Luca Paolini of Katusha won the day and defending champion Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Sharp revealed his strategy.
The Canadian won last tear’s Giro with a perfectly calibrated and well executed plan for the entire race. He played a dark-horse game that won all the poker chips in Milan,
However this time around, Hesjedal is no longer a surprise contender so he’s shifted to another level of surprise. The change in strategy is also a change in attitude. The Garmin-Sharp star showed he will ride with bold agression and steal time wherever he thinks there’s an opening.
On the stage three run to Marina di Ascea, he attacked three times and forced reactions from rivals Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). He racing lingo, he annoyed the crap out of them.
With 25 kilometers left, he attacked on the climb of the Sella di Catona and sent a shock wave though the peloton. They worked to pull him back but he wasn’t done because as soon as they made the catch, he want again on the tricky descent — one that caused a few crashes including contender Michele Scarponi.
Not satisfied with the shock and awe, Hesjedal then sprinted for the 8 bonus seconds awarded for third place on the stage. A good day in the saddle, rivals unsettled, havoc spread and now he’s just 17 seconds behind Bradley Wiggins.
In all this we see the evil hand of Garmin-Sharp’s Charlie Wegelius. Not long ago, team boss Jonathan Vaughters call him the most brilliant neo-director he’d ever seen.
It was Wegelius who set the action plan for Hesjedal’s winning Giro bid last year and then later at the US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado he sold the team on the scorched earth tactics that helped CHristian Vande Velde win his first stage race in four years. Vaughters called the Wegelius strategy a “sucker punch.”
Wegelius is up to his nasty DS ways again in Italy and there’s always a method behind his madness. “On a stage like that you could conceivably spend the same amount of kilojoules chasing after someone else, so I think in that case you might as well take the initiative yourself and have a clear road in front of you,” Wegelius said. “If you make a mistake, then it’s your own and obviously you spend some energy to potentially gain something rather than just turn back to zero.”
It’s a refreshing change from the conservative and predictable game of control that Sky has employed to such dominant effect in stages races from Oman to France. It’s Charlie versus the Skybots.
The Wegelius-Hesjedal tandem plans to keep Sky off balance as often as possible, whether they’re going uphill or down. For example, launching an attack on the descent into Marina di Ascea. “You can pick your line a bit better and be picky and choosey about it, so it’s a question of retaining control of your own destiny,” said Wegelius.
That’s one thing that the Sky Machine can’t really train for during their long sessions on the island of Tenerife. It’s like the Sky classics squad — ain’t much opportunity to ride the cobbles in the Canary Islands.
In the tighly-scripted Sky racebook, unexpected attacks have just too many variables to process. Wegelius wants their legs tired and their brains fried from trying to guess what he and Hesjedal will spring next.
Like the man says, Hesjedal wants to control his own destiny in this Giro d’Italia. Throw in an aggressive rival like Vincenzo Nibali who will attack at any given moment and you have a thrilling three week battle for the maglia rosa.
One thing is for sure: Sir Bradley Wiggins better be ready for the expected and the unexpected in equal measure.