Posted by Editor on 01/4/07
Ryder Hesjedal Interview
Ryder Hesjedal was Canada's top-ranked male road racer internationally last year, finishing 4th overall in the Volta a Catalunya (ProTour), 79th overall in the ProTour rankings, 22nd at the Worlds in the ITT, 17th overall at Dauphine Libere and 38th overall at Tirreno-Adriatico. He also won the silver medal in the ITT at the National Road Championships.
Unfortunately, Ryder was a member of the Phonak team and, after team leader Floyd Landis' positive result following his win at the Tour de France, the team folded, leaving him without a team for 2007 (Ryder had signed for two years with the incoming sponsor - iShare - who subsequently pulled their sponsorship of the team).
In late October (see Daily News October 23/06) Health Net presented by Maxxis announced that they had signed Ryder Hesjedal. Since then Ryder has been, in his words "laying low, taking some time to recover and reenergize". Yesterday he took some time to speak with us, his first interview since signing with Health Net presented by Maxxis.
CC - So Happy New Year! How long have you been back in Victoria?
RH - Yeah, Happy New Year ... I came home a week after (Road) Worlds, and I've been here more or less ever since. I wanted some quiet time, and have just been getting ready for the new season.
CC - Going from a ProTour team and racing/living in Europe to a North American squad is quite a shift. How are you handling the adjustment? By this time last year you were already into training camps and getting ready for a bunch of races.
RH - For me there is no difference as far as the work that I need to do. The racing this year is going to be the highest level ever in North America, with all the teams and the big races. But, yeah, it is a different dynamic from over there, and I have never raced a road season over here before. Hopefully, it will be a change for the better; I went this route to continue to develop, to get better.
CC - How quickly did this agreement with Health Net presented by Maxxis fall into place? When we talked at the Road Worlds you said you were still talking with a number of teams.
RH - Yeah, I had lots of negotiations from Dauphine (Libere) onward; there was no guarantee that the team would continue, so it was always a possibility that I would go to a new team. I didn't want to just stay in Europe for the sake of staying there ... I wanted to be able to use my experience, so I came back (to North America) where it is most valued right now.
I found out that my name came up (at Health Net presented by Maxxis) in July - there were (going to be) big changes for the team and it was rebuilding with Gord dropping (retiring) and some other of the older riders leaving. It was a big compliment to me, I think, that they were thinking of me in the rebuilding.
They (Health Net presented by Maxxis) knew that I would play my cards to stay in Europe first, but when it came to decision time, they came with a great offer, so the negotiation was quick. I had heard only good things about the program, and it was a good offer by a team that wanted me, so it is a really healthy environment to go to.
CC - So have you discussed what your role will be with the team?
RH - I think I will be a complement or backup to Nathan (O'Neill) as one of the GC (General Classification) riders. Nathan is going so well right ... Stage races are becoming more important in North America now, with all the new, big races. I'll be riding for the overall in the big races we go in, unless there is someone else on the team riding better; of course, then we will all ride for them.
CC - So what are some of the major objectives for the season? Tour of California?
RH - For sure, Tour of California is a big objective. Our sponsor is down there, and it is a priority to do well. I didn't race it last year, so it's hard to have a feel for how it will go ... Obviously, with Nathan coming off the Australian season we have an edge.
Other races ... I haven't seen a lot of the schedule, but I know I am doing Redlands, and then I'm not sure what before (Tour of) Georgia - that's a big priority too. After that we have some pretty big races in the summer, all the way up to the Worlds.
The team is scheduled to do trips to Europe in May and August, but I don't know if I will be on those trips at this point.
CC - What about Road Nationals?
RH - I'm not sure ... I would definitely like to, but I think it is at the same time as (Tour of) Utah, which is a big objective for the team. It makes no sense to have conflicts like this; it is better for Canada to have us race top UCI continental races.
Editor's Note: The CCA announced a few hours after this interview that the Road Nationals would be pushed back a week to avoid this conflict.
CC - So what about Worlds? Canada got one spot - yours - in the road race based on your ProTour points. At the continental level we probably wouldn't have qualified, since South American countries took the top spots there. Is that something you are concerned about - for the Olympic qualification as well?
RH - Well, we will have more guys racing in more UCI continental races in North America this year, which brings us up to an even page with the South Americans I think. If Charles (Dionne) comes back like he should, plus myself, and (Dominique) Rollin are all on American domestic teams ... more guys racing consistently here should make a big difference.
For me, world championships is not as big a thing right now. In mountain biking I went to 11 Worlds in a row, I think. I've done two Road Worlds now. I love the challenge, but being the only guy and doing the time trial and the road race ... maybe if I hadn't done the time trial I would have had that last little bit to hang on in the road race; who knows?
You can always use the experience, but at what point are you sacrificing just to do it? Just to finish the Worlds isn't enough for me.
CC - What about mountain biking? What's the chances of you coming back for Beijing - you can't have been too happy with what happened in Athens? (Hesjedal crashed twice and had to drop out)
RH - Right now it is not a priority for myself. But if I think forward to Beijing, then I think 'yeah, it would be awesome'. But then if was "you have to do X, X and X (mountain bike) races this spring, I couldn't even think about it at this point. For me right now I think it is a matter of continuing to improve on my time trialling ability and that can be my ticket.
I think I could enter mountain biking right now and compete at a high level. It would be great to compete in 1, 2 or even 3 disciplines (mountain, road and time trial) at Beijing ... that would be spectacular!
What I've been doing as a cycling athlete this past couple of years has taken me to a new level, so as it draws closer, yeah, then we'll have to see. I think as time goes on it will sort itself out.
CC - What is your primary goal for this year?
RH - To pick up where I left off last year. I can be competitive in day to day racing, but the last two years you don't know your role until the last moment. If I know the races that I am doing, then I can prepare properly for them. I expect to see myself winning races and contesting for one day wins. Maybe not GC wins yet, but I hope to be very competitive in GC races.
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