Forget Rodriguez and Basso and Scarponi. The man that Ryder Hesjedal had to control to win the Giro d’Italia came out of nowhere.
Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) started the crazy Mortirolo — Stelvio double your misery day in 8th place and 5:40 down the overall. Almost seven hours later, he’d won the queen stage in the Dolomites, taken the biggest win of his career, vaulted into 4th overall and probably locked up a spot the final podium.
It was certainly not a bad day’s work for the 25 year old Belgian. “I know the Stelvio very well. I have trained there for six years. I’ve climbed it 20 or 30 times,” said De Gendt. “It’s very nice to win on my mountain.”
It took plenty of work from Hesjedal on that mountain just to keep De Gendt from perhaps winning the entire Giro d’Italia. A very good time trialer, the Belgian had built up a gap of 5:30 with four kilometers to go. While Hesjedal’s teammate Christian Vande Velde put in a long and massive pull, it was up to the Canadian to cut that gap down to size.
Neither Basso — who was grimacing more than usual — or Michele Scarponi or maglia rosa Rodriguez helped Hesjedal. They hoped he’d crack trying to reduce the deficit. He raised the pace just enough to pull 1:30 back on De Gendt before Scarponi attacked near the summit. Purito then blew by the Italian and regained the handful of seconds he’d lost to Hesjedal the day before. Not that those measly ticks are going to do him much good in Milan.
Such was the high drama and suspense of the stage that hardly anyone even noticed that the Little Prince Damiano Cuengo (Lampre) and Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) took second and third. That’s a lot of work just to remain invisible. They were bit players and after-thoughts on a day where De Gendt shook up the Giro GC.
The Milan set up: Rodriguez holds a 31 second lead that will rapidly disappear in the 31.5k time trial. De Gendt is 2:18 back but good against the clock. A podium spot seems like a given. The question is which climber grabs that final spot. Crazy to think it would be Scarponi at 1:51 but who knows how he will match up against Rodriguez. At 3:18 back Basso looks cooked and faded the last two days in the Dolomites. Which climber will have the legs against the clock?