Five years ago in the Vuelta a España, on the hardest single day of the race - a stage to the remote summit finish of Velefique in eastern Andalusia - Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal battled through strong headwinds to take his breakthrough result in the Grand Tours.
Fast forward to 2014 and the other side of Andalusia and the Garmin-Sharp rider is back in the Vuelta again, currently lying [after stage four] in 32nd place, 56 seconds down and biding his time before the real challenges start for the GC contenders.
“I feel good, I had a nice break in July after the Dauphine, then got back into racing in Poland, which was a great race in general. I did feel good there, I thought it was a tough race and was perfect for building into this race here,” Hesjedal told Cyclingnews.
“I’m optimistic, just trying to move along, [there have been] no setbacks and that sort of stuff, so I’m looking forward to this,” the 33-year-old added.
His objective is - as it has been in every Grand Tour for the last three years - to go for the overall classification. It’s an obvious choice, but as he says, it’s a logical one given GC is where his strengths are, as shown by “ winning the Giro and doing well in this year’s race.” - where he took ninth despite Garmin’s very hard start in their tumultuous team time trial in Belfast. “The mindset is to keep improving on that type of stuff. I’m not giving up anything.”
The one difference between 2012 and 2013 is that rather than combine Giro and Tour, he is combining the Giro and the Vuelta. The Spanish Grand Tour is a race that as he puts it, he remembers, “very well. 2009 was the last time I was at the Vuelta, so it’s new for me to do the Giro and go off to the Vuelta.”
“We’ll see how it unfolds. Right now it’s sort of wait and see. I feel good and I know what I’m capable of.”
He and Dan Martin are co-leaders he confirmed to Cyclingnews . “Definitely. Grand Tour leaders tend to show strength in numbers, we came here on different paths, so it’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds.”
“It’s important for Dan to see how far he can go in the Grand Tours, it’ll be good for him to see if that’s what he wants to develop into. But I’ve proven myself in Grand Tours so we’re going for results as much as we can.”
The fist big challenge will be the ascent of the Cumbres Verdes climb on stage six. “I don’t know much about the climb, but I’m confident in the squad. Bingen [Fernandez, Garmin-Sharp sports director] is an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to Spanish racing, so it’s all about focusing, keeping the legs as good as possible and the rest is pretty straightforward.”
As for riding two Grand Tours in the same year, Hesjedal tried for it in 2012 when he rode the Tour but then crashed out injured in what he calls “the Metz massacre” - a huge pileup on the stage finishing in the French city. “That year I was riding the best I ever had,” he reflected “and that wasn’t so long ago.”
“Then the Giro last year, I was definitely where I needed to be, but illness cut me short. Then I reloaded for the Tour and broke a rib on the Tour’s first stage,” - this following another crash at the Tour de Suisse, which had already thrown his Tour preparations into jeopardy.
He raced on at the Tour de France after his stage one crash, but the pain was so intense he described it at the time to Cyclingnews as “like having a knife going into your chest and back.” He nonetheless continued, finishing 70th overall in Paris, but recognises “I was fighting to come back from the Giro, crashed hard in the Tour de Suisse....”
“You can’t hide at the Tour if you’re not 100 per cent, so after those sort of disappointing rides, [taking] ninth in the  Giro despite all the setbacks we hard - I think I’m still there.”