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Hesjedal ready to climb into overall lead

Victoria rider remains in second with three stages to go
Ryder Hesjedal was in a good mood prior to Thursday's Stage 18 in San Vito di Cadore, but he knows he'll have to make up some time today and Saturday.

Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria has a reputation in world cycling circles as being cool and unemotional.

That has held him in good stead as he remained unfazed with the attention on him growing as he has a chance to become the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour cycling event.

Hesjedal remained in second place overall in the Giro d'Italia, 30 seconds behind leader and pink jersey wearer Joaquin Rodriguez of Spain after Thursday's flat 139-kilometre 18th stage to Vedelago.

With only three stages remaining, Rodriguez told reporters he needs to attack the severe mountain stages scheduled for today and Saturday because he can't hope to beat Hesjedal in the time trial which concludes the Giro on Sunday in Milan.

Both men are noted climbers but Hesjedal is also an able time-trial rider, while the Spaniard is not.

"It's not rocket science," said Hesjedal, when asked if he will be looking to watch if Rodriguez goes for a defining break over the next two days through the mountain passes, and then match him when he does.

"I have to ride defensively."

Not that the Islander won't also be looking to pressure Rodriguez with an offensive thrust of his own.

"I'll be looking for my own chances to close the [30-second] gap," said Hesjedal, from Italy.

"The next two days are big days . . . all-mountain days . . . and that's huge."

Thursday was the last day for the sprinters with Andrea Guardini of Italy surprising British star Mark Cavendish at the line. With 146 riders in the main pack all given the same time as winner Guardini, nothing changed in the overall standings.

Rodriguez retained his 30 seconds advantage on Hesjedal with the Canadian holding his 52-second lead over two-time Giro champion and third-place Ivan Basso of Italy and 1: 06 advantage on fourth-place Michele Scarponi and 2: 26 on fifth-place Rigoberto Uran of Colombia.

Meanwhile, Hesjedal is part of the growing controversy of the Canadian Cycling Association holding off naming him as the rider to fill Canada's lone awarded berths in the men's road race and individual time trial for the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Rules state the same Canadian cyclist must contest both those Olympic races. The CCA has so far resisted Hesjedal's star power and instead named an 11-rider shortlist for London with the final decision to be made next month.

"I have a lot on my mind at the moment and don't need to get caught up in that," said Hesjedal, sixth in the 2010 Tour de France and also top-20 in 2011.

The issue is complicated by the impression Hesjedal is better known as a stagerace climber than a singleday, bunched sprinter such as might be required on the London road course.

"The London Olympic course is very selective [varied] and there will only be a small group at the front," countered Hesjedal.

While Hesjedal is a very good time trialer, so is Svein Tuft of Langley.

There is a theory that Canadian selectors are waiting to see how Hesjedal and Tuft, the latter British Columbian also riding in the 2012 Giro but a distant 155th overall, fare in the time trial Sunday in Milan.

"That would not be such a wise thing because it has no bearing on anything," said Hesjedal.

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