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Giro d'Italia

‘Purito’ gets his mojo back… and the maglia rosa

After forfeiting time - and the maglia rosa - to Ryder Hesjedal Saturday, Purito is back on top today after a viscous attack on final climb

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PIANI DEI RESINELLI, Italy (VN) – Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) surged back into the maglia rosa Sunday. He and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) continue their yo-yo battle for pink as the Giro d’Italia heats up with less than a week to go.

On Saturday, Hesjedal took advantage of the grinding, 27km climb to Cervinia to take back the pink jersey, only to see Rodríguez turn the tables Sunday on the explosive, 7.8km summit finale on roads ideally suited for his style of racing.

Rodríguez pounced with 1.2km to go to erase his nine-second deficit to Hesjedal and turn it into a 30-second lead going into Monday’s rest day.

Rodríguez couldn’t quite pull off the stage victory – losing at the line to breakaway survivor Matteo Rabottini (Farnese-Vini) – but he took some important gains on Hesjedal and his other GC rivals.

“It was very important to recapture the maglia rosa because this will give the team a lot of motivation going into the final week,” Rodríguez said. “I knew today was a good opportunity to take back the jersey and open up some more time to my rivals.”

Hesjedal admitted he could feel Saturday’s efforts in his legs. Cold, driving rain and cooler temperatures didn’t help, either, and Rodríguez powered away from the Canadian and a fast-dwindling front group.

“Based on how I felt on the bike, today was a victory,” Hesjedal told VeloNews after wiping the mud and grit off his face at the foggy summit.

“I didn’t feel that good today. I’m pretty pleased with the ride today based on the situation,” he continued. “I had some bike problems. I had to ride my spare bike today. It’s just wet and cold, and it was a big effort yesterday. Now I have a rest day, so I’m happy. I don’t think I lost too much time in the big picture.”

Although Hesjedal forfeited 39 seconds to his Spanish rival, he limited his losses to other podium rivals, losing only 14 seconds to Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale).

For Garmin-Barracuda, there’s growing confidence that Hesjedal can hang tough in the final week to challenge for the top-3 podium.

Garmin teammate Christian Vande Velde, who was the last man there for Hesjedal both Saturday and Sunday, said the key will be consistency over the closing decisive stages.

“We’re just getting into the real Giro. This has been a test for the coming week. The key is to just keep plugging away,” Vande Velde told VeloNews. “When you go deep like that, even when it’s just 3km, it makes a big difference. Ryder rode well today. He gave up a little to Rodríguez, but he has a lot of time on a lot of guys.”

Beyond Hesjedal’s Saturday attack, Rodríguez has been the only GC rival who’s been willing to dare lay down attacks. Others, such as Basso and Scarponi, are holding their firepower in check, waiting for the long, punishing climbs in store for the final week of racing.

Rodríguez says he won’t be caught off guard by the looming climbs, saying that he knows all the major summits that lie in wait except for the Alpe di Pampeago summit on Friday.

“I know the major climbs, so it won’t be any major surprises for me. I know what to expect,” Rodríguez said. “It’s important going into the final week to have the maglia rosa and with some important time differences to my top rivals.”

Rodríguez is slowly gaining confidence with every stage and every attack. With more than a minute advantage to all his rivals except Hesjedal, Purito is ready to battle for what would be his first grand tour victory of his career after five grand-tour top-10s in the past four years.

“We’ll see who is the strongest in the final week,” he said with a smile. “Right now, the strongest is me.”

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