Ryder Hesjedal happy, hopeful heading into 2011

Engaged in Spain, training in Maui, rocking in France — Ryder Hesjedal had a top-notch 2010 and hopes for even better things in the new year.

Ryder Hesjedal and fiancée Ashley Hofer.
Ryder Hesjedal and fiancée Ashley Hofer at the 2010 Volta a Catalunya. Photo courtesy Ashley Hofer

When Ryder Hesjedal looks back on his 2010 season, which stands out as the best of his professional career, the defining moment happened not during a race, or even during the race season.

The moment that set the tone for the year came on January 14, when the Garmin rider from Victoria, British Columbia, proposed to Ashley Hofer in Girona, Spain; the two are set to marry December 17 in Missouri.

In between their engagement and an inaugural fantasy training camp held in early December in Maui, Hesjedal’s winter home, the former mountain bike pro had plenty to smile about in 2010, finishing inside the top 10 all season long.

In March Hesjedal finished fifth at Montepaschi Strade Bianche, and sixth overall at Volta a Catalunya. In April he took second at the Amstel Gold Race and ninth at Flèche Wallonne. In May he won a stage and finished fifth overall at the Amgen Tour of California.

July brought his standout performances of the year, where he finished seventh overall at the Tour de France, impressing on two of the race’s most challenging stages by contending for a stage win on the cobblestones on stage 3 and finishing fourth on the final summit finish atop the Tourmalet on stage 17.

In August Hesjedal took sixth at Clasica San Sebastian and seventh at Coppa Agostoni, and he closed out the season in September with a pair of top-five finishes at two races close to his heart — the ProTour Grand Prix events held in Montréal and Québec.

Hesjedal finished the season ranked eighth on the UCI World Tour rankings — one point and one place ahead of Garmin teammate Tyler Farrar.

“I can’t deny how significant meeting Ashley has been for me,” he said. “This is the happiest I’ve been in my whole life. It all started during the second half of 2009. We met each other after the Tour, in Girona. Soon after I won a stage at the Vuelta, and it just carried through the 2010 season. That level of contentment definitely plays a role in why 2010 was such a great season. When you’re performing at the level we have to, day in and day out, being in a good place mentally is a huge advantage.”

Hesjedal said standing on the podium at Amstel Gold behind winner Philippe Gilbert was, if not the defining moment of the season, at least the moment he realized his 2010 race season “was going to be something special.”

“At the end of the spring classics is when you see that first emergence of grand-tour riders, and if you haven’t shown yourself by then, it’s not a good sign,” Hesjedal said. “Those races tend to suit riders that can be there in the big mountains, and strength shows through. I didn’t have the best ride at Liège-Bastogne-Liège (12th), but I left Europe content. That week was a huge success. To take a break and then win a stage at California, I could see that everything just kept building.”

Riding the aloha spirit

Hesjedal and his fiancée spent December in Maui, where he’s spent every off-season since late 2006. The early part of the month was spent training alongside teammates Farrar and Christian Vande Velde — joined by a dozen privileged cycling enthusiasts, who spent a week at the luxurious Four Seasons Wailea immersed in cycling’s version of a fantasy camp, complete with fully supported scenic rides, laundry service, massage, mechanic service and a well-stocked swag bag of fresh riding gear.

Hesjedal came up with the concept for the Maui Cycling Camp with longtime friend Cody Graham of Media One Multimedia and Donnie Arnoult, who runs Maui Cyclery and the Go Cycling Maui bike-touring company. Ed Gregg, chief of security at the Four Seasons Wailea and a local cyclist, brought the resort’s marketing director on board. Participating in support roles were Canadian Olympians Seamus McGrath and Andreas Hestler, both longtime friends of Hesjedal’s dating back to his days as a professional mountain biker. Hawaiian big-wave legend Dave Kalama and actor James Marsden, best known as Cyclops from the X-Men films, also dropped in on the camp.

2010 Garmin-Cervélo Maui training camp, shave ice
In Maui, training ride stops include breaks for Hawaiian shave ice. Photo courtesy Media One Multimedia

“I just wanted people to be able to come see what the riding in Maui is all about,” Hesjedal said. “It’s a great way for people to vacation, and to ride with the pros, and also to get a start on their 2011 goals, whatever those might be.”

The Maui training camp followed the Garmin-Cervélo team’s first official function, held in early December on Grand Cayman Island. Vande Velde had trained with Hesjedal in Maui in 2009; it was Farrar’s first time on the island. Training rides included the six-hour East Maui Loop, along the many waterfalls on the picturesque Road to Hana, as well as an ascent of the Haleakala volcano, which gains 10,000 feet in elevation in only 37 miles.

Hesjedal set the unofficial record up Haleakala in January 2009, with a time of 2:32, besting Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters’ official Cycle To The Sun time of 2:38, recorded in 1993; it’s been a source of good-natured ribbing between the two since.

“Vaughters has given me a hard time, saying my time is not official because it wasn’t part of the Cycle To The Sun event,” Hesjedal said. “But my answer to him is, it’s all there on the Garmin, the time/date stamp, the wattage, the heart rate, the start line and finish line. The GPS data shows everything. It’s official. Satellites don’t lie.”

During an interview Hesjedal referred to his time in Maui as “getting ahead of it.” Asked to clarify, he elaborated.

“I believe in what I’m doing, living in Maui, keeping it low key, not bouncing around too much during the holidays,” he said. “Everything I do, everything we all do, there is an element of competition behind it; we all have to be better than the other guys. Everyone chooses their path, and for me, spending the off-season and winter months here, building up for the next season, it’s clearly working well. I’m still finding improvement and gains with this method.

“Of course it’s not just about these few months, it’s also about being on a good team, and having a good program. I know I feel ready to go as January arrives.”

Heading into 2011

Hesjedal’s 2011 race schedule doesn’t vary much from 2010. He’ll still focus on the Tour de France and the Ardennes classics, and emphasize North American events like California and Québec.

There are two noteworthy changes to his schedule — Paris-Nice, March 6-13, rather than the Italian races Tirreno-Adriatico and Montepaschi Strade Bianche, and Criterium International, March 26-27, rather than Catalunya. Given his top-10 finishes at Montepaschi Strade Bianche and Catalunya last year, it’s a bit of a venture, Hesjedal said.

“I do love Montepaschi Strade Bianche,” Hesjedal said. “I’ve been in the top 10 three years in a row, with my best finish, fifth, last year. But this is an opportunity to get a taste of Paris-Nice for the first time. Before now I’ve always done Tirreno.”

After the Ardennes classics Hesjedal will return to North America for the Tour of California, and then head north to Victoria for another new venture — the inaugural Tour de Victoria, a mass participation event, slated May 28. With McGrath organizing the event, and Hesjedal’s name behind it, they hope to see it expand from a capped participant level of 1,400 riders in 2011 to more than 4,000 riders within five years.

If all goes as expected Hesjedal will reunite with Vande Velde and Farrar at the Tour. With Hesjedal’s emergence as a top-10 Tour finisher, and Farrar’s emergence as one of the sport’s top sprinters, it’s fair to imagine a scenario that could cause friction among the Maui training crew on the roads of France. However, Hesjedal said that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Honestly, it’s never crossed my mind to think about competing for position at the Tour, or being in each other’s way,” Hesjedal said. “The three of us have been part of this team since the beginning. We know how we started, and what it’s taken to get here. If anything I respect those guys even more than when I first came on the team.

“It’s not about who gets more help in July. If I can line up alongside Christian and the team thinks we both have a shot, that’s only a good situation. And I’m happy to have a rider like Tyler on the team, a guy that we can get behind, who can win stages and maybe more.

“I’m not sitting around thinking I need a team built around me to be better in the Tour. To say we will have a strong team is an understatement. If it all falls into place and everyone gets there the best they can be, we’ll have a special lineup.”

If anything, Hesjedal said he hopes to see Vande Velde and Farrar back in Maui next fall, riding alongside him again at one of two fantasy camps scheduled before he and his fiancée tie the knot.

“Our training camp exceeded all of my hopes and expectations,” Hesjedal said. “To go through the season I went through and then have that come together the way it did, it was more than I could ever ask for. Everyone had a good time, and I think they could see what a good time I was having.

“And that’s what a training camp is for — you do good work, bring good energy and surround yourself with good people. It was a great way to close out the year. If I had thought five years ago that I would be wrapping up a season like I had, engaged, and so well situated… that’s what you work so hard for. And I’m enjoying it.”