MARGHERITA DI SAVOIA, Italy -- Defending Giro d'Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) is preparing for the most important low-altitude test of this year's race. Before riders reach the mountains of the north, Saturday's 54.8-kilometer individual time trial has the ability to definitively shape the general classification.
The Canadian previewed the time trial earlier this spring and collected important data. Like most of the overall contenders, he is riding through these midweek days with the stage 8 Saltara test on his mind.
Garmin director Charly Wegelius is on the same page. Last year, he was due to guide Hesjedal through the Giro, but his wife gave birth to their baby and he changed his plans. This year, he is in for the entire haul and has his eyes down the road.
A 'big test' against Wiggins
Wegelius admitted that the Saltara test would be significant in the story of the 96th Giro d'Italia.
"It's a big test and will set the tone for the rest of the race," Wegelius told VeloNews. "Due to the nature of the course -- this isn't the Tour de France boulevard, straight-type of time trial -- you could see some climbers doing good rides. It's going to make a lot more balanced race than people first thought when the route was announced."
Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) told VeloNews that he was not at his best and was not expecting to win. The favorite, Wegelius said, is Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky).
"Bradley's such a good rider that he seems to perform almost every time trial," Wegelius said. "He remains the No. 1 favorite."
Wiggins won both time trials in the Tour de France last year before becoming the first Brit to claim the overall title. A week later, he won the Olympic time trial.
A line in the sand after the time trial
Wegelius said he expects Hesjedal to lose time in the time trial. However, he said the race overall will be a balance between the time trial, mountain stages, and precious seconds along the way. Hesjedal has made 25 of those seconds against Wiggins in the first week, drawing even with the Sky captain after Wiggins and company took nearly half-a-minute in the stage 2 team time trial.
"It's only natural when you go to a race like this with Bradley Wiggins and there's a 55km TT, you have to plan to lose some time," Wegelius said. "I told the riders I want them to focus on performance and not results. The only thing Ryder can do is focus on his best TT. After that, we can draw a line in the sand and see where he is compared to his rivals."
Considering Hesjedal won the Giro d'Italia by only 16 seconds last year, Wegelius knows the importance of every second.
The Canadian nabbed an eight-second bonus in the sprint at Marina di Ascea in stage 3. He finished in a group 17 seconds ahead of Wiggins the next day to Serra San Bruno, after officials ruled that a crash inside the final 3km had not delayed the Brit.
"You can't just peter-patter around and suddenly scratch your head in Brescia and wonder why you're five-and-a-half minutes behind the winner," Wegelius said. "Every day there's time to be gained, there are opportunities everywhere, and you kind of owe it to yourself to take advantage of everything."