Hesjedal healthy and keen to represent country
By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
LONDON - Ryder Hesjedal earned fame by becoming the first Canadian to win one of cycling's Grand Tour events, the Giro d'Italia.
But apparently he isn't quite a household name in London's household.
The cycling star got what amounted to a rock star's greeting -- at least from the assembled Canadian media -- at the St. Pancras train station as he arrived from Belgium aboard the Eurostar, along with many curious Londoners wondering for whom the reception was being held.
"Who?" asked one woman who shrugged her shoulders and wandered away when told Hesjedal's name.
Still, the 31-year-old comes into these Olympics as somebody to watch.
Hesjedal, a native of Victoria, B.C., was asked Wednesday to trace the origins of his name (it's Norwegian) and had to tell at least one reporter how to pronounce it (three syllables).
He comes into these Games as one of Canada's few medal hopes, but this might be a case of the expectations getting a jump on reality.
As the lone Canadian in the men's road race Saturday, he will not have the benefit of teammates to help him with drafting and strategy so he'll be in tough, despite predictions he could grab a spot on the podium.
He looked a little taken aback by the scene at St. Pancras.
"It's exciting," he said to a crush of reporters.
"This is a little overwhelming, but ... I've just been training and focusing on this event so we'll see what I can do on Saturday and following in the time trial (Wednesday)."
Hesjedal had to withdraw from the Tour de France when he was part of a crash in the seventh stage, July 6, and suffered severe bruising on his left leg and hip. He couldn't pedal properly and smartly withdrew. He said he's over the injury and has been productively training.
"I had some good days the last couple of days," he said.
"I've been in Belgium, riding. I went to Paris on Sunday to visit my team and watch the finish of the Tour. I feel good ... I've been training my a-- off. We'll see how it goes."
Being forced out early from the Tour de France might seem to be a blessing for Hesjedal, but the fact of the matter is he probably won't have more energy reserves than those who finished. The competitors are getting more time off between the Tour de France and the Olympics than they would between events in a non-Olympic year.
"An Olympic athlete can't envisage doing the Tour de France 10 days before the biggest race of their life, a marathon or whatever, but racing is what we do, and we do so many during the year that having nine days between the Tour and the time trial is like having a holiday," Bradley Wiggins, the Tour de France winner, told the Guardian newspaper.
Hesjedal said he was in top form before the Tour and doesn't think he lost any conditioning.
"I just had to stop racing to not further the injury," he said. "I was able to get the recovery done properly. I've controlled my training and kind of prolonged that form. I'm even more optimistic about my ability to be able to perform in these one-day events."
Hesjedal will be in tough against the host Britons, who have a five-man team. Hesjedal said he'll have to count on the relationships he has forged with other riders to help him out in the 250-kilometre race Saturday.
"Fortunately I know all the guys out there," he said. "It's pretty straightforward. I can ride off the other teams and find my own way."
Hesjedal isn't taking anything for granted given recent events.
Defending Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez was involved in "a stupid crash" at the Tour, breaking a finger in his right hand and suffering deep bruising to his shoulder and back and can't even defend his gold medal, Hesjedal said. "I look at that ... (at least) I'm here. I was able to resume training, I'm healthy and I get to represent Canada at the Olympics. It's all good right now."
After he made his way to a waiting car, a woman and her two sons dismounted their bikes and the kids approached Hesjedal for autographs.
Guess somebody in London knows who he is.
Maybe even more people will know in the next week or so.