Ryder Hesjedal easing into 2013 ahead of Giro defense

After a successful 2012 that included a Giro win, Ryder Hesjedal is starting later in 2013 - with defending his Giro title his goal

LEON, Spain — A lot has changed in Ryder Hesjedal’s life since winning last year’s Giro d’Italia, but one thing he’s not changing is how he got there.

Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) is easing into the 2013 season, sticking to the road map that delivered him in top form to become Canada’s first grand tour winner in last year’s down-to-the-wire Giro battle.

His first race of his Giro defense season won’t come until the Volta a Catalunya in late March. From there, it will be full gas all the way to Milan.

“We’re sticking to the same plan as last year,” Hesjedal told VeloNews via telephone. “I would be more than happy if I could get back to the same level as last year’s Giro. We’re doing everything right and I am staying focused. It’s pretty straight forward.”

What Hesjedal makes sound matter-of-fact is actually quite complicated. Arriving in top form just in time to be in the peak of fitness for the decisive stages of a three-week grand tour still more than three months away is anything but straightforward.

The 32-year-old could have been distracted by all the attention and accolades that came with the maglia rosa. He was named Canadian athlete of the year and his hometown of Victoria threw a huge party for him.

Instead of hitting the party circuit, he retreated to Hawaii, his adopted home away from home over the past several winters, and got back to work.

He returned to Europe only last Thursday and spoke to VeloNews via telephone as he received a post-workout massage in Girona, Spain.

“I was more or less in Hawaii since November,” he said. “Other than a quick trip to Dubai for the presentation of the new race, I’ve been back to training. After Catalunya, it will be full-gas to the Giro.”

Unlike other seasons, when he’s raced to win at Strade Bianche or Tirreno-Adriatico, Hesjedal will ease into the year with Catalunya as his season debut in late March.

From there, things quickly ramp up, with Vuelta al País Vasco ahead of the Ardennes classics, where he’s been on the podium at the Amstel Gold Race with second in 2010, before topping up his form at the Tour de Romandie before the Giro.

That’s leaving it a little bit later than last year, when he debuted at the Tour Down Under and then raced Strade Bianche, but he says he’s on track.

“I raced Down Under last year, but that was more just to stretch the legs. And I do not want to go to Strade Bianche unless I have the form to win it. I love that race,” he said. “We’ve been working hard. The idea is to be ready for the Giro.”

Returning as defending champion will carry a special weight that he’s ready to handle.

“I want to do my best with the No. 1 bib on in the Giro and go from there,” he said. “I am confident, having that (Giro win) under my belt, I just want to do it again. That’s enough to get the motivation up.”

The Garmin captain says he’s not fazed by the intentions of Bradley Wiggins (Sky) or Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). When VeloNews asked about the quality field for 2013, he was quick to add Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Robert Gesink (Blanco) as other rivals.

“It’s great for the race. The stronger the field, the better,” he said. “The Giro will be packed with talent. It’s going to be great.”

If he’s intimidated by the arrivals of defending Tour de France champion Wiggins or 2010 Vuelta winner Nibali, he’s not showing it.

“Intimidated? No. I showed myself last year. I am going to focus on myself and do what I can do,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re all going to show up at the start line to try to win. The other stuff you cannot control.”

When pressed if he should be considered the No. 1 favorite as the defending champion or whether that honor should fall to Wiggins, Hesjedal said, “That’s for other people to decide.”

“I do feel the pressure, it’s exciting,” he said. “I love the Giro. It was an incredible experience to win. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done and I am really proud I was able to do that, day-in and day-out. I want to use that in everything I do from now on.”