Canadian Tour de France rider Hesjedal raises glass and burrito during off day

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal made the most of his last off day at the 2011 Tour de France.

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal made the most of his last off day at the 2011 Tour de France.

There was leisurely ride and a massage to keep the body limber, plus a burrito meal courtesy of Chipotle, which sponsors Garmin-Cervelo’s junior development team.

A few laughs with his Garmin-Cervelo Tour colleagues as well, no doubt.

“You have to, to make it through this,” the laidback Hesjedal told The Canadian Press on Monday. “That’s the key.

“There’s guys on this team now that I’ve done all four of my Tour de Frances with. That’s a bond that’s pretty hard to duplicate. We go through it, we support each other, we have fun — the best moments are on the bus, before the race and after the race.”

Success helps ease the pain of the gruelling 3,430.5-kilometre Tour — or any competition at this elite level.

“There’s been a lot of days where there’s no victories — just suffering. This race has been a huge accomplishment for us,” Hesjedal added. “We kind of joke on the bus we’re still suffering and tired and hurt. And we just imagine what some of the other guys are feeling like, that haven’t won three stages and had the yellow jersey for a week.

“It’s tough, but we’re smiling and joking and taking care of each as best as possible.”

Monday’s meal included a “lovely” glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, perhaps the most famous Cotes du Rhone wine in France.

The burrito is a team tradition on the second rest day of the Tour. The riders are well taken care of the rest of the time — the Garmin-Cervelo entourage includes a chef.

Seventh last year in a breakthrough performance, Hesjedal stands 32nd after 15 stages.

Crashes, the talent on his team and the progression of the race have changed his role this year. His role in the remaining stages will be to help American teammate Tom Danielson, who is ninth overall.

The 30-year-old from Victoria will also be doing his bit for Garmin-Cervelo in the team standings. The times from the top three riders count towards the team competition and that means Hesjedal can’t fade to the back when his duties with Danielson are done.

“I don’t just get to chill out and cruise up (to the finish) as easy as possible and try and recover. I’ve got to fight right to the line and keep that going. It’s quite a bit of work load to do the rest of the race.”

Not that’s he’s complaining. Getting that work done gives him “a nice sense of accomplishment.”

After hurting his back and neck on a crash on Stage 7, Hesjedal said returning to action after the first rest day July 11 was tough.

But his body recovered and he did better over the 2,115-metre Col du Tourmalet in Stage 12 than most.

Still the damage from crashes lingers on, he explained. Bruised and battered bodies make for inefficient riding, which can take a toll on energy later in the race.

“It’s hard to get it back,” he said. “We’ll see how this last week goes for me. But I was definitely tired coming out of the Pyrenees. You try to get into a breakaway (group) for a hour-plus at the start of the race and still try to be there right to the end with all the favourites — supporting someone that’s riding the GC (general classification), it’s end up being a lot of energy you’re putting out.”

It won’t get any easier as the riders mark the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France first climbing the Col du Galibier.

The riders will do it twice this time, with the 18th stage making the highest finish in the Tour’s history, at 2,645 metres.

“There’s no easy way to get through the Pyrenees or the Alps in the Tour de France,” Hesjedal, a good climber, said with a laugh. “There’s still a lot of racing to go.”

The Tour ends Sunday in Paris.

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