Ryder Hesjedal woke up this morning in Milan after a great battle in the Italian Alps. The Canadian of team Garmin-Barracuda held off Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) on the mighty Stelvio Pass to position himself for the Giro d'Italia's overall win.
At 2,757 metres, just over the line and to the right, the warrior hunched over his handlebars after the battle. He took in deep breaths of thin air as staff, friends and journalists surrounded. Photographers' cameras clicks and a speaker announcing the riders finishing filled the air.
He composed himself, changed shoes and started to ride towards his team car up a dirt and gravel road. Cycling Weekly and the Sydney Morning Herald followed, careful not to trip.
"I hope it is enough," he said about his gains and his stance in the overall classification. He crossed the line 14 seconds behind Rodriguez and two seconds behind Scarponi. In the overall, he sits 31 seconds behind leader Rodriguez and 1-20 minutes ahead of Scarponi - not a bad position for a strong time trial rider.
Today the riders face a 30 kilometre around Milan's centre. Simple compared to the around 5500 meters climbing yesterday, including a 22.4km climb to the Stelvio Pass.
"I was getting abused," he said, still riding and responding about the final attacks. "They just sat on my wheel. I had to do it the hard way and it seemed like everyone wanted me to lose the Giro... I dunno... I guess that's the way it is.
Teams Liquigas and Lampre followed Garmin for most of the day even if Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), who escaped free, threatened their podium places. "Again, they didn't care. They would rather see me lose than them lose their position."
He appeared a tired and beaten man. However, he'd battled three weeks, held the leader's jersey for four days and positioned himself close enough to pounce in the time trial. The effort up Stelvio had been his team's last heroic stance.
Garmin played its tactics well, putting Christian Vande Velde in an early escape and keeping Peter Stetina at Hesjedal's side. Vande Velde dropped back after the Mortirolo and the duo paced the group to the late slopes of the Stelvio.
Their leadership at the head of the peloton replaced Liquigas, who controlled most of the mountain stages for Ivan Basso. Hesjedal thought of his mates.
"It was unreal. The team was just unbelievable. The whole race, they stuck it to us. I was pretty proud with what I was able to do today," Hesjedal continued. "I have never experienced anything like that before."
Before riding ahead, he responded about the time trial ahead.
"I'm going to give it everything," he said. "It's not really an issue of underestimating the situation of the race."
Giro d'Italia 2012: Latest news
Cavendish misses out on Giro red jersey by one point
Giro welcomes prospect of Canadian winner
Sky birthday boys put party on hold
Phinney aiming for Giro final time trial win
Hesjedal edges closer to being first Canadian Giro winner
Eisel rues missed sprint chances at Giro
Still an 'opportunity' for Uran to win Giro
Guardini speechless after win against Cavendish
Kennaugh withdraws from Giro, next stop Olympics
Giro's Stelvio stage may be shortened due to weather
Izagirre wins on Grand Tour debut
Cavendish silences Cipollini
Sky tightens grip on white jersey
Rodriguez versus Hesjedal in Giro title fight
Cavendish's Sky lead-out still on learning curve
Orica-GreenEdge to strengthen sprint train in Tour de France
Schleck struggles on with dislocated shoulder
Rodriguez up against more experienced rivals in Giro
Bak from worker to winner at the Giro
Giro d'Italia 2012: Live coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012 live text coverage and schedule
Giro d'Italai 2012 stage 13 live text coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012 stage 12 live text coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012 stage 10 live text coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012 stage six live text coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012 stage four live text coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012: Stage reports
Stage 20: De Gendt conquers Stelvio to win stage
Stage 19: Kreuziger bounces back with Giro stage win
Stage 18: Guardini beats Cavendish in final Giro sprint
Stage 17: Rodriguez wins stage to consolidate lead
Stage 16: Izagirre claims Basque breakaway victory
Stage 15: Rabottini takes tough win in Giro
Stage 14: Amador wins Giro's first high mountain stage as Hesjedal reclaims lead
Stage 13: Cavendish makes it three
Stage 12: Bak attacks to win
Stage 11: Ferrari wins Giro stage on ride to redemption
Stage 10: Rodriguez wins thrilling finale to take leadStage nine: Ventoso wins in Frosinone as Goss and Cavendish fall
Stage eight: Pozzovivo takes another Giro win
Stage seven: Hesjedal moves into Giro lead
Stage six: Rubiano solos to epic Giro stage win
Stage five: Cavendish bounces back for another stage win
Stage four: Garmin-Barracuda win TTT to take lead
Stage three: Goss wins in Horsens as Cavendish and Phinney crash
Stage two: Cavendish wins in Herning
Stage one: Phinney wins time trial
Giro d'Italia 2012: Photo galleries
Stage 20 photo gallery
Stage 19 photo gallery
Stage 18 photo gallery
Stage 17 photo gallery
Stage 16 photo gallery
Stage 15 photo gallery
Stage 14 photo gallery
Stage 13 photo gallery
Stage 12 photo gallery
Stage 11 photo gallery
Stage 10 photo gallery
Stage nine photo gallery
Stage eight photo gallery
Stage seven photo gallery
Stage six photo gallery
Stage five photo gallery
Stage four photo gallery
Stage three photo gallery
Stage two photo gallery
Stage one photo gallery
Giro d'Italia 2012: Blogs
Charly Wegelius' Giro blog: Conserving energy for the final week
Charly Wegelius' Giro blog: Holding on to the lead
Charly Wegelius' Giro blog: Getting the team time trial right
Giro moto blog: Hurray for rest day
Giro moto blog: Stage 10
Giro d'Italia 2012: Teams and riders
Giro d'Italia 2012 start list
Giro d'Italia 2012: TV guide
Giro d'Italia 2012: British Eurosport TV schedule
Giro d'Italia 2012: The Big Preview
Cycling Weekly's Giro d'Italia section
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