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Interview: 2012 Giro d'Italia Winner Ryder Hesjedal
By Luke Allingham
Date: 6/9/2012
Interview: 2012 Giro d'Italia Winner Ryder Hesjedal

Ryder Hesjedal started his career in cycling with Mountain biking, where he placed 2nd in the UCI Junior Mountain Bike World Championships in 1998. In 2001 and 2003 the 31 year old from British Columbia placed 2nd at the U23 World Mountain Bike Championships and UCI Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships.

In 2005 Hesjedal began his first professional road season with American-based cycling team, Discovery Channel. Ryder was selected by Discovery Channel to race the 2005 Giro d'Italia, where his teammate Paolo Savoldelli eventually won the overall classification. although Hesjedal did not complete the race. After racing with Discovery Channel in 2005, Hesjedal signed a contract with Swiss-based cycling team, Phonak. While riding with Phonak, the Canadian began to make good results, placing 4th overall at the 2006 Volta a Catalunya and 2nd at the Canadian National Time Trial Championships.

After spending 2006 with Phonak, Hesjedal began a year long contract with Health Net-Maxxis where he placed 10th overall at the 2007 Amgen Tour of California and won the Canadian National Time Trial Championships. In 2008, Ryder signed with American-based professional cycling team, Garmin-Chipotle (now Garmin-Barracuda). The Canadian has remained on the team ever since and most recently won the 2012 Giro d'Italia while racing in team colors.

Hesjedal won the 2012 Giro ahead of Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez and Belgian Thomas De Gendt after gaining enough time on Rodriguez in the final time trial to take back the pink leader's jersey and claim victory. At the age of 31 it is his 1st Grand Tour win as well as both Garmin-Barracuda's and Canada's 1st Grand Tour win. In July, 2012 Ryder will line up at the Tour de France as Garmin-Barracuda's team leader with hopes of placing high in the overall classification or possibly winning the French Grand Tour.

hesjedal Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda). Photo Manual For Speed Hi Ryder, how are you doing? Can you please tell us about yourself?

Ryder Hesjedal- I am Canadian, born and raised on Vancouver Island around Victoria. I grew up Mountain biking, I raced at a high level at Junior and finished my Junior career at the World Championships. I turned professional the next year in 1999. I went immediately to the World Cup and I definitely got my ass kicked. After a couple of years of Mountain Biking I was already at the level of the best guys in the world in my early twenties. After six years of being in professional Mountain Biking, I progressively went into road cycling with the Canadian National Team, Rabobank Development team, and then professional with US Postal and then my first full season was with Discovery in 2005, that is all I've done since. That is my racing background, but I guess I could talk a long time about backgrounds.

DP- You have recently won the 2012 Giro d'Italia and are the 1st Canadian to win the Giro d'Italia, what were your immediate reactions after you realized you won? What does it mean for you to win this race as a Canadian?

RH- Well, I think that has definitely been a big point, but I won the Giro as a Garmin-Barracuda rider and that is my team. Yes, I am Canadian, and that's the first Grand Tour win for a Canadian too, but it is also the first Grand Tour win for the Slipstream Sports organization, where I started with them when they started for their big push on the top tier in 2008.

It meant a lot of things to achieve that goal and it is just the culmination of years and years of hard work, my hard work before I was on Slipstream and my whole life, deciding to really commit to cycling as early as I was fourteen. Standing on a Grand Tour podium as hard and historic as the Giro, that is what you dream about. That is what you work towards your whole career and you can easily have a whole career at the highest level and not have the pieces come together to win a Grand Tour. I am very happy to say the least.

DP- Besides winning the Giro overall, you had quite an impressive Giro d'Italia. In stage four Garmin-Barracuda won the Team Time Trial, but you also held the pink leader's jersey from Stage 7 to Stage 9 and then again on Stage 14. What are your thoughts when you look back on the race?

RH- Yeah, it was a very complete race, it was not some scenario that it just happened that I won because of other riders having problems or that type of thing. I feel like I was the strongest rider throughout the race and to wear the jersey for four days during the race as early as the first week, into the second week and winning the Team Time Trial and taking the jersey back at the end of the second week and doing the rides that I did in the third week, that is what it takes to win a Grand Tour.

I was third in the Points Classification behind Joaquim Rodriguez and Mark Cavendish, so my consistency in more than half the race in the stages, I was in single digits, so I'm very proud throughout the whole race. That's what it takes, and that is what it is all about.

DP- Stage 20 of this year's Giro appeared to be quite a challenge with lots of climbing and several attacks late in the race from Thomas De Gendt, but both you and Christian Vande Velde controlled the group of favorites and managed to keep you 2nd overall heading into the final time trial, tell us about that stage and how you felt after crossing the finish line. Were you surprised that Rodriguez and others didn't help to chase down De Gendt?

RH- Well, those two stages were the hardest of the race, because they were the last stages. I mean stages 19 and 20 were thirteen and half hours on the bike for the front guys and I don't even know how many meters of climbing, 11,000 meters of climbing or something like that, so those were crucial. I was able to be aggressive on the Alpe di Pampeago and assert myself as the strongest guy in the race.

I was treated like the one that had the race to lose on the last day and the jersey, so as the race unfolded that was the situation when we came off the Mortirolo. Christian (Vande Velde) was up the road in the break, he was riding well and since it was a very hard start on with a 30km climb. We took control of the race and decided what was a good breakaway, everyone was putting it to us, everyone was putting guys up the road - Katusha, Lampre, Liquigas, everyone, so we decided that Christian should be up there, he had the legs and that would help us later in the stage so Christian went in the break. On the Mortirolo, Peter (Stetina) was with me and near the top he came off a little bit when the guys put the pressure on.

On the descent of the Mortirolo and into the valley, I was by myself and that was just the situation. When your rivals look at you and see that you're isolated, they look to you to do something. Everyone has a decision and when we were in the valley there were still twenty some odd guys, there was hesitation and that's how De Gendt was able to get that time. As that was happening, we were a bit stuck in the sense that I had to wait for Peter to come back and Christian had to wait as he stopped out of the breakaway for us to reach him, because you can't go backwards on the course. It took a while to get him, so in that time frame, De Gendt was able to get a lot of time.

Once we got together, we took control and Peter rode as hard as he could to the base of the Stelvio and then Christian took over, and that is what you need - you need teammates around you. Once we were able to kind of control the situation, there was still a situation where the gap was still over 5 minutes and there is still about 10 kilometers to go. Eventually Christian, from his effort, couldn't obviously help very more, so it was down to me and the rest of the riders in the race and they decide if they want to ride against me and compromise their position, that's everyone's choice. It got to the point where I realized that I had to do everything for my own position and it really didn't matter the consequence of my rivals. I had that pressure on me and I did what I had to do. In the end others riders lost out more than me, which makes the victory even sweeter.

DP- Can you tell us about the final time trial in Milan? What was your strategy going into the time trial? What were your thoughts during the time trial?

RH- It's obviously pretty straight forward as much as a technical time trial in Milan can be on the last day of a Grand Tour. I had to do a great ride and do everything that I could out there, that meant taking risks and pushing it to the maximum.

I knew Rodriguez would have the time trial of his life, wearing the pink jersey and being in the position to win the race also. He had improved in that discipline and I obviously had to have a great ride and give it all out there and pretty much every meter of the course to win the Giro. That is what I was focused on and that is what I was able to accomplish.

I had the team around me, we have a great organization for especially the time trial, we have an aerodynamicist who studies all the ins and outs of what is going to happen and what needs to happen on the course and everything. I had all the tools at my disposal, top equipment and I just had to go out there and ride and finish strong.

DP- What were your thoughts when you learned that the final time trial had been shortened?

RH- Obviously when you're trying make up a time difference then it's not in your favor, it is better for the person who is trying to keep the time difference. You acknowledge it and know you have two less kilometers to make up the time, but that's all you can do - battle what you're up against and go to work. It was just one more thing added to the tough three weeks of what the Giro is.

DP- When did you start believing that you could win the Giro d'Italia overall? Did you ever have doubts? If so, when?

RH- I think definitely Stage 14, the first real mountain top finish - mountain day, end of the second week, I was able to put in an attack on everybody and make some time and take the jersey back, so at that point I knew that my race was coming together well and that I was strong and that if history kind of repeated itself in the sense that I get my best legs in the third week, that I did have a shot, but everyday was decisive as far as the mountain days in that third week. It was really just approaching each day, knowing that each day is all that matters and that is what I set out and did. I focused on each day, and got through them the way that I needed, so everyday I got closer and in my mind I was closer to the victory.

I never thought at any point that the race was out of chance to win based on the way that I rode on all those decisive days.

Hesjedal TDF Hesjedal celebrates at the 2011 Tour de France. Photo Fotoreporter Sirotti

DP- Did you ever feel that the Italian teams were working against you and Garmin-Barracuda to put more pressure on an outside threat?

RH- They definitely were, everyone does and we tried to do that to the other teams too, that's why we do the race. Obviously the Italians have a big interest in their home race and they go there 100 percent, so they're going to do everything they can to give themselves the best shot, but at the end of the day it comes down to the riders against each other and for the strongest riders prevails. That is what makes the victory sweet, everyone does want to win and doesn't want the others to win, he'll do whatever he can to make that happen.

DP- What were your impressions of the 2012 Giro d'Italia outside of race dynamics?

RH- I think it was incredible. I think that Acquarone, the new director of the race, did a great job. It was exciting from start the finish, the format - starting in Denmark, the people up there were incredible and starting in Italy with the team time trial, one of the most exciting events in cycling, it was just excellent. I think the Giro gained a lot of traction from audiences around the world based on how exciting it was. From what I saw, people enjoyed watching it. For me, it was a nice feelings to be a part of that.

DP- What are your thoughts when you are racing a stage of the Giro and fans are running alongside you shouting and screaming? Does is it faze you? Do you ever get annoyed by the fans running alongside you?

RH- Well, that is just part of the racing. You have that everywhere on the big days and the decisive days, so that is just something you get used to, that what makes it racing; it's exciting, that energy. When you are in the heat of the battle on a difficult climb, people are right there and you are basically in a tunnel of noise. That is bike racing, and that's exciting. I am used to it now and I love it.

DP- How many interviews have you done since winning the Giro? Are you beginning to get tired of being interviewed?

RH- I wouldn't say I am getting tired of it, definitely a lot of interviews. Clearly when you win an event the Giro, that is part of the deal. It's to be expected and I am glad to do them. I don't know the exact number, but it has been a few, that's for sure.

DP- What advice would you give to an amateur cyclist who wants to become professional in their life?

RH- Just simply: it doesn't come easy. It takes a lot of work and you have to love it, you can't want to do it for glory and success in the sense that it is a lot of hard work and it takes time to get there, but if you're truly committed to it and love it, you can get there. If you're serious about it, then all the best and it is definitely possible.

DP- You currently race for Garmin-Barracuda, tell us about the team from your point of view as a rider. Do you enjoy racing with the team?

RH- Definitely, I have gone with the team since like I said, 2008. The team has improved and grown in stature with the riders that are on the team and the staff that make everything go around and I think that this Giro win is a symbol of that and confirmation of a successful program.

Me personally, I have had my biggest successes racing my bike with this organization, I am thankful for that and I know that they're thankful of me. To have that mutual partnership, that's what it is all about and it has been a great ride to date.

DP- Final Question: Is there anyone that you would like to thank that helped you get to the point in your professional career that you are at today?

RH- There has been a lot, I think mostly it comes down to the support of my family. My first team was Team Mom and Dad, the support that I got from them when I was young to go for my dream and goal of being a professional cyclist, that is really fundamental in where I am now. More recently, my wife, I got married in December and we met in 2009, the support from her has been crucial and that's what it is all about: having good people around you and people that support you and that you want to achieve things for. Those are the main ones I would say.

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