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Vuelta a Espana

Mr. September: Ryder Hesjedal

Throughout his long career on the road and mountain bike circuits, some of the Canadian’s best performances have come in September. Part of that is purely coincidental, especially since some of mountain biking’s biggest events (World Cup finals and worlds) often fell in September. But there’s no denying the tall, all-rounder from western Canada seems to rise to the top when the leaves start falling.

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By Andrew Hood

2009 Vuelta a España, rest day: Ryder Hesjedal turns in some of his best performances during September.

Photo: Graham Watson (file)

Throughout his long career on the road and mountain bike circuits, some of the Canadian’s best performances have come in September.

Part of that is purely coincidental, especially since some of mountain biking’s biggest events (World Cup finals and worlds) often fell in September. But there’s no denying the tall, all-rounder from western Canada seems to rise to the top when the leaves start falling.

“I’ve always seemed to come up with some good results in September. It really helps going into the off-season with good motivation,” Hesjedal said. “I think I’ve shown I can maintain a good level all year throughout my career. Back when I was mountain biking, I was in the front from Sea Otter to the worlds, and I think I’ve been able to carry that over since I’ve come to the road.”

Hesjedal, 29, was close to the biggest win of his career in stage 10 of the Vuelta, when he finished second to Simon Gerrans (Cervélo) in a four-up sprint out of a breakaway into Murcia that also included Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank) and Alexander Vinokourov (Astana).

“I knew Gerrans was the fastest in that group, but Gerrans did a lot of work earlier in the stage, because he was always marking the attacks by Vinokourov, so I thought the best chance to win was to play the sprint,” Hesjedal said.

“I’m pleased with how it went. Some people were saying I had a good gap when I took a dig with 1km to go, but I could see right away it wasn’t going to work. Fuglsang chased me and that was the worst. If Gerrans or Vinokourov had come out, it might have worked. It was pretty exposed to the wind there, too. Second isn’t bad out of that group.”

Hesjedal says he’ll now focus on helping GC captain Tom Danielson, who’s poised for a run at the podium.

“We have a pretty good group here to help Tom,” he said. “He’s in good position and it’s something the team can focus on. We have three hard stages in the mountains and the time trial in the last week. We’ll take it all the way to Madrid.”

Some of Ryder Hesjedal’s
September highlights

• 1998 — Silver, junior XC Worlds Quebec
• 2001 — Silver, U-23 XC Worlds Vail; second, World Cup XC elite final Quebec
• 2002 — Bronze, U-23 XC Worlds Kaprun; first, World Cup XC Elite Final Les Gets France; Volta Catalunya de L’Aviner, Rabobank TT3
 
• 2003 — Silver, elite XC worlds Lugano
• 2005 — World championship debut on the road in TT and RR Madrid
• 2006 — Top 10 in Vuelta for first two weeks before abandoning to prepare for road worlds in Salzburg

The Garmin team — minus Tyler Farrar, who headed for home after his breakthrough win in Wednesday’s stage — went for a light training ride on Thursday’s rest day.

Hesjedal said Farrar’s win helped break Garmin’s string of close calls and underscores what he called a solid Vuelta performance so far in the Spanish tour.

“We’re always racing for victories, but it was becoming a little frustrating when you’re that close, when you’re second or third so many times, when the difference from winning is just seconds or centimeters,” he said. “The team’s performance during this Vuelta has been great. My second place, Tyler’s win and other good rides, with Tom in fourth in the general, it shows the team’s strength.”

After the Vuelta, Hesjedal is heading back to the world championships. He missed last year’s worlds, the first time in 12 years that he skipped them either on the road or mountain bike. After racing the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Beijing Summer Olympic Games, Hesjedal took September “off” for the first time in more than a decade.

The demanding Mendrisio course suits Hesjedal well and he’s hoping to play off the favorites and ride as an outsider.

“I want to have a good ride. It’s the best course for me for the next few years, so I want to give it a good crack. Based on how the season has gone, I want to finish it off on a good note,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed racing the worlds, they’re such an epic event. I rode well at the Clásica San Sebastián (fifth) after the Tour, so I hope to come out of the Vuelta just as good.”

Earning a medal in Mendrisio would be just fine for Hesjedal. After all, it’s September, his favorite time of year to race.