March 7, 2008 – We caught up with Ryder Hesjedal by phone from his Girona, Spain training base to talk with him about his strong start to 2008 with his new Slipstream/Chipotle squad and what the future holds.
Is it nice to be back in Girona — does it feel like you’re “back home” in some ways?
Ryder Hesjedal: Yeah, I’ve spent a better part of three seasons over here, minus last year. Yeah, it’s definitely like home, comfortable and what I’m used to. Some people (on the Slipstream team) live near here, the office, the mechanics (Service Course), the warehouse and everything is here. It’s definitely an added bonus to have everyone around and it just adds that much more to the energy and the momentum of this team, it’s pretty neat.
What’s the atmosphere like on Team Slipstream?
RH: Oh, it’s been super, I can’t really imagine a better start for a year. Since November, the first team camp in Boulder, everyone was super excited and motivated and I think that really carried right through the first training camps of this season and on through the racing so far. I think the team’s really been impressive and I’ve been pretty pleased to be a part of that as well.
The team has people from various groups — guys like Magnus Backstedt and David Millar who’ve been racing primarily in Europe, guys like Timmy Duggan & Steven Cozza who’ve been with the team since they were TIAA-CREF, others, like you, Tyler Farrar, Trent Lowe. How’s the mix and how does everyone get along?
RH: Oh, I think pretty good. Most guys know each other from racing already. That’s kind of how it works, you become familiar with guys regardless of what team you’re on from racing day in and day out in the different series and what have you. Some guys know each other better than others, some have been on teams together in the past – it’s a pretty neat mix. When it was decided that the team was going to move up to this level, from where it was last year, the staff and the management had to sit down and make sure of everything including the mix of riders as it was a crucial part of the process and I think they did a pretty good job. It seems like everyone has great respect for one another and that’s what really matters with a good team.
You finished on the podium in your first race with the team, 3rd at GP d’Ouverture La Marseillaise — you really know how to take the pressure off yourself with a great start!
RH: (Laughs”¦) Yeah, we had a great group leave Silver City (New Mexico) and go straight to France and the team was really excited. We were in an aggressive mindset at the first race of the year. Some of the guys I think were even more excited than me when we finished and they knew that I was in the break and were waiting to hear what happened. I was like “Yeah, third!” And they’re like “What? Yeah!” It was more than everyone expected on that day, including myself. But you still have it in the back of your mind as that’s what you’re always setting out to do – but for it to actually happen that way was a great start for the team.
And then you followed that up with an excellent showing last week at the Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana. In Stage 3, the Queen Stage of the race with four categorized climbs, you placed 5th, finishing in a group with Alberto Contador, Trent Lowe, other pure climbers. How happy are you with the way you are climbing?
RH: Yeah, that’s definitely getting rolling in a real race and that’s a pretty encouraging indicator of my condition at this time of the year. Even the first day was super, super selective. I made it over (the climbs,) the first day and that stage was probably even less suited to me. There were some shorter and steeper grades and I was able to stay in contact with all the guys and come into the finish. I was a little conservative in the sprint, but still ran a top 10 (9th on the stage) and that kind of set the stage for me. The Queen day was a big hard day after a few days of racing but I was able to stay with the best and even have a go again at the end. I finished the race feeling good, not like I had really pushed the limits or anything. I felt stronger as each day went on, which is the goal in early season racing. So with all of those efforts mixed together it was definitely a good experience. Now maybe I’m even a little bit more nervous about March coming (laughs”¦). You work so hard to be good and then when you perform you’re like “oh, I gotta make it good now with that!”
In addition to making you nervous it’s got to give you a lot of confidence, I’d think.
RH: Well, yeah. It’s definitely confidence and just relief in a way. Those indicators, when you’re able to ride well, that’s what it’s all about — when it’s happening that’s the best time. I had 13 race days and they were all positive so now it’s time to turn that forward into March with some better performances.
What’s your upcoming race programme?
RH: The main focus is Tirreno-Adriatico (March 12-18.) I’ve done it before with Phonak (he finished 38th overall in 2006,) we have a good mix, some guys that are definitely there for the flatter stages, and I’m sure I’ll be looking at the GC along with (Dave) Zabriskie, who’s on the roster. We have two guys for the Time Trial who can definitely place top 10 as a normal goal. But I might even go a bit more lofty and be thinking top 5 if I can improve on where I was in Valencia and if I can pick up my time trialing from where it was last year. It’ll be the first TT of the season that I’ll race, so you never know. I’ve definitely been doing everything possible to ride stronger and the equipment’s familiar and I’ve already spent lots of time on the bike at team camp – so here’s as good a situation as any for that.
Are you in the mix for Tour de France selection? At 27, are you ready now?
RH: Yeah, I’d like to think so. I think the team definitely after this month will be pleased with where I’m at. There’s a little uncertainty perhaps after not racing over here for a year (last year he road with Health Net. I’ve never been uncertain about myself but with anything you have to prove it again and again and show your abilities – I think I’ve already taken a good step in that direction. I definitely have to follow that up for a few months. We have a dynamic roster and there have to be guys going that have never done the Tour — or any Grand Tour – so I think I’m in the mix for that.
Four years ago you were preparing for the Athens Games as a mountain biker — now the Olympics are coming again this year. What’s your approach to making Canada’s Olympic team?
RH: Just doing what I’m doing right now over here. There are only so many guys racing at this level over here and that speaks for itself in a lot of ways. At the end of the day I think the selection is pretty open as mainly a committee’s choice, so that’s a pretty clear message that the strongest guys at the time will be going. But right now for me with this team where I’m at, I’m just focusing on the events that are in front of me and things will sort themselves out for Beijing. I can’t really sit here and say I’m preparing for the Olympics, it’s just not realistic, even though what I’m doing right now is for that goal – but I don’t approach it that way.
A lot of people have noticed not only Steven Cozza’s strong riding (at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne), but also his interesting mustache. Now Zabriskie’s followed with one of his own and Directeur Sportif Johnny Weltz said that this isn’t the Army, the riders are all adults and can make decisions like that on their own. Have you thought about jumping on the mustache bandwagon?
RH: (Big laugh.) I don’t know what the big hype is about mustaches at the moment! It’s great that there are different looks out there. Perhaps over in Belgium they haven’t seen mustaches in a while. There’s definitely some riders in the pro peloton these days with facial hair. I think maybe in the past it wasn’t as accepted but now there are a lot of long-haired Dutch riders. So the peloton’s evolving, I guess. I’ve played at the facial hair a little bit, not an “extreme mustache-type style,” though. I let the beard grow in a bit in Missouri (last year.)
That was more like a “playoff beard” in hockey.
RH: Yeah”¦ I haven’t focused in exclusively on the big mustache. I don’t even know if I can grow a big mustache as I’ve never tried.
RH: (Laughs) It seems like it’s pretty covered now, it’d be almost foolish to try. Cozza, especially, and I think Dave’s always up in the air doing different things.