BUSSETO, Italy -- Calling it a "heartbreaking" decision, defending champion Ryder Hesjedal has pulled out of the Giro d'Italia after struggling to regain the form that led him to victory in 2012.
The Garmin-Sharp team said the Canadian withdrew before the start of Friday's 13th stage due to a "deteriorating physical condition."
The Victoria native, who became the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour race last year, has dropped down the overall standings in recent days. He fell into 37th place after finishing 183rd in Thursday's stage and was over 32 minutes off the lead.
Hesjedal was third overall just a week ago. But the challenging Stage-8 time trial appeared to be the turning point and he was not able to get back on track.
"I want to be here for my team and for all the people who have supported me to get me here to this point," Hesjedal said Friday. "I built my entire season around the Giro and I came here feeling great, but I have been suffering since the TT. We're working on it, but we're not sure what's wrong. There's a virus that's been going around, so it could be that, or severe allergies, or going too deep on the TT combined with both.
"Whatever it is, I'm only getting worse," Hesjedal added. "Yesterday's stage was just too much for me. I fought to get through it and I know everyone suffered, but after seeing the medical staff last night, I also know that it's time for me to go home, get some tests done and get healthy again."
Britain's Mark Cavendish sprinted to victory in the 13th and longest stage of the race Friday. Italy's Vincenzo Nibali kept the overall lead.
-- The Associated Press with files from The Canadian Press