His name was chanted all day Friday at the Grand Prix Cycliste Québec, at the team presentation, at every ascent of the cote de la Montagne, every time he crossed the start/finish line in front of 5-deep, and getting deeper, crowd. The roar was deafening when he initiated an attack to form a late race break.
He gave it his all in the race but in the end he finished fourth, just off the podium.
“The fans were amazing, overwhelming today, they really lifted me.” he said after the race.
And the crowd still chanted his name when he accepted the award for the Best Canadian. The name was of course Ryder Hesjedal of the Garmin-Transitions squad. Breakthrough star at the Tour de France this year where he finished 7th, Hesjedal was going through a gamut of emotions on the podium.
“I was definitely looking to stand on the podium, maybe the top step. I think I came close, I did what I could in the end to make the race, to make it hard and give myself an opportunity. I’m happy, the crowds were amazing, a great day, disappointing but really happy.”
After initiating the break on the second to last time up the cote de la Montagne, Hesjedal did the majority of the work in the 5-rider break as they tried to stay away from the select 20-rider chase group. But they were caught a lap later, and while the game of cat and mouse started, eventual winner Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues) attacked.
Pressure. With his results this year, including second place at the Amstel Gold Race, all eyes were on the 29-year old Canadian before the start of the race, some might say he had the ‘weight of a nation’ on his shoulders.
I asked him that question on the eve of the Quebec race. “Actually, I’m probably the most relaxed I’ve ever been in my career. What I’ve been able to achieve at this point, I’m very happy and satisfied. I just look at this as a great opportunity to race well in my home country and whatever happens this weekend doesn’t take away what I’ve done this season and up to date. Just the pressure I have on myself that I always have to do well.” he replied.
To get ready for these races, he followed the same schedule as last year which culminated in a successful Vuelta a Espana where he won a stage.
“I tried to do basically do the same approach since the Tour. I was fortunate to get out of the Tour in good shape, better than last year, I think. Did the same races, the same buildup, the same timeline.” he explained. The only difference was that he went back home to Victoria BC after GP Plouay instead of staying in Europe to train.
Making the decision to come to race at the first ever ProTour races in Canada and North America, was “an easy choice”. “I wanted to take that opportunity to be here this weekend for the first time. I thought it was time not to do two Grand Tours, Giro/Tour in 08, Tour/Vuelta last year so it was just a nice timeline to end this way.”
While he was home, a celebration occurred on Saturday September 4th, the same day as the Mountain Bike World Championships in Mont Ste-Anne.
“I had a great little event back home, a homecoming, a welcome.” said the seven-time World Mountain Bike Championship Medalist. “It’s been twelve years since I did Mountain Bike Worlds in Mont Ste-Anne so that let me reflect a lot and enjoy being at home and think back to all those years that I’ve raced. It was great, I got to share with my fans and family.”
Laid-back Hesjedal is also taking in stride the media hoopla around him. “This is great, that you want to ask my thoughts and I’m here to answer them.”
Montréal. There’s more racing, on a tougher, harder course at the Grand Prix Cycliste Montréal on Sunday. A 16-lap affair around the Mont-Royal circuit, almost the same as the Grand Prix des Ameriques and the World Championship. A 193.6 km leg breaker.
Hesjedal is obviously a favorite going in, but others have their eye on the podium. One of those is Robert Gesink (Rabobank) who finished third on Friday in Quebec.
“It should suit me better than a parcours than this. Hopefully I can do really good there.” Gesink said after the race. “Ryder Hesjedal is in really good shape, when he attacked on the small climb I think he was by far the strongest in the peloton, the rest could only follow. I think he will be the big favorite also for Montreal. I’m really happy to be already this good, after San Sebastian I did some training and the first race to stand on the podium, it’s good.”
Hesjedal plan was simple, to rest and “have a nice one” on Sunday. “It’s still bike racing, things have to come together, you have to have good luck. We were out there a long time, you have to get through the races to get to the hard moments in the final. I was happy to get to those moments today and I’ll be looking to do that on Sunday.”
I’m sure more chants of Ryder, Ryder, Ryder will be heard on Mont Royal today.