Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) can’t wait to race in front of home crowds next month in a pair of one-day ProTour races in September that should be an emotional homecoming for the Canadian.
Hot off Canada’s best Tour de France performance since Steve Bauer was fourth in 1988, Hesjedal will bypass the upcoming Vuelta a España and race in Canada for the first time in three years. Hesjedal can expect a rousing welcome home.
“The reaction has been great back in Canada. People are excited about what I’ve been able to achieve during the Tour,” Hesjedal told VeloNews. “It’s gotten into the mainstream media back home. It started about halfway through the Tour and fortunately I was able to keep the ride going all the way into the third week of the Tour.”
Hesjedal hasn’t raced on home roads since 2007 and the pair of ProTour races should provide a chance for fans to get a close-up look of the Garmin-Transitions rider. Races are scheduled for Sept. 10 in Quebec and Sept. 12 in Montreal.
That chance to race in front of home crowds will keep Hesjedal out of this year’s Vuelta, where he won a breakout stage last year. The 29-year-old might also skip the long trip to the world championships in Australia to race in top condition at the Giro di Lombardia, a course that much better suits him than the sprinter-friendly route in Geelong.
“It should be huge. It’s going to be a big show. Both are hard circuits, I am really looking forward to it. I will do some warm-up races in Italy before heading back to Canada for the two ProTour events. Then I might come back to Europe for the Giro di Lombardia,” Hesjedal continued. “The worlds might not fit in this year. It’s hard to get down to Australia and back, and still be able to race Lombardia. I will see if I can keep motivated and maybe I will have a crack at Lombardia.”
Hesjedal’s seventh place overall at the Tour has put cycling back in the spotlight in Canada. Hesjedal was the first Canadian in a decade to race the Tour when he started in 2008 and his excellent performance this year captured the attention of the mainstream media. He estimates he did at least 50 interviews as media attention clicked up in the final week of the Tour.
“It made the front pages and was on the TV news. It was national news,” Hesjedal said. “Sometimes the media in Canada would ask, ‘where did this guy come from?’ Well, I’ve been around for awhile. I’ve been at the front of a few bike races before. Now they’re saying, ‘well, he was seventh this year, next year he can win.’”
This year, Hesjedal was joined by Michael Barry to represent Canada in the Tour. There could be more Canadians in the coming years, with the likes of Dominique Rollin (Cervélo) and Garmin-Transitions teammates Christian Meier and Svein Tuft gaining valuable European experience.
“I’m more than proud to represent Canadian cycling. I’m proud for what I’ve been able to accomplish, to be that rider that people know about. People refer to me as the best international cyclist from Canada, I’m more than proud of that label,” he said. “This year, we had two Canadians, with Michael Barry. I hope there’s a lot more in the future.”
Hesjedal didn’t hesitate to step up when GC captain Christian Vande Velde crashed out in stage 2, opening the door for Hesjedal to try his luck in the overall standings. Hesjedal went on the attack the very next day over the cobblestones and set the tone for the rest of the race.
Garmin-Transitions printed up some T-shirts with the logo “Weight of a Nation” and the Canadian maple leaf which quickly became the team’s rallying point for the final half of the Tour as Hesjedal kept hanging around in the top-10.
“That was a joke from a few years ago and it just kind of stuck. I remember I was joking with Julian Dean, how he was the only Kiwi in the Tour, and I said, ‘It must be hard work, being the only Kiwi, with the weight of an entire nation.’ We kept joking about it and just kind of stuck,” Hesjedal explained. “After stage 3, we got the T-shirts printed.”
Hesjedal says his Tour success isn’t something that came overnight, but rather as part of his steady progress he’s made since joining Garmin-Transitions in 2008.
“I wouldn’t call it a surprise. That’s the beauty of the sport. I’ve been doing the right things, I’ve been making the proper stepping stones, hitting my markers. Last year, I won a stage in a grand tour at the Vuelta. This year, I had a podium in a major classic with second at Amstel. The next step was finishing in the top-10 of the Tour,” he said. “I was definitely pleased, I was fortunate that I was able to ride well. I’ve always known I could be strong in the third week, but to be able to stick to it, and ride like that all the way from the start to the beginning, I think I showed my ability that I knew I always had.”
His sixth-place at the Clásica San Sebastián just a week after the Tour de France ended on the Champs-Élysées was typical of Hesjedal, who’s reached a new level in confidence, experience and strength.
Looking ahead to 2011, he says he wants to continue making progress, both in the one-day classics and the stage races.
“My goal now is to be in the mix in all the important events. I want to be part of the action,” he said. “In the classics this year, I was fifth at Eroica, second at Amstel, ninth at Flèche, 12th at Liège. I want to be looking at podiums at all the major classics. And I want to look forward to planning next year’s season.”