Ryder Hesjedal fired up for Québec, but surprised by the tough course

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal comes into Friday's GP Quebec confident and fit. But he concedes that after seeing the course first hand, it's tougher than he was expecting. John Wilcockson talk to Hesjedal and his teammates Svein Tuft and Peter Stetina on the eve of the race.

When Ryder Hesjedal told a press conference in Québec City on Thursday afternoon that he was “looking forward to a great weekend,” you know the normally reticent Canadian is feeling confident. Finishing seventh in the Tour de France was a big boost of course, as was his second place to Philippe Gilbert in April’s Amstel Gold Race, so he is totally motivated for the two ProTour races on home soil this Friday and Sunday.

“It’s hard to describe what the Tour de France did for me (because) I went a lot farther than people thought I was capable of,” Hesjedal said. “And since the Tour I’ve done the schedule I set out to do.”

That schedule included two ProTour classics — at San Sebastian. Spain, and Plouay, France — before Hesjedal headed home to Victoria, British Columbia. “I had a great homecoming,” the Garmin-Transitions rider said about the greeting he received from crowds of hometown fans last Saturday.

After a week of serious training he flew into Québec on Wednesday. After his first ride around the Grand Prix de Quebec course he said, “It’s a lot harder than I thought it’d be … and there’s a long list of top riders here. But I’ve tried to put those riders out of my mind.”

Hesjedal has a powerful Garmin team to support him. Second in command is Hesjedal’s fellow British Columbian Svein Tuft, who has raced a variation of Friday’s course many times at the Tour de Beauce stage race — which he won in 2008 after twice placing second in previous years.

“It’s a tough finish here,” Tuft told VeloNews. “It’s a false-flat drag that comes after some steep hills. You can die on that finish. I think it’s the key to the race.”

Commenting on the overall make-up of the 12.6km circuit, which will be lapped 15 times for the 189km distance, Tuft said, “There are so many turns that you can get 10 guys away and half the field won’t know it. We’re gonna get some intense racing tomorrow.”

Another arrow in the Garmin arsenal is Peter Stetina, who last weekend won the Steamboat Springs Stage Race — which was a local event, but one raced at altitude, which gave the 23-year-old Coloradan a nice boost in confidence and fitness following a long, hard rookie season in Europe.

Talking about Friday’s race, Stetina said, “I want to see Ryder do really well, and I want to help him, in terms of the climbing especially. I know I can climb well right now. It’s a tough course and I think you’ve got to get it into your head that it’s gonna be a race of attrition.

“The biggest thing is going to be positioning, like in a criterium. That elastic band snaps out of the corner onto the climb five times a lap. If you’re not well positioned, you’re gonna be toast after half the race.”

As for the gearing choice for the steep hills, which include the 13-percent Côte de la Montagne, Stetina said, “I’m running an 11-25. I need an 11 because the downhills are short and fast, but a few guys are using a 12-27.”

In conclusion, he said, “I think Ryder and Svein are pretty motivated about racing at home. I’ll try my hardest. And there are only a couple of races left in the season, so you can really pummel yourself here … just got to be a masochist about it.”

The others backing the two Canadian stars are Americans Steve Cozza, Timmy Duggan and Danny Pate, Belgian Johan Van Summeren and Dutchman Martijn Maaskant. That strong team support, along with his having the No. 1 race bib, should give Hesjedal an even greater boost.