By Andrew Hood
No rest for the weary. Ryder Hesjedal, fresh off finishing his second Tour de France, is roaring into the second half of the 2009 season.
The Garmin-Slipstream rider posted a strong fifth place at last weekend’s Clásica San Sebastián and now sets his sights on a run at the overall classification at the Vuelta a España later this month before the world championships in Mendrisio.
That heavy load is typical for 28-year-old Canadian, who is on the verge of major breakthrough victory.
VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood caught up with Hesjedal to talk Clásica, worlds and the Tour. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: Congrats on strong ride at the Clásica with fifth, so was it better than you expected?
Ryder Hesjedal: I still haven’t done enough Tours or raced enough seasons to know that I am always going to be good in the Clásica. I was pretty confident that I would have good legs after Paris, the way I was able to come into the second half of year, with Swiss and Tour, to hold form and continue through the season. It was a pleasant surprise to get a result like that. Things have to go well for six hours to get the opportunity. The more times you’re out there, the more chances you get, the more the odds will go your favor.
VN: You’re kind of like a rider like Barredo, someone who’s always been close to the big win and then keeps plugging away and finally it comes, is that you’re hoping for?
RH: I was right there when he was going away, and I was thinking I should go as well. But when I looked around and saw how big the group was and who was there, I thought it was better to bank on the bunchy. I continued with the conservative ride, but I am still satisfied with fifth, third in the bunch sprint. We couldn’t quite get Kreuziger and Barredo back. I’ve only ridden the race once, in 2006, but I seem to have good luck in Basque Country. One of my first big results on the road came at the Clásica Primavera in 2004. I’m always top 5 in the Basque Country. People don’t realize how hardcore the racing is up there. Just the level of racing and the passion people have for the sport. When you have a team from that area with riders that are composed exclusively of riders from that region, that just shows how high the level is up there.
VN: So you obviously not going on vacation, what’s next?
RH: I will do GP Plouay, the Vuelta, and if all goes well, then take a crack at Mendrisio for Canada. I didn’t do the worlds last year because of Beijing, but the course is hard enough that it will be a good one to have a go at it. The circuits the next few years aren’t going to be super-hard like Mendrisio. We did both circuits (Varese and Mendrisio) during a stage in the 2008 Giro, so I remember it being pretty hard. That’s better for me than a bunch kick.
VN: So what are the expectations for the Vuelta?
RH: I am happy going into it with a Tour in my legs. The team doesn’t have much pressure for the Vuelta. After the Tour we’ve had, there’s not going to be any big pressure on anyone. That would be a nice little accomplishment to pull off, enter it with GC in mind, based on the team that’s going. Talking with Whitey (DS Matt White), I will ride with the general in mind, but see how that’s working out and be flexible on the way and see what makes sense. Just based on 2006, I was still top 20 after TT at start of third week when I abandoned. I can visualize going there and riding the general and see where it lets me go. If it ends up killing myself, that doesn’t make sense, then you might think about a stage win or to have the worlds for something to focus on.
VN: Talking Tour, the team must be satisfied with two in top 10?
RH: For sure, hands down. There are lots of categories we could check off, we were just missing a win; 2nd in team time trial, 2nd in the bunchies with Tyler, so cannot be disappointed. Then you look at other parts of the race, Wiggins was a revelation, virtually on the podium, and Christian, to come back from less than ideal conditions to still be knocking around in the top 10. His ride has almost been overlooked, 8th, but based on the circumstances, that’s a pretty phenomenal ride. To have two guys like that in top 10 says a lot about our team. Astana and Saxo Bank were the only teams that that were on the same level. Astana weren’t committing guys to the sprints. We brought a team to be in the action all the time, to be diverse and be a complete team. We also finished with all nine. That takes a lot of luck, but it’s also guys pushing hard to get through. For Tyler to get through a Tour, that says a lot. As a team as a whole, were always riding at the front, everyone was on for that race. The team had a super successful Tour.
VN: No frustrations with some close calls for stage wins?
RH: The outright win was not from lack of trying. It just didn’t work out, the differences are small. If any team was in position, it was us, but it just didn’t pan out. I don’t know if you trade one stage win for what the team did during the entire Tour, that is up for debate. There were not a lot of teams close to winning team time trial and individual time trials, in the breakaways, in the sprints, two guys in top 10; we had the whole thing going on. The only thing missing was wearing yellow or a stage win, but there was only so much of that going on.
VN: How does the team react to flack from some quarters that the team just doesn’t win enough?
RH: I don’t really judge or critique about everything that is going on with just with victories. There’s so much that needs to happen, so much work, even before the racing, and when someone comes second, third, fifth or seventh, the differences are so small. Winning is important, but it’s all what it’s all about. A team can do a good job, show everything that it takes to do top sport and be successful, if there’s a few less Ws, that’s a stat, but it doesn’t just define a team.
VN: How big was the surprise with Wiggins?
RH: It’s not unbelievable. It’s obvious he has the talent and the engine is the engine, so why not? It’s a pretty awesome display. Someone could say, maybe you could never do that a couple of years ago. It’s pretty awesome he could do, who knows where he goes from here. He’s a super talent, a good guy to have on your team.
VN: How would you characterize the performance by Vande Velde?
RH: It’s amazing how well he did and he obviously wasn’t at his best. He’s used to being broken up and dealing with that. That’s getting up there with what a seasoned pro is, someone’s who’s been on the ground, been fractured and the able to come back. That’s just knowing how to bring the body back, to stay in there mentally. It’s hard to understand for some people, who think that if he’s back racing, it cannot be that bad. To overcome what he did and perform at the highest level at the hardest race of the year, it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if I could do it. It’s impressive. I think Bradley, riding the way he did, really complemented him as well. Not having to carry all that pressure for clearly wanting to do better than last year probably helped. Who knows what would have happened if he had had a smooth preparation. If he was eighth going through what he went through.
VN: What was your impression racing alongside Armstrong during the Tour?
RH: I got the first impression at the Tour Down Under. It’s just simply chaos, people want to see him. He’s such a big presence. For him to come back, it’s clearly a big thing for cycling. It’s neat to be around that. I had just started my road stuff with his team. I never did the Tour with him, but I did a few races with him 2005. I already had been around him, so maybe it was a different for others who never had been with him. He was real comfortable. He seemed like one of the other riders in the bunch, cruising around, throwing down in the hardest parts of the race, that’s pretty much is his MO. He had nothing to lose.
VN: When did everyone realize that Contador was simply unbeatable?
RH: The moment was made clear when I was sitting in the hotel in Annecy watching him in the time trial. After that, it was, OK, there’s not really a question anymore. That was pretty impressive. If you’re going to stamp and show your authority, that was a pretty impressive display. He just dominates the stage races. It doesn’t even look hard for him. He’s the best man for that.
VN: What was your best day during the Tour?
RH: I am happy with the team time trial. Perhaps it wasn’t my best moment personally, but it was a great day for the team and to help make it happen and be a part of that, I felt very pleased after that. Also, in Stage 15, getting in that breakaway, in one of those hard days like that up in the Alps, was amazing. Perhaps under better circumstances, we would have been a better opportunity to win, but I was happy to go through the motions and get that experience. There are only so many breakaways that get away in the Tour.
VN: That was a big move on the road to Verbier, how was it being off the front in a mountain stage at the Tour?
RH: It was pretty amazing. The Swiss really came out for that stage, the crowds were huge and the riders really feed off of that. Fabian (Cancellara) was out there with the Swiss cross, his chest all puffed up, leading the way, it was really one of those days that you will always remember. I also saw some signs for Chateau d’Oex (site of the 1997 world mountain bike championships), that reminded me when I was there at 16 for my first mountain bike world championships. Just little things like that make you reflect. Just being there in the third week, being the last man for those guys, to be there for whatever they needed, to be there as long as possible, that was my role and I did it as well as I could.
VN: What did you take out of your second Tour?
RH: I was contributing to the team, helping two guys in the top 10, but still have a go at being pretty competitive. To get the experience, I wanted to keep pushing, not just sitting up after doing my work, and riding the last portions the climbs, putting in that last effort, that was the mode I went into the final week. That helped me to get through the Tour and now I’m curious to how I can be for the rest of the season.