“I won this race,” Ryder Hesjedal reminded me a year ago in his slow, low voice. He stood with his back to the Matterhorn, deep into the third week of the Giro d’Italia, minutes after racing, once again, like the Hesjedal of 2012 — at the front, sniffing victory, still so laid back he was almost horizontal. He’d attacked early. It seemed a suicide mission. I asked him to explain the tactic.
“I don’t know why everyone is so surprised. I’m a bike racer, man,” was the answer that said everything and nothing.
It looks increasingly likely that Hesjedal might not be a bike racer for much longer. Canada’s only grand tour winner is mulling retirement. He will roll down the start ramp on Friday in a Giro that might be his last.
“I have to look at things,” he told VeloNews on Thursday. “For me, I’m just enjoying where I’m at right now, not making any hard plans in respect to that. But it’s something I’ve been thinking about, it’s on the table. I signed a one-year deal here. I have to decide if I want to continue or not.”
Hesjedal almost retired at the end of last season, but an opportunity to ride for one more year at Trek-Segafredo, and race the Giro one more time, proved too tempting to pass up. He left the Cannondale/Slipstream squad he’d raced with since 2008 and vowed to give it one more year — maybe more.
“If I don’t do the Tour, and I don’t do the Vuelta, and if I retire after the season, then I guess this will be the last [grand tour],” he said, fully aware of the coyness of his answer. He hasn’t made up his mind, he insists, but there would be a certain appropriateness to ending his grand tour career at the race that defined it.
Hesjedal owes his greatest road victory to the Giro, and to Italy. He’s returned every year since his win. After a DNF in 2013, his results have improved each year since. He was back up to fifth last year, mostly on the back of superb third-week rides like the one that finished below the Matterhorn. He hopes to do the same this year.
“Once I get about 2,500 Ks in my legs, hopefully in the last thousand [kilometers] I’ll be one of the strongest guys, if not the strongest. That’s all I can hope for,” he said.
Hesjedal is 35. His Giro victory is now four years behind him. Last year proved he can still contend, but another victory becomes increasingly improbably with each passing year. The thought of going out on top, and finishing his grand tour career at a race that has treated him so well, seems appealing. But would he play up a final Giro, if he makes a decision during this race?
“It’s not going to change things if I make a decision in my mind,” he said. “I’ll give it everything no matter what. I think it’s just about appreciating things. Sometimes it’s not easy to do that.”
This Giro would be a worthy send-off, Hesjedal said. And he’ll look at the race a bit differently, just in case.
“I love Holland; I love bike racing in Holland. It’s been something that I gravitated towards early in my career. This Giro is starting in Holland, that’s pretty cool; I get to race in Holland. It’s Giro d’Italia, but we do some of the biggest passes in France, so I get to do a little bit of that. Could be a full one to … ah … if it is. I mean, I don’t know. It’s all open, still. But I’m here now, so I’m going to appreciate it.”