On form, Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo) is coming to the Grand Prix Cyclistes races in Québec and Montreal to win.
“I just want to race well, perform well and be happy when I leave the race but with the way I was able to perform last year, I want to win here. I want to perform and stand on the top of the podium. I’m confident in my ability to do that, there’s a lot of other racers capable of that so it’s going to be a hard race.” he said on Friday morning while meeting the press.
Last year, Hesjedal was the strongest man in the two races but still did not make the top step. At the Quebec race. Hesjedal powered a late race break, putting is massive pull after massive pull but was reeled in on the final lap. He had to settle for fourth.
Some might say that he wasted too much energy in the race. “That’s tough to say.” Hesjedal replied when that asked that question.
He continued, “You can only look back at the end and say what it was. If people think I was capable of winning and I wasted energy, that I would have done better than fourth if I hadn’t raced the way I did that’s a compliment. I was happy with the way I raced and I was able to come up with fourth and take the risk of trying to win.”
He then switched his strategy for the race in Montreal where he finished third. “I used that in Montreal too, I looked to play the other side, more conservative and played a gamble to work with the other riders and play the final that way and it didn’t work also. So you never know but you have to try and we’ll see what happens this weekend.”
Unbeknown to most, Hesjedal was sick last year. “I was quite sick when I came back from Europe, the Grand Prix Plouay, the whole time I was very concerned when I was in Victoria training that I wasn’t going to be well here. I think I raced well last year and it worked out. I look forwards to tomorrow and Sunday.”
Given all that, Hesjedal was happy with his two races in 2010. “Last year that was more on feel, getting excited wanting to push the race not necessarily being confident as I was saying before, I was very sick, I wasn’t sure how things were going to work out. I just felt the time to go, it almost worked out. I think I shaped the race, I don’t know if people were thinking that it would go at that point so I can always look back and think if things went differently. I’m happy with the way it worked out last year.”
The two Canadian WorldTour races will close out Hesjedal’s season, a season that he’s happy about even if the results were not as good as the previous year.
“Obviously last year was a big year. When you reached things you haven’t accomplished before, those are always key moments in your career. It’s always the trick to keep doing that or keep bettering that. But if I look at my season as a whole, I’m happy, I know I improved on a lot of levels, it doesn’t show in results all the time but that’s the sport of cycling, it’s hard, the results sheets don’t always tell the story.” he said.
“Certainly the Tour de France that we had as a team, myself personally, yeah 18th overall but a lot of different circumstances than last year and to get through it the way I did, and be a part of the success that the team had, that’s huge in anyone’s career. I’ll look back at the 2011 Tour de France for a long time.”
Though his final GC standings was less than his seventh place last year, Hesjedal feels that he was instrumental in helping Garmin-Cervelo win the best team classification.
“You just feel that accomplishment.” Hesjedal said about standing on the final Tour de France podium with his teammates.
“We stood on the Champs Elysees at the end of the Tour de France as the top team, I’ve never done that, I don’t think anyone on the team had done that before so we had to fight hard for that. It’s something that developed not necessarily at the start of the race but as the race went on. We were completing objectives every day, winning stages, defending the yellow jersey, supporting someone high in the general classification and a product of that was being the best team in the race, we focused on that goal in the last week and I was a big part of that. In the mountain stages, the first three riders across the line count for your placing so we showed out strength there, it was a great reward at the end.”
Once this weekend is over, the off season starts where Hesjedal will take some time to reflect and learn from the past and plan for the future. He still has two more years in his three-year contract with Garmin-Cervelo.
“I feel good, I feel that I’ve been improving every year. I turn 31 in December, I still see many years that I can continue to improve, not just physically but experience wise and that’s what it takes in this sport. You have to be around many years and go through usually more rough spots than good spots. I just go into each winter and think about the parts that I want to improve and feed off the successes and go to work. That’s all it is, hard work.” said Hesjedal.
Part of his preparation for next year will once again be done in Hawaii.
But before he can rest, Hesjedal has two more tough races to do which he prepared for by spending weeks at altitude in Colorado.
“I was there for ten days before the (USA Pro Cycling Challenge) race, then the race. I was there for three weeks that’s usually enough time to have an adaptation to the altitude and I’m hoping that helps me here with just under two weeks back at sea level, able to train hard and recover. I haven’t done altitude preparation a whole lot so it’s always something that even if you’ve done it a lot you never know if it’s going to work the same way. I’m hoping that it helps me here.”
He knows that he has his work cut out for him with a stronger field than last year but Hesjedal is ready to lead his team into battle.
“I see myself as a leader here, as a rider that’s shown I’m capable of riding at the front and pushing the race. I feel like that I’ll be able to lead the team and try for a top result.”
But just in case, Hesjedal carries a four-leaf clover in his pocket, a gift from his fiancee’s father.