Hesjedal stops braking, puts on Giro’s maglia rosa.

 

Mr. Pink.

 

Put the brakes on to go faster. That was the ironic Giro plan for Ryder Hesjedal once Garmin decided last November that he was the GC man. Usually the Canadian is smoking hot and attacking right from the start but this season it’s been a brilliant and steady build.

That plan is looking pretty rock solid after the first week of the Giro. Hesjedal is the first Canadian to wear the maglia rosa and his odds of winning the Giro went up incrementally after todays’ stage 7 from Recanti to Rocca di Cambio. By finishing fifth on the stage, five seconds behind winner Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) he heads the race by 15 seconds over Tiralongo, with Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) in third 17 seconds back.

On a day when the overall favorites announced themselves, Hesjedal showed he should be getting major coverage from Gazzetta Dello Sport. Michelle Scarponi attacked with 500 meters to go on the uphill finish, and big guns Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Frank Schleck (RadioShack Nissan-Trek) also put in their digs. But it was Hesjedal who made the biggest announcement.

“I’ve been around for a while, just persisting and plugging away, and the team’s been incredible,” Hesjedal said. That team includes the old man diesel power of Christian Vande Velde, who wore the pink jersey back in 2008. “It’s great to see Ryder take the initiative, coming where he came from in 2008 until now, it’s f—king awesome,” said Vande Velde. “The biggest thing is that finally, as a team, we are not just here for the team time trial, we’re here for success in sprints and overall. That goes a lot further than how we used to be looked upon.”

No doubt Scarponi and Ivan Basso are having the Hesjedal conversation over a few bowls of pasta tonight. They now have to put him in the “serious” category. Not bad for a guy who used to race mountain bikes.

What’s interesting is to look at Hesjedal’s teammate, the guy who had the maglia rosa a few days ago, Ramunas Navardauskas. The Lithuanian is a younger version of Hesjedal and they even look the same on the bike. They’re almost exactly the same height with Navardauskas weighing in with an extra five kilos. Give him another year to shed that. With guys like Navardauskas, Andrew Talansky and Peter Stetina, Garmin looks stocked for up and coming stage racers for the next few years.

We head into the second week of the Giro d’Italia with one big piece of news: Ryder Hesjedal has taken the brakes off. Watch out, Michele.

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