A good day ... Garmin's Ryder Hesjedal of Canada kisses the leader's pink jersey. Photo: Reuters
CERVINIA: For Ryder Hesjedal, the cold and bleakness of a mountain-top finish is a long way from the balmy and sunny environs of Maui in Hawaii where he lives in cycling's off-season. When things unfold badly, the Canadian admits his mind can wander back to the comforts of island life.
''I'm sure everyone has a place they'd rather be in those moments,'' Hesjedal, born in Victoria, British Columbia, told the Herald.
But on Saturday, the day ended well. His warmth of satisfaction for taking back the Giro d'Italia race leader's pink jersey made up for the biting chill.
Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda), 31, has already been in and out of the fabled ''maglia rosa'' in this year's 3504 kilometre race, which ends in Milan on Sunday.
After overhauling Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) for first place overall in the 206km 14th stage from Cherasco to Cervinia in the Aosta Valley - the first major mountain stage of the race - Hesjedal knew the real battle on wheels had just begun. His lead was not safe.
Hesjedal was ready for the challenge as the Giro faced Sunday's 15th stage - a 169km race from Busto Arsizio to Lecco-Piani dei Resinelli that included four categorised climbs, the last to the finish - for which his overall lead was nine seconds on Rodriguez and 41s on Italian Paolo Tiralongo (Astana).
Hesjedal faces a mountainous final third week, and a last day time trial in Milan.
Based on his Tour de France bests of 6th overall in 2010 and 18th last year, it helps Hesjedal to know he can finish grand tours strongly. He said his final result would hinge on consistency.
''There are five summit mountain finishes to go so there's still lots to happen,'' Ryder said before the 14th stage, when he was still second.
''I am just hoping to be solid in the third week … like I have been in the last tours. That's going to be my card - to be solid and consistent and then get there the best I can and, hopefully, look to Milan [and the stage-21 time trial over 30km] to get some time back.''