SIENA, Italy (VN) — As the dust settled Saturday evening on the Strade Bianche, the tall, thin frame of Canadian Ryder Hesjedal slowly emerged from the Garmin-Barracuda team bus. Fresh out of the shower and moments before heading off to the airport and back to his European base in Girona, Spain, he took time to chat with VeloNews about a new approach to his 2012 season and his role as team leader at the Giro d’Italia.
“It is good to be back in Europe,” said Hesjedal. “I have only been back for just over a week. The plan was to wait until it was 20 degrees Celsius in Girona before returning. I am getting older now and am glad that I missed all those cold races at the start of the year!”
The relaxed manner of Hesjedal is infectious. Even though he had just raced 190km over the hectic and technical white gravel roads of Tuscany, he was relaxed, a bottle in his hand. Hesjedal ignored the frantic action of the teams around him washing bikes, packing buses and getting ready to move.
“Today was a tough race for me mentally. I have really had to change my approach and preparation this year. When the Giro d’Italia route was released at the end of last season, the team and I knew it was a good route for me. I normally am at my best form in the last week of a three-week race, so with the hard parcours, Garmin asked me to be their leader for the Giro. It was a proud moment, the team having faith in me, but also meant a whole new approach.”
Normally on full form early in the season and in the top-10 at the Strade Bianche, Hesjedal was just another rider in the peloton, there to help his teammates. Over the drone of bus engines and power washers he continued:
“I have always liked this race; it’s tough, hilly and technical, which reminds me of my mountain biking days. But with the Giro as my main focus I have been a lot later in getting to 100-percent form. At the moment I would say I am about a month behind where I normally am,” said Hesjedal. “If I want to be at my best for the Giro it has to be this way. So a change of mentality is needed: focus on the races as preparation and not for results. A lighter racing program and more training is the key. I have to keep this build phase consistent and longer than normal, so I am not at my best now. You cannot be at your best all year long; it is something that you have to accept.”
Hesjedal said he would build toward the Giro, his first grand tour as outright team leader, and would look at the rest of the year — and beyond — afterward.
“Maybe [I will ride] the Vuelta a España, which is the perfect situation for the future; two grand tours really will set me up for next year, which I am already thinking about.”
Having been a top-level professional for nearly a decade, Hesjedal, a native of Victoria, British Columbia, said that Canadian cycling was at its best ever.
“It is great to see that the strength and depth of Canadian cycling is growing. We have a very small talent pool when compared to other more cycling-focused countries,” he said. “Slowly but surely there are more fellow Canadians in the peloton, thanks to teams such as SpiderTech-C10, and Steve Bauer; things are improving. Our national program and also younger riders know that actually getting out to Europe is the key.”
Hesjedal will look to register his home country’s best-ever grand tour finish come May when he leads Garmin into the Giro.
“I am focused and really excited to take this next step in my career,” he said. “With the team, riders and support, I am motivated to focus on this build phase, with Catalunya at the end of the month. After that the first real test of my form will be the hillier Ardennes classics, and then off to the Giro.”