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Interview : Ryder Hesjedel - Pre Tour of California
By Staff
Date: 2/18/2007
Interview : Ryder Hesjedel - Pre Tour of California

Ryder Hesjedal - Pre Tour of California Interview Photos.
Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjedal a seven time time medal winner in Mountain Biking and in his third year of riding road as a pro talks with Sara Best before the tour of California.

By Sara Best

Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjedal began his career on the trails and is a seven-time World Championship medal winner in mountain bike competition. The young rider has now spent three years as a pro on the road has already ridden with some of the best teams in the world including U.S. Postal Service/Discovery Channel (2004, 2005) and Swiss-based Phonak Hearing Systems (2006).

This season, with the dismantling of the Phonak team, the 27 year-old from Victoria, British Columbia has returned to North America to race with California team Health Net presented by Maxxis.

Hesjedal had a strong 2006 season finishing fourth overall in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, while helping teammate Santiago Botero to second overall as well as coming in seventeenth overall at the Dauphinť Libťrť.

He and is looking forward to a year of hard racing with the new team and begins the season at the 2007 Amgen Tour of California.

Sara Best: So, you just finished up your first training camp with Health Net down in California. How did it go?

Ryder Hesjedel: It was great. Always fun to start with a new program and itís a great group of guys. Some guys I know from before and some Iím meeting for the first time so all in all itís a good mix of people.

Sara: What is the biggest difference you have noticed so far between Phonak and Health Net?

Ryder: Just the scale obviously. Only 16 riders and just a handful of staff compared to twice as many riders and about five times as much staff so thatís different, but things get taken care of and everything that we need is provided one hundred per cent. Itís a top team and I knew that coming in and itís nice to experience it.

Ryder races the Prologue 2007 Tour of California. Photo copyright Celia Cole

Sara: What will your role be with the new team?

Ryder: Hopefully kind of taking on a leader role in a few races. Nathan [OíNeil] has had some top results, especially in the season already, and thatís definitely what heís planning to continue and with me there it will just help the cause.

I hope to relieve some pressure from him so heís not the sole GC rider and I think we can compliment each other. Itís better to have more than one guy thatís capable.

Fans line the prologue course on the Embarcadero in San Francisco as Ryder puts in a brilliant effort to garner 11th place against the time trial specialists. Photo copyright Celia Cole

Sara: Why did you ultimately choose to go with Health Net? Did you specifically want to come back to North America? Did that play into your decision at all or was it the team itself?

Ryder: It was just the sum of a few things. There were a lot of things going on over there [Europe]. Iíve been going pretty full gas for three years and I just wasnít getting the situation that I was comfortable with when it was time to make a decision.

Health Net offered me the best opportunity to give myself the best chance to keep improving the way that I wanted to. Opportunities like getting to ride for overall results in good races instead of starting from scratch with a Pro Tour club and not even knowing whoís on the team or what races youíll be doing. Thatís a hard way to ride and Iíve already done that for a couple of years now and earned the position that I was able to find at Health Net.

I took their offer as a compliment and really appreciate that opportunity.

Prologue up the hill to Coit Tower finish.
Photo c. Mark Adkison Ph.D.

Sara:Thatís great.

Ryder: And also, North American racing is very strong now. Itís not the situation where you have to think, ďaw, I wonít be racing over in Europe, Iím going to be losing ground or momentum.Ē Itís pretty transparent now with guys going back and forth and guys making the choice to come to North American programs.

For me, Iím Canadian, Iím a lot more comfortable in a program like this than being on a Spanish team or an Italian team. Phonak was pretty special. It had quite a universal dynamic and it was great and there are a few teams like that but thereís only so many.

Ryder with San Francisco Bay in the background.
Photo c. Mark Adkison Ph.D.

Sara: So will you be able to live in B.C. now or will you move to the States?

Ryder:† No, Iíll be primarily in Victoria (B.C.). Itís only a short plane ride. Iím used to five years of racing in North America on the mountain bike so I know the drill and the routine and Iím comfortable with that part of it.

Sara: But, my guess is that last June/July this is not the kind of 2007 season you thought lay ahead. You were in the middle of a really successful season with Phonak, your team leader had just won the Tour de France and you had just signed a two-year deal with iShares. Then the news of Floydís positive test broke and everything changed. What was that like during those weeks in July and August?

Ryder:† It was pretty stressful. I was back home in July watching those guys do their thing after almost being there and I was super happy with my May/June and once that all started it was pretty hard.

For me, my main focus was the Vuelta a EspaŮa and that was the first time Iíd had the opportunity to prepare for a Grand Tour. That was my main objective and that was a huge opportunity for me to be able to do that with a team like Phonak.

But then it was mixed with a lot of craziness, especially back over there with it all unraveling and the team uncertain and [Operation] Puerto and the whole thing and trying to train really hard and hearing rumors that maybe Phonak canít even start because of this and that and all these sorts of things Ė just uncertainty.

And that kind of set the tone for the rest of the year. I raced as well as I could and as hard as I could at the Vuelta and I was more than pleased with how that went, but I just wasnít seeing the situation that I would be comfortable with and happy with coming together to keep me over there so I came back home.

Health Net came with a great offer and a great opportunity and program and it was just that easy to make the decision.

Sara: Will you miss anything about racing in Europe?

Ryder: Ya sure. The races. But Iíve done more than two seasons of top races over there already. And some I wonít miss [both laugh]. But sure Iíd very much like to have kept the rhythm and to be riding another Grand Tour this year, but thatís not going to happen.

But I think that the opportunities that Iíll have to keep developing as a rider here will further me more and give me a better opportunity for whatever the path might be for me in the future.

But Iím happy to be over here. Iím closer to my family. Sure, sometimes Iíll miss it, especially seeing the other guys - friends - once the races start happening.

Sara: Do you still have unfinished business over there? The Tour de France? Will you go back?

Ryder:† Sure, itís all about competing at the highest level. But sometimes you need to take a pause or take a deep breath to get to the ultimate goal.

To say that I would be racing in North America for the rest of my career is not really realistic. I think that my best years are coming up now. I can definitely see myself back over there as early as next season.

Sara: Iím guessing that the Tour of California is going to be a key race for you? Itís your first race with the new team and your sponsor is down there right? Does that raise the pressure level?

Ryder:† Ya, I hope it goes well, especially with Health Net being a California-based company. Iíve been trying to give myself the best chance that I can. Itís hard to be in great form this early in the year. My last three seasons have been completely different in terms of where Iím at at this point of the year. Iíve been trying to get myself where I need to be for starting racing at the end of February. But I didnít do the race last year so there are quite a few things that arenít in my favor.

Sara: What have you heard about this yearís Tour of California?

Ryder:† I think itís going to be pretty highly contested. The teams seem to value this race as you can tell by the kinds of teams coming out for it. I think itís just great for North American cycling. The US market is just growing and growing with so much involvement from the US companies. Itís great and there deserves to be this caliber of races over here.

Sara: Last week Freddy Rodruigez (Predictor-Lotto) said that this yearís Tour of California would be won or lost in the individual time trial. Do you agree? And being a strong time trialist Ėdo you think youíll have an edge?

Ryder: Ya well Iím hoping itís coming better all the time but there are quite a few specialist out there these days doing well.

From the sound of it thereís going to be the one shake-up day on day three and the time trial is pretty straight forward. Thatís where you can win or lose against everybody.

Sara: So what is your race schedule like for the rest of this season? Whatís after the Tour of California for you?

Ryder:† Iíll do Tour of California then Iíll do Redlands, then Tour de Georgia and then kind of just look from there. Primarily the stage racing is pretty well spread out through the year for me. Iíll do Utah and Missouri and a few of the other races on the calendar. Whatever makes sense for the training weíre doing.

Sara: Do you have any time at all in your life now for mountain biking? Is competing there something you might again consider?

Ryder:† Itís always a possibility. Now weíre halfway through the Olympic cycle itís going to start to come up again.

The last few years have been so busy there just was absolutely no opportunity. For Olympic purposes, for myself, I always like to do whatís best and if thereís opportunity there then itís definitely something Iíll look at but right now itís not something I can really think about. I donít know how much it would take to get back in as far as criteria or qualification.

Sara: But youíre not totally closing the door on it?

Ryder: No, and I know my fitness hasnít fallen off since then. So I definitely think about it. But thereís just so much to work on with the time trial and everything that itís just not really something that I have time for right now.

Thanks Ryder and good luck in California!

On Feb 9, 2007, two days after our interview, Health Net announced that star rider Nathan OíNeil would sit out the Amgen Tour of California after he sustained a hip injury when he was hit by a motorist while training in Austraila. The Daily Peloton contacted Hesjedel to get his reaction to the news.

Sara: What was your reaction when you heard about the switch and do you feel ready to lead the team?

Ryder: Yeah it is bad news. Definitely I was always trying to come to the race with my best effort and now I hope it is good enough to help the team get a great result.

I will take the chance as best I can. I came to the team with this in mind and it is just happening a little sooner then expected!

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