By Ryder | May 23, 2013 | 0 Comment
By Larry Humber
Things are coming up roses for this rider. In 2012, he became the first Canadian to win the coveted Giro d’Italia and wear its Maglia Rosa, the hallowed pink jersey, and now Ryder Hesjedal is poised to do it again.
The 32-year-old native of Victoria, B.C., has his sights set on another Giro, which runs May 4 to 26 this year. If all goes well, he’ll then take on the Tour de France in July. The Giro is second only to the Tour in prestige, and some consider it the tougher challenge. It is held each May in unpredictable weather and covers more gruelling terrain.
But the enormous crowds always help offset the vicious conditions. Last year, Hesjedal saved his best for last, racing through the streets of Milan on the final day of the 21-stage event to snatch victory from Spaniard Joaquim Rodríguez. After almost 92 hours in the saddle and a 5,900-metre climb (two-thirds the elevation of Mount Everest), he won by a mere 16 seconds, the second thinnest margin in the race’s century-old history.
As a result, he was named Canada’s male athlete of the year by the Canadian Press last December, the first cyclist to be so saluted. Typically, he was quick to acknowledge others who had made it possible. “I couldn’t have done it without the support of my team and my family and my friends and fans,” he told CP. “It’s just a culmination of years and years of work.”
Hesjedal has been riding for 20 years, 15 of them as a pro. When he finished a close sixth at the 2010 Tour de France as a domestique, or support rider, it passed almost unnoticed. “At the end of the day, it was good for me at the Giro, that they didn’t take me seriously,” he says.
That’s hard to believe considering Hesjedal is also a three-time Olympian. Still, his crowning glory was last year’s Italian win. “I wouldn’t trade anything in cycling for my Giro victory,” he says. It was made all the sweeter when his dad and a couple of his buddies from Victoria arrived a day before the finale.
Hesjedal doesn’t get home much anymore. He is overseas for months at a time, then spends the bulk of his off-season training in Maui, where he set the unofficial record for a bike climb up the Haleakala volcano in 2009.
But, when Hesjedal is back in Victoria, he admits, “It just feels good.”
“There are so many little trails that I grew up riding. Plus, there’s world-class mountain biking everywhere on the island,” adds the pro who made his Olympic debut as a mountain biker in 2004. But it was road racing that got him back in the Beijing Games in 2008 and again at London’s Olympics last summer.
Another “West Coast” thing that has stuck with him is his name. “My parents weren’t in a bike gang,” he says. “My mom grew up riding horses, so there is some riding in the family.”
He jokes about all the ways his name has been mispronounced (it’s hesh-uh-dull). “The beauty is that, every way it’s been said, you could never say it that way again; there are one-off mutilations of it,” Hesjedal says. “People just make up letters for some reason, pronouncing things that aren’t even there.”
For now, Hesjedal has more important things to worry about than his name. First off is this month’s Giro, which he hopes will prepare him for France.
“I’ve shown I need that volume, I need those race days,” he explains. “I get better the more I do—I now know I can be better in July than I was in May.”