May 3, 2013
Confident Ryder Hesjedal fired up ahead of Giro d'Italia defence
By JULIEN PRETOT, REUTERS
PARIS - Those who still think Ryder Hesjedal's 2012 Giro d'Italia victory was a fluke may end up eating their words with the Garmin-Sharp rider in great shape to defend his title.
Hesjedal took the favourites by surprise last year to become the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour and the towering climber sees no reason why he cannot repeat the feat.
"I don't think winning that three-week race can be a fluke," Hesjedal, 32, told Reuters in a telephone interview on Thursday.
"There was no gift in that race, it was a day-to-day battle against strong riders. You don't have to win another Grand Tour to validate the one before."
Just like last year, Hesjedal goes into the Giro on the back of decent results in the Ardennes classics, managing a top 10 finish in Liege-Bastogne-Liege despite working for eventual winner Dan Martin of Ireland.
"I feel good, better than I did last year at this time. I'm ready to go," he said.
"Obviously my bar is high, I won the race last year so that's my personal standard for judging my results."
A brilliant showing in the 2009 Tour de France team time trial and helping then team mate Bradley Wiggins finish fourth overall revealed Hesjedal's potential for three-week stage racing.
Victory in the Vuelta's toughest single mountain stage the same year after 6,000 metres of climbing further increased Hesjedal's confidence in his stage racing abilities and in 2010 he claimed seventh in the Tour de France, his best overall finish in a Grand Tour prior to his 2012 Giro triumph.
Garmin-Sharp, for whom Hesjedal earned a maiden Grand Tour title, have a strong team on the Giro which starts on Saturday in Naples.
"The team we have here is one of the strongest we ever had if not the strongest," said Hesjedal. "I think we've covered everything."
Americans Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson bring Grand Tour experience, sharing four top 10 finishes in Grand Tours between themselves -- although none of them came in the Giro.
That gap can be filled by sports director Charly Wegelius, who completed seven Giros as a domestique and knows the race inside out - even if it remains unpredictable.
"The Giro is an animal who changes character during the race. You can make plans but it's a race that needs reinterpreting as you move along," the Briton told Reuters.
Wiggins's Team Sky may be the favourites along with Vincenzo Nibali's Astana but "nothing is set in stone".
"The main focus and expectations lie on the Astana and Sky teams," said Wegelius.
"This is the race that presents the more unpredictable elements because of the weather, the roads. Having said that Bradley Wiggins has the experience of the Giro from the beginning of his career. I'm quite sure they've done their homework and they still have the favourites' status."