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Giro d’Italia: four men and one nation who made the race

The 103rd Giro d’Italia lived up to all the billing.

With many of cycling’s biggest names saving themselves for the Tour de France, the Giro risked disappointment. But the Grand Tour specialists who chose Italy’s biggest race more than compensated for the illustrious absentees and produced performances that will live long in the memory.

Ryder Hesjedal

The 2012 Giro champion won his (and Canada’s) first Grand Tour the hard way. Two performances in the mountains stand out from Hesjedal’s general excellence.

On stage 14 from Cherasco to Cervinia, Hesjedal simply rode off the front of the group in almost unintended pursuit of stage winner, Andrey Amador (Movistar), and his fellow escapees, and by doing so gained 14 seconds on Rodriguez.

Similarly, on the penultimate stage and the dizzying ascent of the Stelvio, it was Hesjedal who led the pursuit of De Gendt, and while it was Rodriguez who gained time on this occasion, the Canadian’s will to win was writ large in his pursuit of the breakaway.

Joaquim Rodriguez

Entering the race in fine form and with stage wins at the Tour of the Basque Country and victory at La Fleche Walloone in his pocket, Rodriguez was always likely to be a contender. Several courageous performances helped his cause, including an impressive victory on the made-to-measure finish at Assisi. More significantly, his performances against the clock showed a heart of inverse proportion to his diminutive stature. Team Katusha’s second place on the stage four team time trial in Verona created a spring board for his strong performances in the mountains, and his ride against the clock in Milan when most had written off his challenge showed a refusal to accept the odds.

Mark Cavendish

Finishing one point off the red jersey of points champion will be a bitter pill for Cavendish, who showed the desire of a champion over each of the Giro’s 21 stages. Bruising collisions on the stage three and stage nine would have finished lesser men (or at least those with an itinerary as busy as the world champion’s) but he rebounded to further success (three stage wins in total) and showed just how much victory still means to him by pounding his handlebars in frustration after finishing second to Andrea Guardini at Vedelago. Before the Giro, some questioned the sincerity of Cavendish’s stated intent to ride to Milan; doing so will surely end the speculation over his intent to complete the Tour, despite its proximity to the Olympic road race.

Thomas De Gendt

One ride doth not a Grand Tour make, and while in the case of Thomas De Gendt’s heroic ascent of the Stelvio, an exception can be made, it was his time trial 24 hours later that marked him out as a future winner of cycling’s biggest stage races. Attacking from the penultimate climb of the Mortirolo, his relentless despatch of companions including the 2004 Giro champion, Damiano Cunego, and stage 14 winner, Andre Amador, on the Stelvio secured his place in the history of the corsa rosa. Third in the following day’s time trial in Milan proved that his fourth place in the final time trial of last year’s Tour de France, a day after his sixth place finish on l’Alpe d’Huez, was no fluke.

Italian stallions

Liquigas-Cannondale rode tirelessly in support their leader and two-time Giro champion, Ivan Basso. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) gave everything to fulfill his pledge to defend his inherited title by winning it on the road, while teammate, Damiano Cunego, gave his best performance since winning the race in 2004. The Colnago-CSF Inox squad delivered performances that belied their Pro Continental status, particularly in the shape of Domenico Pozzovivo, who won on stage eight. Likewise, Farnese Vini-Selle Italia held their own against their WorldTour rivals, notching up two victories courtesy of Matteo Rabottini and Guardini.

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