Posted by Editoress on 06/4/12
At this point, everyone knows that a week ago Ryder Hesjedal became Canada's first Grand Tour winner, when he won the Giro d'Italia, beating Joaquim Rodriguez. The interest from the general media was immense in those first few days, so we held off from trying to interview Ryder until things had settled down a bit. We finally had a lengthy telephone interview over the weekend from Ryder's European base in Girona, Spain, where he is currently recovering.
Canadian Cyclist: So, have the media demands started to slow down?
Ryder Hesjedal: It's definitely not like Sunday and Monday [last week], but I'm still doing interviews every day.
CC: Let's start by talking about that final time trial stage in Milan, where you won the Giro. Going into it, there was a lot of talk about how you had the race sewn up and would take the win 'easily'. But it was only 16 seconds - did you expect it to be so close?
RH: I knew it would be tight. Rodriguez was really at a high level from the way he was riding, and holding the pink jersey I knew he would he would ride hard. It was only a 28 kilometre time trial, so there was not much chance to make up that time. Both of us rode very good time trials, and fortunately mine was good enough to overcome the deficit. But certainly his ride was very good and I knew it would be hard
CC: Were you getting updates? Did you know when you took the lead?
RH: Not really. It was all pretty hectic. There were bullhorns and PA systems going off and I didn't have an ear piece, so I didn't really have a clear indication until about 5 K to go, when I heard I was in the pink jersey, so I didn't take any risks in those final kilometres. Really, the information was irrelevant at that point because somebody saying something wasn't going to change how I rode.
CC: It looked to be a tough course, with lots of corners and chances for crashes.
RH: For sure, it was super technical. There were lots of corners, pavé and the cobblestones that you get in Milan in the older city. In lots of sections the pavement is heaved and cracked, lots of stuff like that. With all the turns you are constantly accelerating and re-accelerating. Those all made the time trial that much more technical.
CC: Before start of season, the team talked with you about being the team leader at the Giro. Did it impact your preparation for the season? What sort of changes did you make?
RH: I hadn't ridden the Giro since 2008, and never in the capacity that it was my goal as leader of a top team, riding for GC. We mapped out a plan for the racing and the training to arrive there prepared. The main thing was to give up ambitions in the early part of the year and build more towards this goal. My first real race wasn't until Catalunya [March 19-25]. The Tour Down Under was more about getting started, more of a training situation. I didn't go to Europe until the end of February; I spent another month longer in Hawaii then usual after Down Under. That was the main step, with not a lot of big racing until right up to the Giro.
I didn't ride Tirreno or Paris-Nice, and you have seen how good I can be in the Classics, but that is something else I had to sacrifice for the goal of the Giro. Already after Catalunya I was riding well, and in Pays Basques I could tell I was at a good level, and the Ardennes was a good marker. I maintained my condition in Romandie and then arrived at the Giro according to plan.
Ryder's first day in pink
CC: The Giro seemed to go according to plan: win the team time trial so you were close to the lead, then a short time in in pink, then lose the jersey so the team doesn't have to defend. Did it go pretty much the way you had hoped it would go?
RH: I think so. One of the things that wasn't in the plan was losing Tyler [Farrar] in the sixth stage, and we had to work around that, but it made the GC even more of a focus. Certainly the team time trial was the first marker and we were able to get the pink jersey for a couple of days so, yeah, that's what we were looking to do. Losing it after that we had no pressure and could focus on my ride in the GC.
That set up my chance to get in the jersey [May 12th, stage 7, losing it on stage 10]. Those are the things the team needs to rally round, to ride at that level and show their ability. To take the jersey back in [Stage 14] was a big indicator, because we were two weeks in, and showing that I was one of the strongest, if not the strongest at that moment showed that it was definitely going to plan and kept the focus on for the last week.
CC: The 19th and 20th stages were both big climbing days. Rodriguez needed time, and those were considered his last opportunities to do so before the final time trial. On first [stage 19] you took time and on next one, finishing on the Stelvio, you gave some back. What would you say was the more critical point; at which point could it have been won or lost?
RH: On [Stage 14] I did my ride more on instinct and surprised everyone [taking the lead back by nine seconds]. The next day was more of a bad day for me and Rodriguez took back a bigger chunk then [beating Hesjedal by 39 seconds], but every day is critical once you get into the home stretch.
Once I was able to get through that and stay on an even keel, then those guys had more to prove than me, and I ended up doing it more to them. Stelvio was more of a damage control day and I basically had everything thrown at me. Everyone was looking at me more or less as the leader, putting the race on me, and having to deal with the situation of [Thomas] de Gendt going up the road and not getting any help, and having the race on my shoulders. We needed as a team to control the damage until until we got on the Stelvio. The ride I did on the Stelvio for the last 6 K, that was me winning the Giro. Everyone sat on me, and I had to show I was the strongest and save my Giro.
CC: Are you aware of publicity this win is getting back in Canada? It's been a really big deal here with the general media - you were on the front page of Globe and Mail. Do you have any idea of how big it became back here?
RH: Yeah, I was able to Google search the news and see, and this is how it should be ... this is the Giro d'Italia, a Grand Tour of cycling. I've been saying for years the lack of coverage of the sport in North America is terrible. I think it is changing now, and I think people are seeing how great this sport is, and for a Canadian to finally win one [Grand Tour] for the first time will increase the interest. People just had to discover the different races, and I think the Giro this year was very exciting and captivated people. I think it does deserve to be covered just like any other sport. it's pretty simple to me.
CC: Any thoughts on what this is going to do to raise the visibility of cycling in Canada?
RH: Definitely I think when you have messages from [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper and the President of the Canadian Olympic Committee [Marcel Aubut] then clearly the recognition for the level of what it is, is there.
I've seen the messages, I've seen the notes: 'Thank you Ryder, I'm getting a bike today'; 'You've made me want to take up the sport'; 'I haven't ridden in 15 years and you make me want to get out there and ride' ... all those types of things are very flattering, and I'm just committed to the sport.
I do it [racing] and I've done it for a long time, and that people are getting excited for what I'm doing is going to help the sport. I mean, it's a huge motivator, and it makes me proud of what I'm doing. I guess we'll see the long term impact, but right now it can make Canadians proud that, yeah, we've won a Grand Tour. The Tour [de France] might be the biggest, but the Giro is definitely seen as the hardest race in the world. It's a big moment, and I think it will have a big impact in Canada.
CC: What about the rest of the season. Last year we spoke in Quebec and I asked about Olympics, and you said wasn't really in your plans. Now you have said that you would like to be considered to do the Olympics. Clearly you've shown that your time trialling is strong enough, but there is also the Tour coming up. Have you made plans about what you want the focus to be?
RH: Right now I'm still just a week out from winning the Giro, and I'm just relaxing and enjoying it. But my goal is what it has always been: to do the Giro, Tour and Olympics. But all that will be decided in the next couple of weeks.
CC: So at this point the plan is to do the Tour and then, depending upon the selection, hopefully do the Olympics as well?
RH: Yes, exactly.
CC: If you got selected for the one Olympic spot Canada gets, would that change whether you do the Tour, or would you still do the Tour?
RH: The Tour is the best race preparation. I've done the World Tour one day classic road race six days after the Tour [San Sebastian], and that would be the same in position for London. I've been in the front [at San Sebastian] three years in a row ... it's a selective group that does the sprint. There's no guarantees that it's going to be a sprint or a small group or anything, but ... you only have five man teams, so the way the course is with the circuit and the climb, it's more like an Ardennes classic. It's an eight minute climb and you do it, what, 11 times? That's not a Flanders climb of 30 seconds to a minute.
With respect to the selection [during the Olympic road race], it's going to happen - if the strongest 15 or 20 guys in the world want to make the race as hard as possible then there's only going to be 15 to 20 guys coming to the line. It probably won't be sprinters, because you would need three or four or five teams all wanting it to be a sprint, and I don't know who would want it to go to a sprint with Cavendish being there.
I suspect many teams will be selecting their riders for who can be there after a hard selection. Obviously, we have one guy, and if the team doesn't think it's going to be a sprint then they need to go with the attackers, who can make the race hard. That's what I'm hoping for. I think I could make a small selection and then feature in the final. I look at races like Amstel, or Montreal or Quebec, or San Sebastian, Liege-Bastogne-Liege ... I mean, it's 250 kilometres, it's not a 180 kilometre sprint stage.
CC: So one of the debates going on here [Canada] is do we send somebody whose focus is the time trial or do you send somebody who could potentially do well in the road race? And if we send someone for the road race, do we send a sprinter or someone who could be there if there is a selection?
RH: Well we don't have a sprinter who can feature in a 250 kilometre type of a sprint, and we don't have anyone for the time trial who is a medal candidate.
CC: Moving to a different event - the national team for Beauce is going to be a super team with Svein Tuft, Christian Meier, David Veilleux and Dom Rollin; almost a WorldTour squad. Could you be persuaded to become a member of that team for Beauce? You've never won Beauce, so you could do the Giro-Beauce double!
RH: [Laughs] I think after winning the Giro my next objective is definitely not the Tour de Beauce. I think I'll take my chances on the other races on my program.
CC: So I guess there is no chance we will see you at Nationals?
RH: No, my program is Giro, Tour. It's the same as 2008, when I did the Giro, the Tour and Beijing [Olympics], and that was after going as hard as I could from Day One in the season because at that point the team was new and there were no guarantees at any races. So now it's four years on and I'm more experienced and stronger, and my season was built around coming into top form for the Giro and using that as a springboard for the rest of the season. So I'm in the exact position I set out to do, and having the luxury of no pressure. I mean, I won the Giro, so I have no pressure to perform in other races. But do I want to, and capitalize on the best form of my life? Definitely.
CC: For the Tour has the team chosen a captain? Christian Vandevelde is obviously building quite well because of the way he was able to support you at the Giro - so is he the Tour captain? Or has the team not yet made a decision?
RH: No, that decision has not been announced, you'll hear when that information is available.
CC: So what's your Tour build up?
RH: Just training. The best training you can do for a three week race is a three week race, so if you have the Giro in your legs in a good way then it's a great platform for the Tour, and that's where I am right now.
CC: So do you think there is an opportunity to equal your best Tour finish [6th in 2010]?
RH: I think the possibilities are endless. We'll see how things unfold moving forward but, clearly, some people underestimated me at the Giro.
CC: Last question: Obviously, there is a lot of interest in Victoria and other parts of Canada to have some celebrations for your Giro victory. When is the earliest that we are likely to see you back in Canada?
RH: If all goes well, I should be back there after the Olympics. If I can do the program I am hoping to do, then at that point there won't be much for me to do except the Canadian races [WorldTour in Quebec City and Montreal], so it would be a nice chance to come home to Canada before the next races on the schedule and celebrate.
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