Hesjedal takes moral victory in Giro opener

Canadian best among GC favorites after time trial, but favorites know the race will be won in the Dolomites

HERNING, Denmark (VN) – Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport ranks the GC favorites for the Giro d’Italia each day based on a virtual GC, calling them the Giro’s “big.”

One name that won’t be in tomorrow’s edition is Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda). The Canadian, who failed to make list of bigs from the Italian sports journalists, proved he’s ready to challenge for the GC with an excellent ride in Saturday’s technical, 8.7km individual time trial to open the 95th Giro d’Italia on a strong note.

“Maybe (I can) gain time – let’s see what happened today,” Hesjedal told VeloNews. “It’s about getting into that third week in the best possible shape. I am here for the full three weeks.”

Hesjedal, who is targeting a run at the overall during this year’s Giro, was the “winner” among the GC candidates in Saturday’s first test of legs and wills.

Hesjedal stopped the clock in 10:55, at 29 seconds behind winner Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing), and was the only GC contender to dip under 11 minutes.

“Things have gone really well through the Ardennes and (Tour de) Romandie. I have been preparing quietly,” he said. “The team looks incredible with the team time trial, it was hard to hang on (in training). We have a lot of horsepower.”

Roman Kreuziger (Astana), third overall last year, was the fastest of the pre-ordained favorites, at least from Gazzetta’s power rating, stopping the clock in 11:02.

Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) proved he will be up for a strong ride after shaking off a pair of crashes this spring at Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya, crossing the line in 11:05.

“I just needed to defend myself. To start well is always good,” Basso said. “The Giro is long. We are just starting.”

Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) did well to limit his losses against the clock, finishing 44th, at 11:09, while Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), a surprise call up last week to replace the injured Jakob Fuglsang, was 108th in 11:25.

Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), who raced wearing a pink skinsuit just days after being awarded last year’s trophy in the wake of Alberto Contador’s disqualification, suffered against the wind, finishing 135th at 1:06 back.

Kreuziger summed up the thinking among the GC favorites, saying: “The Giro is very long and everything will be decided in the final week. The Giro will be won in the mountains.”

This Giro is just starting, but every stage reveals something about who is in shape to battle for the pink jersey when the race ends May 27 in Milan.

On a windy and cold Saturday in Herning, Hesjedal took that moral victory.