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Hesjedal Q&A: Retirement was on plate, but Giro changed his mind

Former Giro champ Ryder Hesjedal was close to retirement, but the Trek team offered him a chance to have a fresh start in 2016.

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ALFAS del PI, Spain (VN) — Ryder Hesjedal looked out of place, walking around at the Trek-Segafredo team camp. Perhaps even he wasn’t expecting to be gearing up for another season of racing as the final days of 2015 rolled by.

Rewind one year, and Hesjedal thought that the 2015 season would his last. His contract was up with Cannondale-Garmin, and the time seemed right for the Canadian to end his career. However, strong performances at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France (two second-places and fifth overall at the Giro, as well as third in the Tour’s legendary Alpe d’Huez stage) revived Hesjedal’s motivation.

“Even last year, at the start of the year, I was having thoughts it would be the last season,” Hesjedal told VeloNews. “I had that kind of idea in the mind, but once the season got going again, with what I could do with the racing, it got me motivated again. I still have lots to give, and I found a place that believes I can give it.”

Coming into this season, Hesjedal isn’t looking too far down the road. He penned a one-year deal with Trek-Segafredo, and he’s content to live in the here-and-now in what’s his first new team jersey since 2008.

Now 35, Hesjedal was one of the core riders in 2008 when Slipstream entered the elite peloton. The team morphed over the years, including mergers with Cervelo in 2011 and Cannondale in 2015, with a parade of riders coming and going. In fact, Hesjedal and Tom Danielson (who tested positive for synthetic testosterone in 2015) were the only two riders left from the original 2008 band of cyclists. The rest have either retired or moved on to other teams.

“It was just time to move on, and I found a place to go,” said Hesjedal matter-of-factly. “I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ I am not thinking too much beyond that.”

As easy as that, Hesjedal put an end to a nine-year stay at the Slipstream franchise, and swapped argyle for the black-and-white stripes of Trek-Segafredo for the 2016 season.

Here are the highlights of an interview with Hesjedal at Trek-Segafredo’s December training camp in Spain:

VeloNews: How did the deal to join Trek-Segafredo come together?
Ryder Hesjedal: Things change, time goes on, and I was up for contract. I looked around like anybody does, and it just all came together. I had a good feeling that [Trek] wanted me, and it was the best value, to roll for the Giro. It didn’t take long.

VN: What will you miss most about Garmin?
RH: The friendships and relationships. Not so much the riders as the staffers behind the scenes, who are working hard all the time. You spend a lot of time with them. All the people involved in the team. The actual rider roster has changed a lot over the years, to say the least. A lot of friends from that team have retired and moved on, but more consistent is the staff. All the people you form relationships with. Even the guys who came over from Cannondale. Those Italian guys really helped me in the Giro. You’re going to miss all those people, but that’s the way that it goes.

VN: Looking back at 2015, you were close to stage wins at both the Giro and Tour. Were you satisfied?
RH: I also appreciated what I got. The sport is tough. Second on those two stages at the Giro with [Fabio] Aru, not too many people in the world are beating Aru right now, so I cannot be too upset. I was happy with the way I rode in the Giro, and I was still fifth overall. That keeps me motivated and pushing.

VN: When you won the 2012 Giro, how do you reflect on that win a few years out?
RH: Nothing compares to that. I haven’t had a huge palmares with a lot of victories. I’ve had some good results, and I’ve shown myself in all terrain, but a lot of good riders don’t have a grand tour win, so I am thankful to have that. It’s special. To put your whole life into something, to have that, it’s special.

VN: Sport director Allan Peiper said during that Giro you were ‘so laid back you were horizontal,’ were you?
RH: Luckily, I wasn’t nervous, but now looking back at it, it was sketchy. I wasn’t going to freak out. I just had to put it together every day. I decided when to attack, and I raced on feeling. Every single decision, and every single moment was necessary in order to win. There was no room for error. I put 16 seconds into Rodriguez in the opening prologue. I don’t know why people say I won the Giro in the team time trial, because we only put five seconds into them that day. Me arriving in front of everyone in Pamepago [stage 19], in Cervinia [stage 14], those are not just gifted. I was stronger, and I was pushing it. Everyone had a day to go at me, and put me under pressure. On the last day, on the roll to the Stelvio, I had to have the legs, and I deserved to be where I was. That’s how you win a grand tour. There’s no room to mess up.

VN: At the Tour this year, you were third up l’Alpe d’Huez, very close to another big win.
RH: I was happy with how I rode during the race. I went to the Tour with a different idea, especially after the Giro, it’s not so easy to hit peak form again. The idea was to sit back, and focus on the stages that suited me, and try to get a stage win if I could. I was in the break some days. The race got more complicated because GC was over for most of the guys pretty quick, so a lot of people were chasing the stages and not caring around GC. Just getting into the break was a feat upon itself. You just have to keep pushing. On the day you’re in the break, you don’t have great legs, and some days you have great legs, but miss the break. That’s how it goes at the Tour, it’s just so hard. I came good in the end, so to be pushing for the win up Alpe d’Huez was incredible. To suffer for three weeks, and have those 30 minutes on the Alpe makes it all worth it. To have only [stage-winner Thibaut] Pinot and [Nairo] Quintana finish in front of me was incredible. Only the absolute best climbers in the world beat me, at that stage and in the Giro, so I am happy with that.

VN: The team was so close to stage wins at Tour, with three second-places and one third. Was there frustration?
RH: If you start saying second or third or fourth is not good enough, and I know it’s important to win, but in cycling, it’s not so simple, and it’s so hard to win. That’s what makes those wins so important because they’re so difficult. As a rider, when you know you’re performing well, you cannot beat yourself up, because you’d drive yourself insane.

VN: Even a rider like Peter Sagan, who was in the top-five eight times during the Tour, didn’t win …
RH: Even that day on the Alpe wouldn’t have happened if Ramunas [Navardauskas] had not gone up the road. Things have to unfold the right way. I was able to ride over the top of Croix de Fer with the top-four guys in the race and start my race from there, and I took that opportunity. Ramunas was there at the bottom, and rode the entire valley to the base of the Alpe. Pinot wouldn’t have won that stage if Ramunas hadn’t had done that, because the favorites would have come back to us. Those things have to unfold, and I battled Pinot one-on-one, even when he had his teammate up the road. You can still come away with something, and I was very happy with that.

VN: So for 2016, it’s the Giro that motivates you?
RH: That’s my value right now to the team. I am a former winner, I feel like I owe a lot to the Giro. We have Bauke [Mollema] in place, and he’s already proven his spot to lead in the Tour. I don’t want to force myself into something. That’s why I came here. Simple.

VN: The 2016 Giro route is different, does it suit you as well?
RH: It does seem a little different, but the Giro is always tough. There’s always more to it than what it looks like in the race book. A piece of paper doesn’t tell the tale. Aru won’t be there, so that’s good [laughs]. I’ve heard Valverde is going, Nibali, Urán, plus a few others. It will be a good race. The Giro always is.

VN: How’s the race schedule shaping up?
RH: I will start with Tour Down Under, then the Cadel Evans race. I will head back to Maui for a few weeks, then back to Europe for Catalunya, País Vasco, the Ardennes, Romandie, and the Giro. The Tour? We’ll look at it later. If get through the Giro in the right way, maybe I can be there to help the team. I think it’s a good way to Rio as well.