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Interview with Ryder Hesjedal – Rest Day 2 at the Tour

by Amy Smolens

July 18, 2011 (Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France) – The only Canadian in this year’s Tour de France is Victoria, BC’s Ryder Hesjedal. Last year he was in the headlines with some stellar rides in the mountains on his way to an extraordinary 7th place on GC. This year some bad luck set him back, so he’s taken on different roles for team Garmin-Cervélo. After 15 stages the peloton enjoyed its second rest day. I called Ryder at our appointed time to catch up on life at the world’s premier bike race…

Hey Ryder, it’s Amy. Do you have a couple of minutes?
RH: Yeah, just finished with massage. I’m walking away now.

What else did you do today?
RH: An easy spin in the morning, had some Chipotle burritos again, a second rest day tradition.

It must be nice to know that you have a Chipotle burrito waiting for you on the second rest day every year.
RH: Yeah, it’s good! We had a great location – a big chateau and nice vineyards, so it was great!

How are your back and neck feeling?
RH: They’re better. It’s just more the effort now that’s been done since that point and where we are in the race. Yeah, that’s the Tour. Got through the Pyrenees and the roles change now. I’m more or less doing everything, trying to get in the breakaways and being there as long as possible, supporting Tom (Danielson). Also trying to finish up strong for the team, too. We look at the Team GC every day, as well.

You mentioned Tom Danielson, who’s riding his first Tour de France. Are you surprised at the fact that he’s 9th on GC?
RH: No, not at all, he’s done Top 10 at the Vuelta (a España) three times. Grand Tours are Grand Tours, you know, the Tour is just different on other levels. It’s more just having things come together for you here – that’s the real trick, as you can see. Just getting through the first week unscathed… that was half the battle and something in itself. We had three guys capable of riding in the overall and fortunately one guy made it through. He still even lost two minutes on the first day, people are forgetting about that already. If you took two minutes off his time he’d be sitting a whole lot better, so everyone’s got a situation. Fortunately he didn’t crash and he’s been able to keep the GC ride alive for the team on top of everything else we’ve been doing. That’s professional bike racing. Just because things don’t go your way doesn’t mean things are over. There are lots of things you gotta do. Now I’ll be taking the opportunities in this last week, the team is still hungry for stage wins so we’ll still race aggressive and see how far we can take it.

Describe your role in the Alps working for Danielson.
RH: The same as it was in the Pyrenees. We have to decide if it makes sense to get in a break, if it has a chance to go to the line or if it would be a waste of energy. I think we did it just right, I was happy to get over the Tourmalet, I was the last guy with Tom to Luz-Ardiden. I was able to help him and support him to the last climb. We’re still a team that’s capable, look at the Team GC, I’m not able to just sit up and take a rest and save my legs for the next day. I still have to fight to the finish after doing that work and trying to get in the break at the beginning. There’s a lot of energy wasted if you’re not trying to be in the final, so, that’s the role I’ve been taking on. Trying to be in the break and be up the road if it makes sense and if not, be with Tom as long as possible and fight for team GC – the top three guys count every day. We’ve been high up there this whole race so we think we have a chance to be the best team in Paris if luck goes our way. So that’s going to be my role, suffering a whole lot until the end of the race.

Thor Hushovd been up there for the team winning Stage 13 into Lourdes. What did you think when he won a mountain stage that included the Col d’Aubisque?
RH: Well, that was a clear day we knew the break could go to the line. The interest from behind, the yellow jersey, when there is one climb like that in the middle, so myself, (David) Millar, Christian (Vande Velde) and Thor were all trying to get in that break. It didn’t go for almost 60 kilometres so that was a lot of hard racing. I don’t think a lot of people see what it takes to get in those breaks. It was a full on team effort and Thor was there and was able to get in it from that work from everybody and he had just an amazing ride to finish it off and get the job done – unreal! That was definitely the team plan, and for it to go down the way it did with another great ride, it was another highlight of the Tour for the team!

Tyler Farrar got a stage win the first week but since then he’s fallen short. Talk about your role in the flatter sprinter stages when you’re expecting a result from Tyler.
RH: They’re hard stressful days if you’re a team that wants it to be in a sprint. We’re happy when a small break goes away that’s controllable. And yeah, we have to chip in and we do chip in. I was riding on the front one stage there and we had a couple guys that were saving themselves for GC and leadout guys, so there’s only so many guys to do the work. We’re down one guy with (Dave) Zabriskie having to go home (after a crash on Stage 9) and we know that’s all part of it, chipping in and doing the work wherever I can and that’s it really. Trying to get all the guys who are part of the leadout to the finish in the best way possible and let them do their job. It’s a tough game, obviously Mark (Cavendish) is exceptional and his team (HTC-Highroad) is based basically for that and they come up with the goods more times than not. But Tyler’s been riding well and he crashed on Stage 7 too…so you just don’t know what it takes out of you. But he’s been riding great, he’s got a couple of top threes after his win already. I think it’s frustrating for him but I think they’re still good rides and the team can’t be too disappointed.

You get to the Alps on Wednesday and you have l’Alpe d’Huez coming up soon. What are your memories of that climb and what are you looking forward to there?
RH: Ha! I just have one memory, I’ve only done it once, at the end of the 2008 Tour. I was suffering pretty good and pretty much rode it all by myself. I was kind of in the middle, just out of the front guys but a little ahead of the gruppetto. It’s exciting, so much going on, a historic climb, you get up to the top finally and you just know you’ve accomplished something. The way it lies this year… it’s going to be the last big moment. I think there’s going to be a lot of racing before that, it’s going to be hard and exciting with the Galibier and everything the Alps have to offer this year so I’ll take it all in but I’m not thinking about Alpe d’Huez too much right now, I’ve got a lot more to do (laughs!)

I’ve seen a few Maple Leaf flags flying on the side of the road. Have you met any Canadians who’ve come to France to follow the Tour?
RH: Yeah, there have been lots of people that come by the bus in the morning and say hello. I see the flags, I notice them when I’m riding by, and if I can I try and give a wave. I think people are a little bit surprised (laughs) when they realize it’s me who’s giving a wave. I like to say hi when I can and give them something extra to cheer about!

Last year you were the team’s GC man and got so much encouragement from back home. This year you’re not in the headlines but are you still hearing from lots of people from home?
RH: (Laughs) I’ve had tons of well-wishes through my website, they’re very motivating and rewarding. It’s the same, people are even more supportive with their notes and well-wishes. You don’t have to be in the Top 10 in the Tour de France to be working hard and doing a good race and doing a good job and people that be known and that’s nice!

That’s great to hear. Good luck in the final week!!
RH: All right, no worries, I’ll do my best.

So long.
RH: Bye, Amy, thanks.

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