Like Cadel Evans, Hesjedal came to the road after a successful career on 26” fat tyres – he was a silver medallist in the world cross country championships at U23 and Elite levels.
Rabobank Continental snapped him up for 2002 and he spent two seasons riding for the Dutch bank’s feeder team.
In 2004 it was the Big League with US Postal and he made the move across to Discovery for 2005, the year of his first Grand Tour – the Giro.
He wore the yellow and Green of Phonak for 2006 and continued his Grand Tour apprenticeship in the Vuelta.
It was a North American programme for 2007, winning the Canadian elite time trial championship for Health Net.
The following year saw him with Jonathan Vaughters; Slipstream became Garmin and he’s been there ever since – there was a share in the team’s Giro TTT triumph and a first ride in the Tour de France.
Celebrating victory at La Vuelta.
He started 2009 with strong rides in the Tour Down Under, Strada Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico; rode the Tour again and topped his season with a stunning Vuelta stage win.
Last year was his best to date, the Strada Bianche was to his liking again; then there was that strong Ardennes campaign; a stage win the Tour of California; top ten in the Tour and strong showings at his home races in Montreal (3rd) and Quebec (4th).
Hesjedal finished his 2011 season after the Quebec race and recently took time to talk to PEZ about his season and his plans for 2012.
PEZ: Are you happy with season 2011, Ryder?
Ryder Hesjedal: I think that 2010 was such a big year for me with breakthrough results – second in the Amstel and seventh in the Tour – it was going to be hard to better it.
And the thing with the Tour is that luck is such a big factor – but I’m happy with my Tour and how the team rode.
PEZ: When the Garmin/Cervelo merger was happening, did that affect your peace of mind?
RH: No, not at all!
There were new riders and new bikes but the core group of guys stayed the same – it was a very positive thing, the team grew, became stronger.
PEZ: Your Ardennes campaign was compromised by allergies, this year.
RH: It was a combination of things; I was in good shape – I was seventh overall in the Criterium International and fourth in the GP Indurain – and I think my condition was actually up on 2010.
I was on target to get results in the Ardennes, but to perform well in a 260 kilometre classic everything has to be A1.
In the Amstel, I was going well but I had a bad stomach, then I was 13th in the Fleche and 29th at Liege.
But I was affected by allergies – it was like yellow snow with the pollen, 30 degrees and just not like Belgium!
I felt good on the Liege recce ride and was happy with my condition – I was there until the finale but it was apparent that the podium guys (Gilbert and the Schlecks) were at a different level from the rest.
Hesjedal sprinting to a podium finish at Amstel Gold in 2010.
PEZ: That Tour TTT win was pretty spectacular.
RH: That was full gas, all or nothing and we executed it perfectly.
It always amazes me how you have those different combinations of guys who make different kinds of efforts and all the technical elements but the result ends up being so close – it was nice to be on the right side of those differences!
That result gave us good GC options – then the crashes came; but we moved on from that.
PEZ: Thor’s stage win at Gap – you were a major contributor to that result.
RH: That was another good day – the hi-light of that stage was actually getting in the break, it took 100 kilometres before it went.
I played my card and it’s a pity the finish wasn’t on the final climb, but when I was caught I took on the role of supporting Thor; we had two on one against Boasson Hagen but he’s a good rider and not easy to beat.
That was a great day with a lot of emotion.
Hesjedal celebrates in the background as Hushovd crosses the line first.
PEZ: Do you think that the injuries you sustained in that bad crash on stage seven perhaps compromised the second half of your season?
RH: You never know – it would certainly have been better not to crash!
Stages eight and nine were very hard and you’re never sure if you’re damaging your body continuing to race when you’ve hurt yourself as badly as that.
But I carried on and was good in week three – like I said, it would have been better not to crash but I was at the front on the days I wanted to be and was pleased with my consistency.
PEZ: Many riders said that the early Tour parcours were very risky.
RH: ASO decides on the parcours – and that’s the way it is.
There are multiple teams trying to be at the front; the Tour is taken very, very seriously by everyone, the game is raised, the speed is high and it’s hard racing in difficult conditions.
Racing hard at the Canadian World Tour races.
PEZ: The level of the Montreal and Quebec World Tour races continues to rise.
RH: Oh yeah!
They’re classic races; remember that Montreal in particular has great history – in the 70’s the Olympics and Worlds were held there; they’re great races.
PEZ: You’ve finished your season early?
RH: I’m keeping it the same as last year, Quebec was my last race then, too.
The Copenhagen Worlds parcours weren’t suited to me and it didn’t seem like a lot of sense to go all the way back to Europe for a race which wasn’t suited to me – especially after 79 race days in 2011.
And I have an early start to 2012, I’m riding the Tour Down Under and want to be in good condition for that.
PEZ: How much of a break do you take?
RH: I’ve had close to four weeks already; I’ll have a couple more weeks then get into it mid to late October.
Hesjedal has always been a fan of l’Eroica.
PEZ: Do you work with a coach?
RH: I work with the team coaching staff but mostly my schedules are self planned.
PEZ: Do you sit down and analyse the season just passed?
RH: It’s always sensible to reflect on what was good and what could be better – I’m already thinking about next year.
I want to ride well in the Tour Down under but not do too much in February; then there’s Tirreno, Catalonia, and the Basque Country.
After the Ardennes there’s California which is a very important race for us – I’ve always been strong there . .
PEZ: How long will you stay in Hawaii this winter?
RH: As long as I can!
We have a team gathering in November which I’ll return for and I have my wedding in December – and then I have to think about the Tour Down Under.
Ryder on the Galibier.
PEZ: What liberties do you allow yourself in the winter?
RH: I just enjoy life in Hawaii, take in my surroundings, take pleasure in being in good health – and having a cold beer on the beach isn’t so bad.
PEZ: You’ve been in the peloton for a long time now – what are the biggest changes you’ve seen?
RH: That’s a good question; the approach of all the teams is so much more technical – bikes, clothing, filling in air ducts in helmets and so on.
The racing is as strong as ever and the young guys who are coming up are very talented.
Riders seem to be at a higher level in their early 20’s than they used to be – there’s gonna be a lot of good riders around for a long time to come.
It’s still a good atmosphere in the peloton though; many of the guys I was on Rabobank Continental with in 2002 are still kicking around the – Jens Mouris, Laurens Ten Dam, Kenny Van Hummel, Peter Weening . . .
PEZ: And 2012?
RH: To be there, to be consistent and continue to do my job for the team.
The Worlds are in Limburg, Holland; Amstel country, which suits me – so I have that in mind.
And there are the Olympics, after the Tour – I’ve always gone well in the Classica San Sebastian, which comes the weekend after the Tour, so I’m looking forward to London.
I have the Tour Down Under in January and the Worlds are in September and with the Tour and Olympics in between, that’ll do to start, I think.