ALGHERO, Italy (VN) — Ryder Hesjedal was spotted walking around the seafront Thursday ahead of the start of the 2017 Giro d’Italia. Asked if he missed racing, the 2012 Giro winner diplomatically said he was enjoying his retirement.
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With Hesjedal, who became Canada’s first grand tour winner in 2012, no longer in the fold, North American riders at this year’s Giro take on a different look in 2017.
Six Americans and two Canadians start the 100th edition of the Italian grand tour Friday. Only one — BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen — comes with real GC ambitions. The others are a mix of stage-hunters and domestiques intent on taking the most out of the season’s first grand tour.
Here is a quick primer on the North American contingent:
Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Drapac)
The pure climber made an impression in his Giro debut last year, riding into several key mountain stage breakaways. Now 25, Dombrowski has the experience and confidence to aim even higher. With Cannondale-Drapac not putting any focus on GC, the team will be racing an aggressive Giro, with an eye on breakaways, stage wins, and perhaps a run at the climber’s jersey. That means Dombrowski will get his chances.
“I think Joe got a glimpse last year of what he can do at the Giro, and for someone like Joe who has very high quality capabilities, but in very specific types of races, the Giro is always going to be attractive to him,” said sport director Charly Wegelius. “When we get to the high altitude in the last week, he can do his best, so we need to wait for him until the last week.”
Bib number: 63
Giro history: Second start. In debut last year, fifth in the young rider’s competition, third in stage 20.
Alex Howes (Cannondale-Drapac)
Howes has been around the peloton a few years, with four grand tours under his belt, and he will be making his Giro debut this year. Like his teammate Dombrowski, he will have freedom to attack. Hot off winning the best climber’s jersey at the Tour of the Basque Country, Howes carries some promising form into the Giro. There are plenty of lumpy transition stages ideal for a breakaway. “Giddy” is the word to describe his pre-Giro feelings.
“I’ve done a couple of Vueltas and a couple of Tours but I have this funny giddy feeling like this is my first ‘real’ grand tour,” Howes said. “Growing up, the Giro always had this special, almost romantic charm and appeal that no other race had. It was always the ‘real’ race. A race of not just legs but a competition of heart and spirit.”
Bib number: 65
Giro history: Giro debut
Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac)
Canada’s latest top prospect is pumped for his grand tour debut. Injuries last year kept him out of the Giro, but now he’s back in great form after a spectacular spring campaign that included ninth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 11th at Flèche Wallonne and second at GP Miguel Indurain. The Giro’s penchant for hilltop finales in the first and second weeks should see Woods with a green light to chase a stage win.
Well into his second WorldTour season, Woods said he respects the challenge that lies ahead of him.
“I am pumped to be doing this race. Last year I managed, through some bad decisions on my part and bad luck, to not start any grand tour on the calendar. This has made the significance of this one, to me, that much greater,” Woods said. “Aside from the excitement, there is definitely some respect that I am storing up for that final week of racing and the process of getting there. I know crashes, illness, and just a few off-days can derail even the best riders in the peloton, so I am making sure not to get too far ahead of myself.”
Bib number: 69
Giro history: Giro debut
Svein Tuft (Orica-Scott)
The legendary hardman from the Great White North is starting his 11th career grand tour. Ever steady on the flats, and with some speed in his legs for time trialing (he wore the pink jersey in the 2014 Giro), Tuft slots into a helper’s role during this Giro. His job will be shepherding Orica’s GC man Adam Yates around the Giro’s rolling obstacle course. At 39, he will be the second-oldest rider in the Giro peloton (Angel Vicioso at Katusha is 40).
Bib number: 128
Giro history: Five Giro starts; wore the pink jersey after leading GreenEdge across the line in the team time trial to open the 2014 Giro in Belfast.
Joey Rosskopf (BMC Racing)
The American all-rounder enjoyed a breakout 2016 campaign, winning his first European races since making the bump to the WorldTour in 2015. After completing his first Giro last year, he rode with strength into the Tour of Limousin in central France. He won stage 1 in a breakaway, and then defended his lead to claim the overall in the four-stage race along the Massif Central.
Coming into this year’s Giro, he brings solid form, highlighted by a team time trial win at the Volta a Catalunya (after Movistar was relegated), with 30th at the Tour of the Alps, and 10th at the Tour of Yorkshire. With van Garderen riding for GC, Rosskopf will be one of his compatriot’s key helpers in the transition stages.
Bib number: 46
Giro history: Second start; rode to 85th in 2016 debut.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing)
As America’s top GC hope in this Giro, van Garderen will be hoping to make the most of his Giro debut. After racing six consecutive editions of the Tour de France (twice fifth overall), van Garderen took on the challenge of racing the Giro for the first time, stepping aside to let Richie Porte take over leadership at the Tour squad. Two long time trials coupled with van Garderen’s trademark diesel engine on the long climbs should favor him in this Giro. If he can make it deep into the third week, his experience could keep him close to podium contention going into the final-day time trial.
“The parcours suits me well. There is a good number of time trialing kilometers and a good number of mountain stages. It is a very balanced grand tour. It’s hard, certainly, but I like the route,” van Garderen said. “My lead up to the Giro d’Italia has been good. It has been a slow progression, but I think I am hitting good form at the right time. Now it’s about fine-tuning the big load of work that I have done since December, with my final race at the Tour de Romandie.”
Bib number: 41
Giro history: Giro debut
Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo)
Peter Stetina knows what it’s like to have a teammate win the Giro, and that experience will be key in the coming weeks as Bauke Mollema makes an all-out push for victory. Stetina was one of Hesjedal’s helpers during the Canadian’s 2012 Giro raid, and played a key role in saving Hesjedal’s chances in the dramatic stage ending atop the Stelvio. Fully recovered from his traumatic crash in the 2015 Vuelta a País Vasco, when he struck a metal pole left in the roadway, Stetina will be one of Mollema’s key helpers in the Dutchman’s bid for the pink jersey.
Bib number: 198
Giro history: Three Giro finishes, most recently in 2013.
Chad Haga (Sunweb)
After battling back from a horrific car crash during a training ride last January, Haga bravely returned to competition, starting both the Giro and Vuelta a España last year. Now in his fourth season at the WorldTour, Haga brings experience and maturity as one of Tom Dumoulin’s top helpers for the Dutchman’s push for the GC. A solid Tour de Romandie, including 17th in the final time trial, confirms he’s on form for the Giro.
Bib number: 184
Giro history: Two Giro starts; with ninth in a stage in 2015