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RONDA, Spain (VN) — Ryder Hesjedal’s GC hopes at the Vuelta a España took a blow Wednesday, when he ceded more than three minutes in what looked like, at least on paper, a relatively routine stage.
But there is never a routine stage in a grand tour, when teams and riders are ready to turn the screws at any moment.
The 2012 Giro d’Italia champion started the Vuelta with quiet optimism to surprise the superstar peloton, but he was caught out late when Tinkoff-Saxo started to attack in crosswinds with about 40km to go approaching the third-category climb at Puerto el Saltillo. The peloton snapped, and Garmin-Sharp was torn between its two protected leaders. Daniel Martin was able to scramble into the main GC group, but Hesjedal was caught out.
After coming over the El Saltillo climb with about 15km to go, with Tinkoff-Saxo continuing to pour it on, it was clear Hesjedal would not be able to regain contact. Hesjedal tried in vain to close the gap, but he crossed the line 90th, at 3:19 back.
“Mala suerte,” Garmin-Sharp sport director Bingen Fernández told VeloNews. “It was bad luck. Ryder was near the back of the peloton, and we needed to be up front. Tinkoff started pulling, and the group split up.”
Martin was able to ride into the main group, finishing 40th, five seconds behind a baker’s dozen of sprinters who charged ahead to contest for the stage victory, to keep alive his GC aspirations.
With the time losses, it will be difficult for Hesjedal to pose a serious threat against such big names protected by strong teams.
“We had to have a few riders to work for Dan, and Ryder. Ryder went full gas, but couldn’t get across,” Fernández explained. “Ryder came here with big ambitions. We still have Dan. We’ll see.”
Garmin-Sharp’s Andrew Talansky also lost time, crossing the line at 3:51. Talansky, however, made it plain at the start of the Vuelta he was here to support Martin and Hesjedal, and did not harbor legitimate GC aspirations.
“We have a great team here. For Dan and Ryder, from the Giro onwards, their sights have transitioned to the Vuelta. I am happy to be here to support those guys,” Talansky told VeloNews last week. “We have two great leaders for the Vuelta, and I am excited to help them.”
Hesjedal sounded optimistic before the start of the Vuelta. He skipped the Tour de France for the first time since 2007, riding into the top-10 at the Giro before reloading for the Vuelta.
“Everyone has the legs, it’s a matter of how it unfolds. Are we capable of multiple guys up there in the race? I think so,” Hesjedal told VeloNews last week. “I think I can do a good Vuelta. It’s where I made my grand tour debut [in 2006], and I remember when I won my first grand tour stage here [stage 12 in 2009]. I’ve always had good luck at the Vuelta.”
Unfortunately for Hesjedal, that luck ran out on the road to Ronda on Wednesday.