CIVITAVECCHIA, Italy (VN) – Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) safely negotiated Monday’s crash-marred finale to carry a slender nine-second grip on the pink jersey into Tuesday’s explosive hilltop finale at Assisi.
Nipping at his heels is powerful Spanish climber Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), who is emerging not only as an immediate threat to Hesjedal’s pink jersey, but as a major challenger to the Italians in the fight for the overall GC.
Tuesday’s hilltop finale at Assisi is ideal for his explosive, attacking style and Rodríguez knows he has a chance to win a stage and claim the maglia rosa if he can deliver the goods.
“I feel better than I expected right now,” Rodríguez told journalists. “I have gotten through the first part of the Giro in good shape. I know there is a good chance to try to gain the pink jersey. That’s what we are aiming for.”
The final 4km of Tuesday’s 186km 10th stage should be ideal terrain for Rodríguez, who has made a career of winning on just these types of finales.
The course stair-steps up to Assisi over a 1.6km wall, with ramps as steep as 15 percent, followed by a short, technical descent, before the final 1.2km climb to the line.
With finish-line bonuses waiting for the top three (20, 12 and 8 seconds, respectively), Rodríguez can snatch away pink if he’s first or second and ahead of Hesjedal.
“I am satisfied with how things are shaping up so far,” he said. “I have been trying to save my energy because everything will be decided in the final week.”
Rodríguez knows he has a chance to double on Tuesday and will at least give it a run.
Rodríguez is one of the peloton’s best puncheurs, winning Flèche Wallonne this year after taking a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico up Montelupeone and a stage at the 2010 Tour de France at Mende. Each of those short, steep finishes are similar to tomorrow’s finale.
Hesjedal, however, is no slouch on these types of finishes. He was second in the 2010 Amstel Gold Race and rode into the top 10 at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April.
With the pink jersey on the line, the Canadian is sure to give everything he has in the tank to try to defend the maglia rosa.
Garmin would be more than happy to see a non-threatening breakaway ride clear to contest for the stage victory and the finish-line time bonuses, so it will be up to Katusha to lead the chase.
If Hesjedal does defend the maglia rosa, he could very well carry pink all the way into the mountains this weekend.
Wednesday’s and Friday’s stages are well-suited for the sprinters while Thursday’s hilly course along the Italian Riviera will prove hard to control, but Garmin should see collaboration among the top GC teams to not allow a breakaway to get too much rope.
This weekend’s pair of climbing stages – Saturday at Cervinia and Sunday at Plan dei Resinelli – will prove a challenge no matter who has the pink jersey.
Theo Bos (Rabobank) holds the Giro d’Italia’s unofficial maglia nero for the last-place rider, but for the big Dutch rider, just remaining in the race has been a victory of sorts.
Bos crashed hard on his left hip after high-siding in the sprint in stage 2 in Herning. Since then, he’s been hobbling along, just trying to stay in the race to see if he can help his teammates or perhaps recover enough to challenge for a sprint.
Bos had high hopes coming into this year’s Giro, his second grand tour since leaving behind the track for good after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
The former world sprint champion has had a bumpy road in his transition to the road, but he seems to be hitting his stride in 2012.
Bos, 28, underwent surgery over the winter to repair artery damage in his left leg. Just a week ahead of the Giro, he took two stage victories at the Tour of Turkey to bolster his confidence.
“I have lost 8kg from my top track weight and I have come into this season lighter than ever,” Bos told VeloNews. “I know I still have room to improve as a rider, but I am becoming stronger in the sprints. When I can get to the line, I have more confidence than ever.”
Bos and the rest of the sprinters will see what are likely their last chances this week, with sprinter-friendly courses Wednesday and Friday.
After that, it won’t be just Bos who is thinking about packing it in.
Days in pink
The four riders who have held the pink jersey so far in this Giro d’Italia have all done so for the first time in their respective careers.
For Taylor Phinney (stages 1-3), Ramunas Navardauskas (stage 4-5) and Adriano Malori (stage 6), their run in pink also coincided with the white jersey of the best young rider.
For Navardauskas and Ryder Hesjedal (stages 7-9), their pink jerseys are also the first for their respective nations, Lithuania and Canada.
Phinney’s pink jersey run of three days brought the U.S. tally to a total of 13 days in pink, with one overall victory, with Andy Hampsten in 1988.
In what’s no surprise, Italy holds the most days in pink in the Giro’s history, with 1,167 days.
So far through 2012, the 95th Giro has been a foreign riders’ affair, with only one day in pink and two stage victories by Italian riders through the opening nine stages of racing.
That’s something the Italian media will soon be making a fuss over as the week turns into its decisive final half.
Stage winner: Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) won his second career Giro stage after avoiding a late-stage crash
Pink leader: Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) sprinted to ninth to keep pink for the third stage
Red points: Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) kept the lead despite crashing and missing out on finish-line points
Blue mountains: Miguel Rubiano Chavez (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) kept the KOM uncontested in a stage without rated climbs
White young: Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) defended the white jersey he snatched in yesterday’s stage
Weather: More sun
Spring-like conditions are on tap for Tuesday’s run across Umbria, with highs in the low 70s, under mostly sunny skies and NW winds at about 10mph, with gusts stronger in some areas.
Tomorrow’s stage: Punchers’ paradise
The 95th Giro d’Italia continues Tuesday with a lumpy 186km course from Civitavecchia along Italy’s Tirreno coast to the hilltop town of Assisi.
The rolling terrain features no officially rated climbs until the finish line, but the hilly course will still put the hurt on the legs. A breakaway is sure to form in the first hour of racing and Garmin-Barracuda would be glad to see one stay clear, especially if it contained no dangerous GC riders who can eat up finish-line time bonuses that put Ryder Hesjedal’s pink jersey in danger.
All the action will be packed into the final 4km, when the race hits the “San Damiani Wall” with just over 3km to go. The section features a steep ramp of 15 percent before a short descent to the final hump to the line just under the red kite.
All eyes will be on the time bonuses and the splits among the GC riders to see who has pink at the end of the day.