05/13/2013 03:20 EDT | Updated 07/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Defending champion Hesjedal feels he can still make a move at Giro

Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjedal feels he can get back into contention at the Giro d'Italia despite losing precious seconds after one of his most challenging days at the three-week race.

The defending champion said he had no choice but to concede time at one point during the wet and hilly ninth stage from San Sepolcro to Florence on Sunday. Hesjedal, now over three minutes off the lead in 11th place overall, remains confident he can make up some time and rejoin the front-runners.

"You have to believe it," Hesjedal said Monday from Cordenons, Italy. "You can't decide that it's too much because then you're out of the race already. If you look at what's happened in the race so far, anything can happen. There are so many variables on the road, things can change completely in one moment.

"So by no means does being three minutes down right now make you throw the towel in."

The Garmin Sharp rider from Victoria is chasing overall leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, who has a 29-second lead on Australia's Cadel Evans. Robert Gesink of the Netherlands is 1:15 back in third and Bradley Wiggins of Britain is 1:16 off the pace in fourth.

Hesjedal, who was third overall just three days ago, was sixth heading into Sunday's stage.

He said he felt fine during the day but his fatigued muscles from the long week became a factor for one moment during a rather explosive climb. Hesjedal couldn't get the necessary power out of his legs and it proved costly.

"I had to just ride my own tempo and the last climb finished with I think about seven or eight (kilometres) mostly downhill to the line and I had one teammate with me, riding against 40 guys pushing the race," he said. "You have no choice but to concede time at that point. Again, it could have been worse but in the end it was only a minute for one bad moment. So that's it."

Hesjedal is looking forward to Tuesday's 167-kilometre 10th stage through the mountains from Cordenons to Altopiano del Montasio. Monday's rest day also helped put Sunday's result behind him.

"If that's my bad moment, I'll be happy with that ... if there had been a 10K climb to the finish, my Giro probably would be over based on the situation," he said. "But it wasn't and it limited the damage and in the end it was only a minute. So you've got to look at the positive side of things."

The midway point of the race is fast approaching. The 21-stage event finishes in Brescia on May 26.

"I definitely like the mountain stages when the legs feel good," Hesjedal said. "It's where the decisive days are and where the most difference can be made. So I'm looking forward to the latter part of the race."

Maxim Belkov of Russia won the 170-kilometre ninth stage. He finished 44 seconds ahead of Colombia's Carlos Betancur.

"There has been some decisive, exciting racing already on stages you wouldn't necessarily think to be the case," Hesjedal said. "So I think that's kind of set the tone for this Giro. There's a lot of big days to come so I think we can expect to see some more of that."

Hesjedal predicts a lot of tough racing over the next few days as the riders try to make their mark. He showed last year that he has what it takes and remains hopeful for a repeat performance.

"If you stay committed to something, you can achieve it," he said. "I'm definitely proud of just getting back to this Giro in good shape and the way that I've raced already these first nine days. To win a Grand Tour and then go through the process again to come back and try and do it. Not everyone can say that they've done that.

"I'm just enjoying it. It was always going to be a big challenge but it wasn't one I was scared to take on. So it makes you grow for sure."


With files from The Associated Press.