Posted by Editor on 12/26/04
Ryder Hesjedal Interview
Ryder Hesjedal has been one of Canada's top mountain bike riders since he was a junior, winning silver medals at the Worlds as a Junior, Espoir and Elite rider, plus two world titles as a member of the Team Relay squad. He has also won a World Cup, seven world championship medals, many Norba National races, Canada Cups, national titles, and was a member of the Canadian team in Athens this past summer. Unfortunately, his Olympic experience was cut short in the first lap, after crashes and mechanical problems took him out of the race. We spoke with Ryder from his home in Victoria just before Christmas, as he prepares to embark on the next phase of his career - a full time spot on Lance Armstrong's Discovery squad.
Canadian Cyclist - So it is true then that you are moving to the road?
Ryder Hesjedal - Yeah, I am going full time with Discovery. I was focussing on mountain bike this year to get ready for Athens, but then in the fall it took a while to sort out things between my mountain bike program (with Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Discovery. Technically, I already had a two year deal (with Discovery), but it took a while, because they are still busy (racing) in the fall.
CC - So, mountain biking is finished?
RH - Yep.
CC - Will you be doing any mountain biking?
RH - No, you can't if you want to be where I want to be - there is not a moment to spare. It's time to move on. To be an Olympian for Canada was a good way to finish. It was a nice, somewhat bitter-sweet finish; I know that I was in a position to bring home a medal, because of my battles with Absalon (who won the gold) at Worlds and World Cups. There is no desire to do more (in mountain biking).
CC - Looking back on your mountain bike career, how do you feel about what you have done?
RH - I am pretty satisfied, I would have to say. A lot of the goals I set were accomplished - maybe not the final spot (eg, world champion), but I was there in the race. But I find it hard to get motivated in mountain biking now, with the level going down. Winning (the Worlds) in 2005 would possibly be less than getting silver in 2003.
Being a one-eyed king in the land of the blind doesn't work for me.
CC - What makes you say that the level has dropped in mountain biking?
RH - How many top Italian mountain bikers are there now? The loss of riders changes the whole structure of the sport; it's not the same, doesn't fit with me as an athlete at 24 (years of age) to be able to continually develop and improve. There are not the champions that there were a few years ago. The World Cup is uncertain, there is a lack of top races overall. How can you set goals? The road is still there - with ten-times more riders, races, history.
CC - Why do you think this has happened?
RH - In the earlier days the USA was driving it (the sport); they were sponsoring the teams, recruiting the top riders. For whatever reason, the money's not there, and the riders are drying up. I've explored mountain biking as much as I can. It was the best time of my life, so far, but I've met the goals I set up to do.
CC - Why Discovery?
RH - It takes time to learn how a team works, and I don't want to lose that time, so staying in the same family (as Gary Fisher) makes sense. I don't want to lose all the relationships I've built up over the years with Trek, Bontrager, etc. either. Plus, why wouldn't I want to be on Discovery? It's perfect for me
CC - What is your schedule with Discovery like?
RH - I am assuming that I will be riding the early Classic races, to be there and be strong for the team. I'm starting with the Tour of Qatar (end of January), but the schedule will be more laid out after our team camp in California.
But with the Pro Tour, all teams have to do all the (Grand) Tours, so there is talk that all (team) riders will do one. Which one it will be is to be determined, but getting a taste of any Grand Tour would be huge. There are lots of other tours out there as well - Suisse, Benelux, etc.
I'm just focussed on the Classics right now; the team is focussed on helping George there. The season is so big, there are so many races, that you can't pick just one at this point.
I can't set any specific goals this year, I just want to get as fit as possible, otherwise I'm not going to make it.
CC - Are you going to be based in Europe?
RH - Yeah, I'll be based in Spain full time. It looks like I'll be going over on the 24th (of January), and then to Qatar on the 29th. The team presentation is in (Washington) D.C. on the 10th, and California starts on the 11th.
CC - How is your preparation changing from past years?
RH - I'm working for a more controlled base. I'm not worried about getting my heart rate up, just overall conditioning and getting stronger. But I still don't know about being on the road so much, that's something I have to learn.
Constant racing makes it almost easier - racing once every 1-2 weeks on mountain bike means you have to be much more meticulous. But in road racing, you can do a stage race, have a couple of days recovery then maybe be racing again.
CC - You are still working with Juerg Feldmann and FACT?
RH - Yeah, I started with him in 1996. I've just come back from a 5 day camp with them. I was posting some good numbers, and we were working every day on different aspects of my training, getting ready for Europe.
Juerg doesn't just go on what he learned 15 years ago, he's always updating himself with what's new in Europe.
CC - Will we see you racing at all in North America? What about Nationals?
RH - I'm not sure. The team is talking about (Tour of) Georgia again, but I don't know if it will include me. The team will put me where I am best suited. I'm just happy to be picked for the Qatar team.
It's a big motivation to be the champion of our country. I would love to fly the maple leaf on Belgian roads like Bauer did, but I'm not thinking that far yet.
CC - What's your preference in terms of your long term goals - Tours or the Classics?
RH - I think to be at the top, you have to be an all round rider but, no, I haven't thought yet where my strengths fit. I don't have the time in to know yet. I've got to go through a season, or two, or three. I'm going to be quiet and develop myself.
I think I can be an all round good rider because of size and strength. I was there (in the front group) coming out of the cobbles in de Panne (this season with Discovery), so that give me some confidence. I was riding beside (Johan) Museeuw in de Panne - he's at the end of of his career, I'm just starting. We got a chance to chat, and he wished me luck. That's huge for me.
I need this big, full, new change. I can see 10 years to give it to the road, and try to be the most all round Canadian rider. To be the first to get a World Cup win on the road and mountain bike, that would be something.
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