A 25-year-old Belgian cyclist tried to throw a monkey wrench into the podium plans of the best riders at the Giro d’Italia at the most difficult stage on Saturday.
Starting at 8th place overall, Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) attacked the leaders on the final climb and at one point gained enough of a margin to rise to 2nd place.
Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Barracuda) dug deep in the last few kilometers and gained back enough time to hold onto 2nd place as the race enters its final stage on Sunday with an individual time trial in Milan.
It cost him, however. Overall leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) marked Hesjedal’s back wheel most of the day then attacked inside the last kilometer to add another 14 seconds to his lead, giving him a total margin of 31 seconds.
He’ll need all that — and more — on Sunday. Hesjedal beat Rodriguez by 14 seconds in the opening time trial back on May 5. If the Canadian can sustain that pace on Sunday over a course that’s triple the distance, he should be able to make up the difference.
On Saturday, De Gendt won the 218km race from Caldes/Val di Sole to the top of the Passo dello Stelvio — the “queen stage” of this year’s Giro — by nearly a minute.
He attacked strongly on the final summit, aided by the fact that the maglia rosa group was spent by battling among themselves on the earlier climbs.
A last kilometer push by Rodriguez, Hesjedal and Michele Scarponi ensured that they hung onto the top three positions. De Gendt rose from 8th to 4th place on the day.
Full results at CyclingNews.com