Hesjedal predicts wide open battle in 2017 Giro d'Italia

Maybe it was inevitable that the first Grand Tour that Ryder Hesjedal would visit after retiring at the end of 2016 would be the Giro d'Italia.

Victory in the Italian Grand Tour in 2012 was the greatest achievement of the Canadian's career, after all, and it was the last Grand Tour he took part in prior to retiring at the end of last season, too.

So it was perhaps no surprise to see Hesjedal greeting old friends and former teammates in the stage start in Alghero and posing for pictures with Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac), one of only two Canadians in this year's Giro d'Italia, along with Svein Tuft of Orica-Scott.

Hesjedal explained to Cyclingnews that having relocated with his family back to Canada, he is on a lengthy first return trip through Europe since retiring, as a guest of Castelli and David Millar's clothing range, Chpt. III.

Hesjedal reserves judgement about what his chances would have been in the Giro d'Italia's current route: "I've kind of pulled back on that one. Any three-week was good for me, maybe some better than others, even if the Giro was always special to me," he observed.

"I think the field this year is incredibly strong, that shows how important the race is, that a lot of guys want to try and get that first Grand Tour win of the year without waiting. It's pretty open, but that was always the beauty of the Giro, that it is in May and comes early in the season."

"Everybody picks their path through the spring to the Giro, but until you really get here and get started, you don't know what will happen. There's a long way to the last week, and that's the magic. It's pretty hard to pick somebody as a winner really clearly from the beginning."

"There's not as much racing that started to judge from in the season to this point, so if you look at the line-up I think there's a lot of guys who have a good chance."

"But answering who's going to win – that's difficult. Lots of guys are capable. But a lot of things have to go the right way.

"A lot of times you see guys who think they're going to win and they're already home ten days into the race. You just never know."

Hesjedal warns about reading too much into the early climbs of the Giro like the Mount Etna. "Obviously you've got to be ready for something that significant. But if you start making judgements from the first week about how the race is going to go, a lot of guys get corrected."

"I definitely experienced that, too. A lot of people decide what they think you can do, but it's up to you to show what you can do."

This year the repeat climb of the Stelvio and a final time trial in Milan in this year's race – just as there was back in the heady days of the 2012 Giro d'Italia – have made Hesjedal feel a little nostalgic. "If somehow you can get to the final time trial [as in 2012] and the pink jersey is still up for grabs, that's going to be exciting. I know what that was like from both sides of the fence. With things like that, it'll be pretty hard not to watch the Giro d'Italia all the way through."

"But I was already watching the racing this year all the way from the Tour Down Under. I know a lot of the guys, I spent time with them, and it's kind of fun to watch it continue on. I'm a bike fan, I'm always going to enjoy the time I had as a racer and I'll try to put that into new things in the sport."

What those 'new things' could be is not yet clear. Hesjedal has yet to decide on a definitive career path after retiring, and since October has focussed on other goals, like reintegrating with his family back into a Canadian lifestyle in British Columbia.

After so many years abroad, he reflects, "you're from somewhere and it feels like you're not somewhere, it's a bit strange. It takes some time get back into it all." For the first time here since he hung up his wheels in Il Lombardia last October, Hesjedal has opted to take a trip around Europe.

"I've never been to Sardinia before, so that's special, too," Hesjedal said. "I kind of built a trip backwards from coming here. I first went to Iceland, rode with some great people there who really took care of me. Then I just did the fan thing in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which was an important race for me, then went back to Girona and hung out with some friends, and got ready for the Nova Eroica with Chpt. III and Castelli. Then I spent some days with Castelli at their headquarters, got up to the Dolomites, had a ride up the Pampeago and now I'm here.

"I'm checking all the little boxes on a reunion tour." And for Hesjedal, when it came to getting the band back together for some big dates in Europe, the Giro d'Italia could hardly have been missing from that list.

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