Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) won the 2012 Giro d'Italia, but looked far from that same cyclist in the first week of this year's race. He sat in 29th overall, but now in the third week, he is riding at the top.
The easy-going Canadian that journalists simply call 'Easy Ryder' attacked on the Aprica stage, on the stage to Verbania and today left race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) behind on the summit finish to the Cervinia ski resort.
On the pink A4 sheets that the organiser hands out in the press room following each stage, Hesjedal sits seventh. After today's ride he jumped up two spots from ninth.
Standing outside the anti-doping control tent after placing second to Fabio Aru (Astana), he shook his head and shrugged when his disastrous first week was mentioned.
"Frustrating? Not really," he said while above Aru celebrated on the podium. "Anything can happen. Maybe I would've lost no time in the first week and been caught out in a crash in the second week. There's so many things."
Hesjedal's big loss was the day team-mate Davide Formolo won in La Spezia. In the hills above Cinque Terre, he was caught on the wrong side when the group split through a feed zone and team Astana pulled the throttle back for Aru. He chased, but without success and lost 5-03 minutes to the favourites.
The tall, bearded Canadian bounced back and attacked his way through the north of Italy, from the Dolomites through the Alps. Followers may be surprised at the change in circumstances, but Hesjedal's not.
"I know I'm repeating it a lot," he said with his usual drawl, “but I won this race."
Hesjedal pushed Spaniard Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) to the end and took the pink jersey from him in the final day's time trial under the Duomo in Milan. That high cannot compare to second in Cervinia.
"I won the Giro, I mean, I can't get excited for fifth or seventh place overall," he continued.
"I still need to get over coming close that today. I just thought to go as hard as I could. I messed up, I shouldn't have tried to stay with Aru when he went, that completely exploded me. If I didn't go on the red to stay with him, I could have easily got on terms with him. It's frustrating."
In the final 10 kilometres of the 19.2-kilometre climb to the Cervinia ski resort at 2001 metres, Astana's Mikel Landa, Contador and Hesjedal began attacking. Hesjedal countered, Aru followed. Aru broke free.
Hesjedal remained between 10 and 25 seconds behind Aru, and finished at 28 seconds down. However, he gained enough time on his immediate rivals to jump from ninth to seventh overall.
The ride is impressive considering the block of racing that Hesjedal had. Ahead of the Giro, he raced the Tour de Romandie and Giro del Trentino. He explained that he will count around 40 race days in a short month-and-a-half period.
The build-up is beneficial because as 'Easy Ryder' will remind you, he runs on diesel and takes time to warm up.
"I historically perform best in the third week of a Grand Tour," he said, "that's where the biggest differences can be made."
The last differences can be made tomorrow, the race’s final mountain stage ahead of a predicted sprint stage into Milan on Sunday. Given what has happened so far this week, Hesjedal will attack for the stage win at the Sestriere ski resort.
Video: Best of the 2015 World Ports Classic
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