Dave showed the Panda no mercy on the rain lashed autostrada as we headed for Rovereto and the Mercure Hotel.
Liquigas were on the turbos, under a balcony overhang when we arrived, looking relaxed, with no fans to bug them.
What we didn’t notice when we arrived was that Alex Rasmussen and Ryder were on the turbos too, just a little further along.
As Ryder headed for his room and a shower, Alex had time to chat.
“I felt good yesterday, it takes my legs the first week or so to find their climbing rhythm and yesterday was the first time I’ve cracked the top 100 in a mountain stage. I was looking on the Stelvio web cam, this morning – it’s a white-out blizzard up there, the pass is shut.
But I guess they’ll have the snow ploughs out working hard to clear it. We’re a bit concerned about that Stelvio stage, it’ll be a seven hour day for the winner but closer to eight for the gruppetto.
And then there’s a five hour bus transfer to Milano – we’ll be lucky to be at the hotel for midnight. We’re looking in to hiring a helicopter to take us down.’
Alex headed off for his shower and we settled down to wait for Ryder.
First up was to ask him about the rest day routine:
Ryder Hesjedal: ‘Sleep in, have some breakfast, ride the turbo – we didn’t get out due to the rain, have some lunch, massage, a nap, hang out . . .
It’s good to pull back from the stress of the last few days – especially after a day like yesterday. It’s been a long stretch since the last rest day.
PEZ: What about such an early, long transfer?
RH: There’s always something; Denmark was great but then we had to get down here to start the race in Italy. You always find something to criticize but we need the races and you have to go with what the organizers think is the best way to run their event.
PEZ: The TTT – at one of the early checks you had nine seconds on Katusha, at the end it was five . . .
RH: We pushed hard at the start and maybe lost a little at the end, guys get tired, miss turns and that upsets the rhythm. But all in all, we did a great ride. I put five seconds into Rodriguez, that day – but the foundations of my time in the pink jersey came from the time I put into him in the opening time trial. When you first look at the Katusha ride, it’s a surprise – but then, when you look at the guys they have in the squad, it’s not so surprising.
PEZ: There was real panache in the way you took the jersey back at Cervinia.
RH: That was just on feeling – I stayed quiet whilst Liquigas were riding, but when they came off the front and I knew there wasn’t so far to the finish, my legs were feeling good. There were other guys jumping around and I decided to get ahead of the curve and go myself.
PEZ: You said last night that you didn’t feel so good, yesterday – was it the weather ?
RH: It was a little bit of everything, I had bike problems at the start and had to go on to my spare. If you’ve been riding the same bike for months on end, when you change – no matter how close your spare’s position is – it’s not the same. Then I changed back to my original bike, all of that costs energy and stresses you – you try put it out of your mind. At the end of the day, I was happy for the day to finish as it did.
PEZ: Last week we were scorching in the south, yesterday it was wet and cold in the north . . .
RH: Extremes of weather are just part of the deal in stage racing – you experience all of the elements in a Grand Tour. I don’t mind the heat, I prefer it to the cold – that said, I grew up in Canada, training in the cold and rain. But I spend my winters in Hawaii, so I’m used to it when it’s scorching in July in the Tour.
PEZ: On a stage like yesterday’s, what do you eat and drink ?
RH: As much as you can, but your pockets are full of rain capes and gloves. You eat whenever you can, sucking on gels to get the calories down you. Sometimes they’re not the best for your stomach, but your system gets used to them. Drinking is difficult, you don’t feel like it because it’s cold and wet and you’re not thirsty – but of course, you have to.
PEZ: Your position on the bike is pretty extreme.
RH: I feel very comfortable, I think the Cervelo geometry with the sloping top tube exaggerates how high my saddles is. I actually used to ride with my bars lower . . .
PEZ: Yesterday at Pian, you said you consciously didn’t respond to the final attacks.
RH: That was based on how I was feeling, I was already happy that given how I was riding and how far there was to go, I wouldn’t lose too much time. I was surprised by how much time Rodriguez made; but I only conceded 14 seconds to Scarponi and Basso and 11 to Gadret and Kreuziger. It’s not a worry to me – you have to make the decision to stay with your rhythm or accelerate and risk blowing up.
PEZ: Tell us about the post stage demands of being in pink.
RH: I have to be honest and tell you that as beautiful as it is to pull on the pink jersey, I wasn’t sad not to, yesterday. I was quite happy not to have to be up on that cold, wet mountain for another 90 minutes. All of that stuff adds up. I was happy and proud of what I did to take the jersey at Cervinia – but glad to get off that cold mountain quickly, last night.
PEZ: You changed your build up to the season to prepare for this race – it’s worked well.
RH: It’s a mental thing, set your goal and keep that in your mind. I’ve raced enough years to know my body. I’ve raced the Giro before, but this time I had the luxury of being told in November that I could focus on it and prepare for it as I wanted. The team paid me a great compliment by doing that and have been supportive about my lighter early season race programme There’s not too many guys get that show of confidence.
PEZ: And the team is ‘all for Ryder.’
RH: We’d hoped that Tyler would have been there in the sprints – but he was forced to pull out. The TTT was a big goal for us, but obviously, success in that compliments my GC ambitions. It’s been good motivation for the guys – having the pink jersey on the team.
PEZ: Basso – he’s been working that team hard.
RH: He’s experienced, he knows what he’s doing – and so does the team. I’ve no problem with them taking the initiative – even if sometimes it seems as if they don’t need to !
PEZ: Tiralongo is riding well.
RH: Yes, a little bit of a surprise, he’s riding very well – but he’s been there before. With him and Kreuziger, Astana are a strong team.
PEZ: The big stages 19 and 20, do you know those high passes ?
RH: I know some of them, but the fact is that you can know them all you want – but if you don’t have the legs it doesn’t matter if you know them or not!
PEZ: It’s a good scenario for you that race finished with a time trial.
RH: I’m optimistic, I rode my best time trial in a long time in the opener, and I was good in the TTT. My new bike, the Cervelo P5 is the best time trial bike I’ve ever ridden and I feel good on it. And from my previous experience, at the end of a three week tour, it’s no so much about being a time trial specialist, as who’s in the best condition.
By then it was 14:00, Ryder had lunch, we had 100 and more miles of stormy autostrada.
And now, it really is time to go home.