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A conversation with Ryder Hesjedal: Reflecting on his best season yet

Ryder Hesjedal reflects on a remarkable season and considers what 2011 has in store for him and for a restructured Garmin team.

Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec
Hesjedal at this year's Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec

Ryder Hesjedal enjoyed a breakout season in 2010, scoring a podium finish with second at the Amstel Gold Race ─ Canada’s first top-10 since Steve Bauer’s sixth- and third-place finishes in 1988 and `89 ─ a stage victory at the Tour of a California, all capped by a strong showing racing on home roads in the season-ending ProTour races in Canada.

The 29-year-old Canadian is cooling his jets right now in Hawaii, where he will soon get back into the rigorous training rhythm he’ll need to carry into 2011. With his best season yet already in the rear-view mirror, Hesjedal reflected on what the season meant and what’s in store for next year. Here are excerpts from a recent telephone interview with Hesjedal:

VeloNews: What changed for you in 2010 that allowed you such success this season?

Ryder Hesjedal: Things were not a whole lot different than previous years. I’ve been showing consistency and improving in every race, taking the opportunities with very serious motivation. This season has really shown that. My age is good, the way I’ve been able to develop, just gaining that little bit more experience every race. So far that is what I have been working on the past few seasons and it came together more than a few times this year. That’s what you’re always trying to accomplish. And I want to try to keep that going for the next few years at least.

VN: What was the important milestone for you this season?

RH: I had a lot of results that meant different things. My win in California was important, especially after my stage win in the Vuelta, to confirm that ability to finish at the top after hard days. I was very happy with that result. Then to stand on the podium in the Ardennes, for me to do that this year changed my mentality as a rider in a lot of ways. That was a huge accomplishment, one that I can use to keep moving forward. Then the Tour, well, I could talk for days about the Tour this year. It was everything that you vision or think can happen. And finally in my last two ProTour events in Canada, the way that I rode, I showed myself well and it was an even bigger confirmation for me. There were a lot of people looking at me; the fans, the media, the critics, that got me even more motivated. It was really my best season ever. I finished eighth in the world ranking, the top North American. I was just one point ahead of Tyler Farrar. To have two riders in the top 10, that shows how strong our team was. I was very proud to be a part of that equation all year long.

VN: How much pressure will you have one yourself next year to improve?

RH: The way it played out in the Tour was a dream come true. I was able to show that I could ride for three weeks and be a factor in the race. I know how significant it was to myself and my performance backed it up. That was just huge, a career-changing event for me. Now I just have to try to see how I can move forward, to see what can happen. That will keep me motivated next year, just to see how far I can go. I need to keep working hard and really just enjoy it. This is what I’ve been working for all these years.

VN: What do you think the difference is now between being on an Ardennes podium and winning one? Or finishing seventh at the Tour and reaching the podium?

RH: I really experienced that during the Québec races, those little differences that make a huge difference from winning or not. I felt like I was strong enough to win both of those days, but the little things have to play out just right to win. The differences are small and they’re right there. I am starting to realize that even more, to focus on being as fit as possible, getting into the right position, to understand the way that the race plays out. There are so many variables and what I’ve been doing has allowed me to get into those situations more often than not. I hope to increase that and refine those results. It’s hard to say specifically what it will take to move up, you just got to be there and be in good shape and hope things play out. You have to have the team supporting you and have all those variables fall in your favor. I am closer than ever.

VN: What do you think you need to change or improve going into 2011?

RH: I am more in the mindset of, “if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.” I will keep that same kind of program and environment going from the past few seasons. There will be some small changes here and there and things can always change during the season. But the focus will be the same: the spring classics, Tour of Cali and then the Tour. The only change so far would be possibly riding Paris-Nice instead of Tirreno-Adriatico. We’ll wait to see the course on those and what makes more sense. I am just trying to get to Pais Vasco as best as possible and focus on that. I think I showed I’ve been good there before and I will try to do it again – then right into Ardennes, back to Cali, Tour de Swiss and then the Tour.

VN: What’s your impression of the 2011 Tour course?

RH: I followed the announcement. I love looking at the routes, looking at the maps, learning about the races. I haven’t looked at detail because I’m still enjoying the off-season, but from what I have seen it’s looks very exciting. I am looking forward to being at my fourth-consecutive Tour and doing everything it’s going to take to get there. The team time trial is exciting for us, for a team like Garmin-Cervelo, we will be looking at that very closely. That could be really special for us early on. And the Pyrenees and Alps? I don’t have a preference. So far I am loving the Tour, just loving it. I enjoyed the Alps and Pyrenees this year and I will have that mind set as well next year.

VN:How will you and Vande Velde share the team leader role?

RH: We’re going to have two guys that can be strong in the top-10.

That’s always a good situation. The team’s very confident in me and my abilities. We’ll plan accordingly. The stronger you are as a team, the better it is for everyone. We are both looking forward to arriving in top shape. That’s how it’s always been on this team. We have a lot of options on this team.

Tour de France, Stage 7: Hesjedal is now third on GC.
Hesjedal at the Tour de France. | Graham Watson photo

VN: That’s how it was for you in 2010, and then things changed during the course of the race with crashes?

RH: We were all going to the Tour to support our two leaders, Tyler and Christian, 100 percent. Christian was clearly the better GC rider and I was happy to support everyone on the team. At the end of the day, how things unfolded, everything changed. I was playing it back in my mind and the reason why I wasn’t involved in that big crash in stage 2 on the Stockeau was because I was helping Tyler and Christian that day. I was helping Christian move up in the group after his first crash so he was in good position for the climb.

I had helped Christian and pretty much gassed myself out to do that. I was recovering myself for a bit and then I found myself with Tyler and I stayed with him. We were riding for Tyler that day to win the stage and we needed to get him to the finish in good shape. I waited for him and he told me to go when Van Summeren came up, so I started moving up in the middle of the bunch. If I was riding GC, I would have been at the front most likely involved in the crash. So I was able to avoid that front part of the crash. I wasn’t with the guys in the back trying to catch back and I missed the crashes that took out Tyler and some other guys. When I look back I realize I didn’t crash that day because I was 100 percent riding to support the two leaders of the team. You go into the race with a plan, and you stick to it. If I am one of the selected riders I will do everything I can to honor that. I didn’t crash that day, and the next day I was motivated to race on the cobblestones and got into the winning breakaway. It’s all those little details that can add up.

VN: How will addition of new Cervélo riders change things?

RH: The team is growing. It’s going to be different, we’re on different bikes, with new riders who are great riders. It’s going to be a blending of strengths, what else can you want on a top team? I am looking forward to that. That just makes the team stronger.

For me, there’s less of a situation, because they’re a cobbled classic-oriented group. Those are not the races that I’ve looked at for a few years now, so for me personally, it’s not that much of a change. I will prepare to challenge in the hilly classics. Having the world champion is a huge deal and something that will lift the team even higher. I am really looking forward to Thor’s arrival.