Giro d'Italia
Ryder Hesjedal is enjoying his retirement,...

Hesjedal returns to the Giro as fan

After retiring at the end of 2016, Ryder Hesjedal retired from pro cycling. The 2012 champion is back at the Giro d'Italia as a fan.

ALGHERO, Italy (VN) — It didn’t take long for one of Italy’s tifosi to spot Ryder Hesjedal on Friday morning at the opening stage of the 2017 Giro d’Italia.

“Grande campione!” one called out as they grabbed Hesjedal’s arm to pose for a photograph. Dressed in a white T-shirt, jeans, and sandals, Hesjedal was more than happy to stop. For the first time in more than a decade, Hesjedal was on vacation in May instead of racing in Europe.

“It feels funny coming back here not racing, but I am happy with my career,” Hesjedal said. “It’s great to be back here to watch the racing and cheer on the guys from the sidelines.”

Still looking racer fit, Hesjedal is visiting the opening days of the Giro with a VIP credential slung around his neck. He was cheered during the team presentation Thursday night, and glad-handed at the start Friday morning, chatting to former rivals and old friends in the peloton. The days of racing cleats, helmets, and kit are long gone.

“There might be a moment when the race is really on that I might miss not being in the Giro, but I am enjoying life after racing,” said Hesjedal, who retired at the end of last season. “It was the right time to leave. I tried to win one more Giro. Now I am enjoying the bike in a different way.”

Hesjedal, who became Canada’s first grand tour winner with his 2012 Giro victory and in 2014 admitted to doping early in his career, said the transition to retirement has come fairly easily. He’s been able to do those simple things he couldn’t do in two-decade career of racing mountain bikes and road — spending time with family and friends, and hanging out at his favorite haunts in Maui and British Columbia.

“I started riding a bike because it was fun,” he said. “I started racing because I wanted to get to the ultimate level, and I did that for 20 years. Now it’s full circle, and I can go back and just enjoy.”

He’s been cycling in places like Iceland and revisiting some of his favorite mountain bike and road routes. In April, he rode La Redoute on the Liège-Bastogne-Liège route, and enjoyed a few Belgian beers instead of suffering during the classic. He’s visiting the Giro as part of an Italian trip with Italian apparel company Castelli, which included a detour to the Passo di Pampeago, a climb that was critical to his 2012 Giro victory.

“I rode it a little slower this time,” he said with a relaxed grin. “I head back to Canada, and I will watch the Giro from a bar just like everyone else.”

Hesjedal might be once again walking among the mere mortals of the world, but his name will be forever etched on the Giro’s unique, golden trophy. He proudly pointed out his name in a photo of the trophy.

“It’s nice to see your name on the trophy,” he said. “If you try to predict things too early, that’s when people get proven wrong. That’s the beauty of the Giro. Just like with my win.”

The rider long known as “Easy Ryder” can now really take it easy. It looks like he’s enjoying life.