Tag Archives: Giro d’Italia 2012

How the Canadian media received Hesjedal’s victory

It’s not often Cycling makes the front pages of the daily newspapers in Canada but that was the case on Monday following Ryder Hesjedal’s Giro d’Italia victory. I went out and bought three of them to enjoy the moment, but below is a handful of national and local papers from across the country including how a couple of Canadian sports websites published the news.

Click to enlarge

The Globe and Mail:

The National Post:

The Toronto Star:

Vancouver Sun:

The Montreal Gazette:

Le Presse Montreal:

Sportsnet.ca:

TSN.ca:

Hesjedal becomes the first Canadain to win a Grand Tour

It was a day that will live long in the memory for Canadian cycling fans. The day one of their own finally broke through and won a Grand Tour. The Giro d’Italia to be exact. As Hesjedal stood a top the podium in the middle of Milan, with his big trophy and the Canadian National Anthem bringing tears to his eyes, you get the feeling that the realisation of what he had accomplished was only just setting in. He had done it. He had proved doubters wrong and he had lived up this his teams ambitions and the so-called ‘weight of a nation’ to not only keep with, but beat his rivals in the mountains, and then seal the deal in the final stage time-trial in Milan.

Sunday may have been the day Ryder officially won the Giro by overcoming a 31sec time difference on general classification to beat Joaquim Rodriguez by just 16sec, but for me it was in the mountains on the two previous days where Hesjedal truly won the Giro. It was arguably the finest athletic performance and accomplishment by a Canadian sportsman ever.

Up there in the hills many believed Hesjedal would lose time to the better climbers. He would have to fight to maintain realistic contact and then hope to claw it back in the time-trial, they said. And by realistic contact they thought minutes. Instead on Friday, Hesjedal powered up the final climb leaving his biggest rivals in his wake, unable to maintain the speed or match the sheer power he was putting out.

A day later and the hills were even bigger, the tension even higher, and the margin for error even greater. Who would recover the most to inflict one last bit of mountain top damage? When Thomas De Gendt went off the front of the main GC group and built a lead of over five minutes with five kilometers remaining, it looked like the Belgian might come from nowhere and ride himself into Pink. De Gendt is strong against the clock so Hesjedal couldn’t hope to mark him like he could Rodriguez and then take ample time back the next day. So with road running out, the Canadian set out on the case — again much like Indurain might have done after Chiappucci in the early 90’s — and De Gendt’s time began to tumble. By the line Hesjedal had brought back a five minute deficit and maybe his chances of winning the Giro, to 3min 36sec. It was a monumental effort. Rodriguez who in Pink had done no work at all to save his own Giro, followed Hesjedal to the final kilometer before attacking and gaining 14sec. It meant the Giro was still in Hesjedal’s hands going into Milan but that he would need to summon the strength for one more effort.

De Gendt indeed proved to be an ample time trialist. He finished in a time of 34min 7sec — 8sec faster than Hesjedal — but nowhere near close enough thanks to Hesjedal’s chase up the final climb just twenty-four hours before. That’s where the Giro was won. By the first check point in the time-trial, Hesjedal had overhauled his 31sec gap and was virtual Maglia Rosa on the road. He continued hard to the line …. riding right on the limit to the point that he almost clipped the barrier on more than one occasion. His finishing time of 34min 15sec was surely good enough and eyes turned to Rodriguez still out on the track. The Spaniard rounded the final corner and the time required to win passed and a nation celebrated. Hesjedal had beaten him by 16sec — just 3sec more than the time he had taken out of Rodriguez on that climb on Friday. That’s also where the Giro was won.

Aside from this weekend there really was only one other time when the race looked to be in the balance. That’s how finely fought this Giro was. On Stage 14 Hesjedal took 26sec out of his rivals with a big effort to pull on the Pink jersey that he had lost earlier in the week, but a day later struggled and lost 39sec to Rodriguez including his race lead. That 13sec deficit which you could say was made up in total plus one second, on the Friday, again proved crucial.

Actually, had Rodriguez not proved to be quite the little opportunist over the first two weeks snatching a handful of time bonus’ on the finish lines, the margin of victory might have been greater still. Indeed, on raw time alone without subtracted time for the bonus’, Hesjedal would have won this Tour by 44sec.

De Gendt’s effort on Saturday and his strong time-trial seen him leap-frog Michele Scarponi to the final spot on the podium. Matteo Rabottini who only finished 60th overall won the King of the Mountain’s jersey, while Rodriguez pulled on the Red jersey as the Points leader — also won on those final mountain stages with his 3rd and 4th place finishes meaning he took it over Mark Cavendish by a single point — and so didn’t quite go home empty handed.

And there stood Hesjedal a top the podium. Anthem blasting. Champagne ready to be sprayed. And a nation ready to celebrate him. Back in his home country the news was spreading fast. It’s safe to say Cycling isn’t the big sport in Canada but the news was trending on Twitter and the evenings sports news carried the stories. The newspapers the next day had it as their headline items and the sports radio stations talked it up. It was fantastic to see. Some purists of the sport were critical that the main stream media was only jumping on-board now that he had won, “where were you when Ryder was on his way up,” they asked, but let’s face it, any smaller sport is going to have to produce a vocal point for the media to jump on it. That’s life and the publicity is nothing short of great for the sport. Besides, every stage of the Giro was live on television.

Now, can it be built on? Well the Tour de France is in July. It’ll be live on Canadian television, and then there’s the Olympics. Some will look for Hesjedal to continue this form at Le Tour, but that would be unfair given how hard it is to do the double in this cleaner more human era of the sport. But 2013 will bring about all sorts of expectations and with the main stream press finally sitting up and taking note, if you thought there was the ‘weight of a nation’ on Hesjedal in 2012, then you ain’t seen nothing yet. But don’t say “poor fella”, for he’s the kind that can comfortably handle it … despite how he may look on the way up a climb.

Shades of Indurain

A headline like that isn’t an easy thing to say. I mean, we’re talking about a man who has won the Tour de France five times, the Giro twice and both of them in the same year on those two occasions, but comparing the style of ride alone, watching Ryder Hesjedal go up that final climb in today’s Giro stage and put the hurt into his rivals, was very Indurain-esk.

Indurain was renowned for being a man who would destroy his opposition when the time-trials rolled around and then mark them over the mountains to win yet another Tour. It wasn’t always the most entertaining way to win, but what he could also do was leave his rivals spilling off his back wheel as he set out to limit his losses to someone up the road. It was a display of power rarely seen in the sport before or since.

Then today, Hesjedal decided that he needed to claw some time back on race leader Joaquim Rodriguez who had spent the majority of the climb marking the Canadian’s back wheel but not attacking for the added time gap that many feel he would need for Sunday’s time-trial. Hesjedal was meant to contain the climbers ahead of Sunday, but instead he accelerated after a jump by Michele Scarponi and nobody else could follow. He went to the front and like Indurain did with his rivals, rode Scarponi off his wheel as Rodriguez and in particular Ivan Basso grew smaller in his rear view mirror.

The Canadian powered his way up the remainder of the climb, falling just 19 seconds short of catching race winner Roman Kreuziger. Hesjedal finished second on the day and laid down a huge gauntlet for the weekend ahead. Everyone had expected him to find today hard but instead he hammered a real confidence blow into his opponents. Rodriguez recovered near the top to finish 13 behind Hesjedal, but what should have been a day for the Spaniard to increase his lead was a day that it feel to just 17 seconds.

How Hesjedal recovers here is anyone’s guess, but make no mistake about it, all of them were feeling it limit today and all of them are going to need a good rest tonight.

Gearing up for the three biggest days of the season so far

And I’m not talking about my plans to get three good days worth of riding in this weekend. No, I’m talking about out in Italy were the Giro will be won and lost by those at the very sharp end of the race. And as it should be. There’s no final day here for the sprinters to have one last jolly almost as a ‘thanks for not quitting in the mountains, have this easy stage to conclude things in which no big names will attack one another’. No. In the Giro, it’s all out to the very finish as today proved to be the last day in which a sprinter will get his way. That man was Andrea Guardini who beat out points leader, World Champion and 2012 Olympic champion, Mark Cavendish, who will finish this tour having to make do with a measly three victories. From now on its two summit finishes and an individual time-trial in which the general classification could still be on the line come the final kilometre of racing.

Only 6min 53sec separates 1st to 18th in this tour so legitimately anyone from that group could yet win this thing. Two strong days on the mountains, plenty of attacks and you could yet haul your way up the standings. Naturally the five men who were at the sharp end of the climbs yesterday, Joaquim Rodriguez, Ryder Hesjedal (@ 30″), Ivan Basso (@ 1′ 22″), Michele Scarponi (@ 1′ 36″), and Rigoberto Uran (@ 2′ 56″), will be the hot favourites and wouldn’t it be something to see the five of them half way up tomorrow’s final climb at the front of the race ready to dice it out?

Someone like Ryder Hesjedal can follow all weekend into Sunday because he’ll be the most likely to take back some serious time against the clock, whereas race leader Rodriguez must try put more time between himself and Hesjedal. Even Basso needs to make his move now but whether he can shake the four others is unknown. As for Scarponi and Uran, well they have to do something, so it’s safe to say we’ll be getting ourselves a nice box of fireworks and letting them off right in the middle of the group tomorrow.

Whatever the next three days have in store, this Giro has been a fantastic watch. There’s been endless drama from start to finish and the thing is wide open. The race orgnisors dumbed down the route a little after the brutal course of 2011, but they’ve timed everything to perfection and here we are turning for the finish with almost every question still unanswered. Even Cavendish’s red jersey is on the line with Rodriguez just a handful of points behind and no likelihood of Cav picking up anymore between now and Milan.

Four big climbs can’t separate the big boys

Pink jersey wearing Spaniard, Joaquim Rodriguez was inconsolable this afternoon after learning his victory in the Giro was for nothing when he was told that there was no time bonus’ being handed out on the line. Rodriguez who has made the most of those bonus’ earlier in the race, claimed he wouldn’t have tried had he not known he could steal back a little time by winning.

He crossed the line with his rivals Ryder Hesjedal and Ivan Basso locked on his back wheel in a group of five who had left all the pretenders in this event for dust over the multiple hard climbs.

Indeed, today’s Giro stage looked like a nightmare. And it probably was to the likes of Mark Cavendish and his fellow band of sprinters when they climbed out of bed this morning. You see, to a sprinter when you draw back the curtains, you want to be looking at flat lands for as far as the eye can see. To look out your window and be surrounded by the Alps of Northern Italy and Southern Austria is not good at all.

There is however little pressure on those guys. They can form their group at the back of the race and plod home just inside the time limit. It’s at the sharp end of the general classification where you look out the window at the mountains and the butterflies begin to churn in your stomach. This is the part you’ve been training all year for. These are the decisive stages of the 2012 Giro d’Italia.

I get the impression that the only reason the likes of Rodriguez didn’t try to increase his GC lead over a man like Hesjedal who will be good against the clock on Sunday, was because of the descent into the finish. Rodriguez probably aware that no serious gaps could be gained was happy to sit on the back of the group all the way up the final climb and down into the finish before nipping around for the victory. He will save his legs I am certain for the two summit finishes on Friday and Saturday.

The win keeps him in the race lead and for the top three the status quo was maintained. A virtual downhill day going by the profile awaits the peloton tomorrow much to the delight of everyone, before those two super hard days. What is still to come, even if it doesn’t bring with it some time bonus’ will be more than enough to put a smile back on little Joaquim’s face.

Hesjedal flips into and out of pink

They keep saying he has the weight of a nation on his shoulders each time he appears on the camera’s near the crunch time of a stage and while I can see what they mean, it’s only partly true. Hesjedal leading the Giro, or competing for it’s victory, isn’t quite the headline grabbing news in Canada that I wish it was and that I think it should be. If he were the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, lead them into the Stanley Cup finals then absolutely, one-hundred percent. But he’s a cyclist. It’s like when Chris Boardman was rolling down the ramp in a Tour prologue in the mid-90’s … it generated news and they talked about the weight of a nation being on his shoulders…it’s just the headlines were four of five pages into the sports sections and three or four stories into the sports headlines on the news.

I don’t like that at all. You see, aside from hockey, perhaps figure skating, and maybe one or two other winter sports, Canada has very few international sporting hero’s. Ryder Hesjedal represents this potential and I don’t exaggerate when I say that if Ryder could win the Giro, it would be — pound for pound — one of the finest sporting achievements by a Canadian athlete and certainly the finest of this year so far…Summer Olympics pending.

Saturday was a day loaded with excitement for the Canadian cycling fan. Going up the final climb to the summit finish and with just three non-GC contenders ahead of the group of favourites, Hesjedal attacked and none of his rivals could respond. The pink jersey of Joaquim Rodriguez tried to go after him, but couldn’t, and Hesjedal time-trialed the final kilometres into a forth place finish and with enough time gained to regain the Pink jersey he had lost to Rodriguez earlier in the Tour.

Unfortunately Hesjedal and his Canadian fan base got a sharp reminder of just how back and forth and just how tight this Giro is likely to be, all the way to Milan, twenty-four hours later when it was Rodriguez who got the jump on him to pull the Pink jersey back his way after two epic mountain stages.

Monday was a rest day that the riders will have welcomed, though I didn’t because Monday was also a national holiday in Canada (nothing to do with Hesjedal’s efforts) and it would have been nice with the day off work to have plonked myself on the sofa and watched the action. As it is, they’re back at it tomorrow and as am I. They’re on a slightly flatter stage but heading towards bigger mountains once again and I’m behind a desk for eight hours per day for a week.

The final week of this Giro is going to be epic. There are some huge stages to come and the race will be won and lost in them. For Rodriguez you get the impression he’ll continue to try attack Hesjedal to gain more and more time and blow the Canadian away on the steepest and hardest of climbs. For someone like Basso he’ll try make a move to get himself right into the mix to win it. For Hesjedal it’ll be about surviving on the hard climbs, taking time where he can but mainly maintaining a sensible gap to the mountain goats before giving them a real run for their money next Sunday on the final stage time-trail.

Time to go set the recorder for tomorrow’s race…

The Cinque Terre

Thursday’s twelfth stage of the Giro d’Italia took a slightly changed route to what was originally planned. The decision to alter it was taken a couple of months back and for sad reasons. It was meant to pass right through the heart of the Cinque Terre — a place of outstanding beauty right on the Mediterranean surrounded by steep scenic hills that I spent four great days of my honeymoon in last summer — but following severe mud slides late last year from which a number of the roads were damaged the organisors were forced to change the route.

Thankfully the route wasn’t changed by a great deal and the course still skirted the edges of Cinque Terre and as such provided for some fantastic shots from the race helicopter. It would have been nicer still had it been able to go into the heart of those five small coastline towns, but you can’t complain with scenic pictures such as the one at the top.

It gives you an idea just how hilly the area is. The land rises upward on a steep trajectory the moment the water stops and the little towns that dot the rugged coast line are built on these hills. A little train shuttles through tunnels and along the edge of the water between the towns though there is a coastal patch of which you can walk if the heat isn’t quite as stifling as it was when we were there last July. If it is you can always spend time on the beach in Monterosso  al Mer, or in the water itself, or as we choose to do sometimes, on the balcony of our bed and breakfast which was located less than a kilometer from the waters edge but already several hundred feet into the air. To walk to the beach required taking a number of steps if you wanted to avoid the hairpin sweeps of the narrow road which lacked a footpath.

One of the five little towns — the middle one, Corniglia — was built a-top of a steep hill, almost directly above the train station but a hike of 382 zig-zagging steps to it’s summit. To one side is an almost vertical drop down to the sea, while on the others you are surrounded by hills of vineyards and terraces. It’s a hefty walk to appreciate it, especially under a hot sun, but very much worth it when sipping that cold pint of Birra Moretti and looking at the Italian coastline for as far as the eye can see.

I really hope the race officials live up to their promise to take the race back into the Cinque Terre in the very near future. I just wish I could go along to catch the stage when it happens. I know the next time I visit there, I’ll bring along a bike to tackle some of the stiff climbs.

To get an idea of the terrain, here is Taylor Phinney’s Strava details for the stage. I’m not sure what impresses me most… the amount of climbing around Cinque Terre, or the average speed this super human athletes can maintain?