gotti’s ground: The Italian from Bergamo used the climb as a launch pad to his first Giro d’Italia win in 1997.
It was not Garmin or Gotti this time, but Vande Velde and Stetina who ruled today. They did the dirty work, leading 31-year-old Hesjedal back into the Giro d’Italia’s maglia rosa.
Vande Velde led him to the wheel of previous leader, Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) and left him at nine kilometers to go. Then Stetina supported Hesjedal and gave the numerical support needed when Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) had Sylvester Szmyd, Roman Kreuziger (Astana) had Paolo Tiralongo, and Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF) had Gianluca Brambilla.
Hesjedal did the rest by attacking solo with three kilometers to race.
“It shows he came here to play,” Stetina told VeloNews. “You know, a lot of people didn’t see him as a top contender, but that was our plan from the beginning. We said he was coming here to ride the GC and we meant it.”
Hesjedal gained 26 seconds on Rodríguez and moved into the pink jersey by nine seconds.
After, Stetina was coughing: The cold air had entered his lungs and the effort showed. He put on a jacket for the 1.2km descent to the Garmin bus and Hesjedal popped a bottle of Prosecco in celebration.
“Christian and I just tried to keep him out of the wind on the lower parts,” he added, “because it was real gusty and headwinds. It came down to natural selection over the top.”
Vande Velde arrived moments later, also proud of Hesjedal. The two joined Garmin in 2008 and led the team into its first Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia. Then the goal was the team time trial, which it won, but now it’s much larger: the overall classification.
Hesjedal lost the pink jersey to Rodríguez on the short and sharp slopes into Assisi, where time bonuses widened the gap. He gained it back on the long haul, something in his favor for the overall, according to Vande Velde.
“This is how it goes; you always kind of question because he’s kind of humping around, but then he just comes better and better. Usually the last week is always his best,” Vande Velde told VeloNews.
“To win here you have to have good legs and great form. He took advantage of the situation and he’s riding great.”
Earlier in the race, the Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport listed the overall favorites and their placings in the classification after the major stages. It left off Hesjedal consistently until he took the pink jersey the first time. Now with only a week remaining, the press – and more importantly Basso and company – need to pay closer attention to the Canadian.
Stetina added, “If they haven’t looked at us seriously by now, then something’s really wrong.”