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Giro d'Italia 2013: Ryder Hesjedal exclusive interview

Daniel Benson
Giro d'Italia
A historic day for Canada as Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) has won the 2012 Giro d'Italia.

A historic day for Canada as Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) has won the 2012 Giro d'Italia.

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It has taken almost 40 minutes but Ryder Hesjedal finally lets his guard down when he's asked how it would feel to retain his Giro d'Italia crown. It's rare moment in which the typically conservative-talking Canadian gives an indication of his feelings ahead of the race.

"It would be amazing," he says before puffing out his cheeks, realising the magnitude of what a second title would mean. "I can't even imagine it right now," he adds.

"What needs to still happen for me to get to that point… it's going to be a huge challenge but if I can win the race again it would be unbelievable. To me… I just need to focus on what I need to do and not fixate on an outcome because that's just pretty tough to do. Am I confident that the win is possible? Yes, and I know how to do it."

Indeed he does. When Hesjedal screeched to a standstill on the Piazza del Duomo at the finish of the final TT in last year's race he'd added the final brush strokes to a Giro canvas that was as dogged as it was clinical.

After surviving the early ambushes in the first week, the Canadian had kept in touch with the leaders through a second week that was littered with mental as well as physical confrontations. With victory a distinct possibility as the race entered the crucial finale of stages, Hesjedal's measured application netted him his maiden grand tour. It may have lacked the glitz and glamour of an El Pistolero gun fight or the control of a Sky blitzkrieg but it nevertheless did the job. 

And while there were those who criticised the 2012 edition of the Giro and Hesjedal's credentials as a grand tour winner, what mattered most was who possessed the maglia rosa in Milan. The fact that he'd made history as the first Canadian to win a grand tour, beaten the world number one rider in the process and effectively put the nails in the coffin of Ivan Basso's stage racing career seemed to go unnoticed.

If Hesjedal is to create another pièce de résistance this year, he must do so against a backdrop that includes a harder line up, higher expectations and the pressure of a defending champion.

Not that he's flustered by the proposition. Frankly it sometimes doesn't look like anything rattles the Canadian's cage. During last year's Giro, just as Hesjedal entered the fray of the GC battle, journalists began peppering him with questions about his chances. He'd bat each one back with relatively short anwers and little opportunity for a follow up. It became frustrating for fans who longed for a more confrontational style and higher quality soundbites but Hesjedal never obliged.

Twelve months on and a lot has changed. Hesjedal carries himself with the confidence of a winner and after a standout ride in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, he looks in contention for another Giro showdown. He may not be the favourite, he may not eventually triumph so far the season has been a quiet and understated success.

"It's been perfect," he tells Cyclingnews when asked about his preparation ahead of this year's race.

"It's been identical to last year and I felt better last week in the Ardennes than I did last year and I'm coming out of those races two kilos lighter than I was last year. I'm counting the days until the start of the Giro. I wouldn't say I'm nervous about the race but I'm certainly aware of what's coming up. I won the Giro last year and I'm more prepared in that sense than the guys who haven't won it before. I know it's going to be difficult but I'm going to give myself the best chance possible and that's the main thing."

Last year Hesjedal wasn't even ranked as a top ten contender by many in the media. His team knew he had the potential following a strong ride in the 2010 Tour de France. "If he gets through the first week, watch Ryder," his team boss Jonathan Vaughters had told Cyclingnews on the eve of the Giro.

For Hesjedal any media speculation is almost irrelevant. "I'm not concerned with what the media really thinks. I wasn't in the Gazzetta's top ten last year. I won the race last year and there was the ride I did a few weeks ago in Liege, if people aren't remembering me that's just fine," he says without a hint of complaint.

Perhaps part of the reason for Hesjedal's ability to stay focused and shy away from superfluous window dressing that decorates the sport is because he's not always been regarded as a winner. After Phonak folded in 2006 he returned back to the US and raced the domestic calendar for as season. After stints with Armstrong's squads and Andy Rhis' team it was a bump back to earth with races like the Giro and Vuelta replaced by a calendar whose highlights included the Mount Hood stage race.

"I can't say that I've ever fixated on something like that. I'm pretty realistic guy. I set goals that I think I can achieve. I did that last year and that opened up new challenges for me. When I was able to to get sixth at the Tour de France I thought 'yeah I can do this, I'm capable of performing over three weeks'. When I'm training and I'm envisaging racing, I envisage myself in that position of competing against the best. The big thing last year was that despite not being in that position before I showed that I could handle it."

Wiggins and Nibali

This year's Giro has been dominated by the shadows of Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali - the pair who clashed at last year's Tour before Wiggins ran out the convincing winner. The expectation is that this year's Giro will be decided between the Sky and Astana showdown. While Hesjedal is confident of his own chances he's well aware that a scenario could unfold in which he better his ride from 2012 in terms of performance but still comes up short of victory.

"You have Bradley and he's clearly one of if not the best stage-race rider in the world right now with what he he did last year at the Tour. You have to respect that and he's obviously capable of winning. There's also Vincenzo there too so the field is almost as high as it could be. It means that I could conceivably ride better than I did last year and still not win the race. Only I'll know that feeling. Maybe I'm third or second and fifth but still ride a better race than last year. My standards are high though. I won the race last year and anything less people will say isn't as good but that's not always how it works in bike racing.

"Those final stages will be decisive but the end of the second week has some tough stages and anything can go wrong. If you have a bad day in that part of the race your chances could be over. If things are close and tight going into those final few stages then that final time trial can be critical. I've shown how I can ride in a third week of a grand tour. I know it's going to be brutal but that's going to mean there are a lot of opportunities."

Opportunity knocks but just don't expect Hesjedal to let his guard down over the coming weeks.

Ivan_Basso_77 More than 1 year ago
'The fact that he'd made history as the first Canadian to win a grand tour, beaten the world number one rider in the process and effectively put the nails in the coffin of Ivan Basso's stage racing career seemed to go unnoticed.' Are you thinking serious??? About putting the coffin of Ivan Basso's stage racing career? Please, don't exaggerate. It was done much more by Basso himself with the many heavy crashes he suffered the last two years. I don't want to tease anyone of Ryder's fans but if he had challenged the Ivan Basso from the 2010 Giro, the Canadian would have finished at least 5-6 minutes behind Il Terribile ;)
agostinho More than 1 year ago
"It may have lacked the glitz and glamour of an El Pistolero gun fight or the control of a Sky blitzkrieg but it nevertheless did the job." Excuse me, how can you say something like this? I simply don't understand what is your problem with Hesjedal. His victory last year was brilliant, the Giro was the best 2012 grand tour, and the stage won by Thomas de Gendt one of the best stages I ever watched. You can say something like that about Nibali's Vuelta victory, but not about Hesjedal. I don't have anything against Nibali, but that Vuelta was quite boring.
TANK91 More than 1 year ago
Lol yeh it was , I think NOT!!!, did you not watch the Vuelta Contador Froome Valverde Purito going mano mano all better overall riders than Hesjedal. I think they are right it did lack something Basso and Scarponi showed their age, which catches up with anyone and the mountain stages were boring really, Hesjedal and Purito attacking with 1km left on the mountain stages it was silly one day purito would gain 10 secs next dday Hesjedal would gain 10 secs.
agostinho More than 1 year ago
"Hesjedal and Purito attacking with 1km left on the mountain stages it was silly one day purito would gain 10 secs next dday Hesjedal would gain 10 secs." For me that was funny, but yes the Vuelta last year was also great (my problem is that I prefer Hesjedal so I'm going to say that the 2012 Giro was the best stage race ever).
Stalky More than 1 year ago
Froome was obviously out of contention the whole race... don't put his name on that list
Matthias Bonjour More than 1 year ago
Having Nibali and Wiggins as favourites duke it out as rivals should work in Ryder's favour. While Astana and Sky are destroying themselves for their leaders, he just has to sit and wait.
Ivan_Basso_77 More than 1 year ago
I don't believe that he will be able to stay with Nibali on the tough mountain finishes finishes
pinocchio More than 1 year ago
He stayed with Rodriguez last year? I would suggest that Rodriguez was the best climber in the world last year, Contador could even crack him the mountains during the Vuelta.
TANK91 More than 1 year ago
Purito in the Vuelta actually was in his best form of his life he had 1 bad day , in the Giro he only attacked with 1km left on every stage which is frankly silly.
Eric Arts More than 1 year ago
Nibali, Wiggins, Contador, and Evans. I hope all the announcers and media hype them up to win the Giro. Keep putting Hesjedal down as the dark horse. Ignore him. Describe him as weak and a poor climber and average time trialer. If I were Vaughters and Hesjedal, I would use this their advantage. You haven't seen the best of Hesjedal. He will win his 2nd Giro and then the media will not to want to admit that they underestimated him. Tor good measure, he will be the closest since Contador to have a chance for the tour double, just like last year. Keep playing him down!!!
TANK91 More than 1 year ago
Ha ha eric are u smoking if Contador could not do the double at his best what makes you think Hesjedal will?. Its amazing what a win can do people think Hesjedal is a great all of a sudden if Hesjedal wins the double then fair enough but it int going to happen. Froome would eat Hesjedal for breakfast. I want it to be a Wiggo, Nibali, Hesjedal battle but I think Ryder will lose by about a min and a hal from wiggo 35 secs behind Nibali.
RidemanRide100 More than 1 year ago
Ivan 77 from above, you're absolutely right. Ryder didn't put the nail in the coffin of Basso. Basso did. He is a known doper and has been watched and analyzed like a hawk since he was "going to dope." Eric, I completely agree on your statements. Ryder had an amazing tactical race last year, it was one of the most amazing races I've seen. My only worry is that the second coming may end up winning the Giro cheating him out of a repeat.
Edd O Mara More than 1 year ago
Now here is a Guy who benefited from doping while at Us Postal and Phonak. Those drugs create lifelong beneficial physiological changes in the human body as is in Hesjedal's case. Christian Van De Velde another former doper also at Garmin claimed that Ryder's victory at the Giro in 2012 was a victory for clean cycling. If you take the above facts into account and add into the equation the other members of Garmin who still benefit from from those physiological adaptations the only conclusion that you can arrive at is that it was not a victory for clean cycling. If these guys were at Sky these former dopers would have been sacked. Manager Jonathan Vaughters himself a former doper is far to soft on these guys. The sooner that these individuals retire from cycling the better.
Pete Low More than 1 year ago
Lifelong benefits, really? I'd suggest that it's pretty safe to say that the safety and efficacy of 'suppliments/masking agents/techniques' used for improving athletic performance have not been addressed in systematic scientific studies. As for the rest of your argument I would suggest that the sooner the UCI give up the charade and make a complete top to bottom overhaul of cycling with the help of the more progressive people who have the passion to restore credibility to the sport the better. This would at least be a start and perhaps go some way to ending a very long and I"m afraid continuing struggle to accept and change the culture of the sport.
blemcooper More than 1 year ago
If there were these lifelong physiological changes benefiting them, I would expect to see a lot of athletes staying out of the WADA testing pool for a year or two, take all these PEDs while training, then make a big splash on the pro scene after all detectable traces of the PEDs are gone from their bodies. Has that been happening?
Stalky More than 1 year ago
Exactly. Also, have you seen what has happened to the careers of past dopers who have come back "clean"? Take Thomas Dekker for instance.......yeah, lifelong benefits...
CanadaSJRA More than 1 year ago
Pretty sure Wiggins rode with Hesjedal way back when... with the stick you measure one, you must measure them all...
Terry Ritter More than 1 year ago
Yeah, I keep hearing the occassional person state that there are all these sustained, life long benefits from years when riders doped, but I can't really think what they would be or any studies to even support them. One thing that I do find interesting is that Ryder was a domistique when with Phonak and USPS (at least while he was there), but then left and came back a GC contender. I have always stated that there were some talented guys riding cleanly, and that if the sport were to really crack down on doping such that most of the top guys weren't doing it, some strong domistiques would suddenly become GC candidates. I stand by that as happening, both with CVV, Wiggo, and Ryder (even Chris Horner). As for Vaughters being too soft, he has a different opinion of what will change the sport. I seem to think he's more qualified to know then you or I.
John Crowley More than 1 year ago
Terry, I was always wondering why Ryder kept getting let go from teams just as or before their "programs" took off with successes. Makes me wonder if Ryder wasn't seen as willing to get "on the program"; hopefully optimistic that his talents are being realized against more 'clean' riders; makes sense that with less riders on super programs that talented all-rounders would start to see some success. I hope we are seeing the successes of many riders due to a more consistent and cleaner peloton. As far as the '12 Giro not being exciting, it was exciting to see so many riders at their limit but unable to make an inhuman attack for fear of blowing; reminds me of the tours that made me a fan back in the 80's where everyone looked very mortal at multiple points in a race. Regardless, looking forward to this year's Giro; lots of teams with potential makes for unpredictability hopefully.
John Burdett More than 1 year ago
Cheering for Ryder.. or anyone who can beat him. They are all heroes in my book and I am so sorry i had to cancel my trip to Italy this year to be there at the finish line. Hi to Kelly at HGSB Riccione and all the Green Edge guys.

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