Blasting on a bicycle at more than 50 kilometres an hour, in the picturesque Swiss countryside, a nearby lake framed by mountains, the rider in front of Ryder Hesjedal clipped the Canadian cyclist's front tire and sent Hesjedal into a spin. As Hesjedal careened, he was hit again and, in the unfolding crash, Hesjedal was turned upside down. The first part of his body to meet the pavement was his upper back and neck, a blow that knocked the breath out of him.
"You just go down, in a split second, and hard," Hesjedal said on Thursday evening from his European home in Girona, Spain.
After he absorbed the first hit, his right wrist, hip and knee, and left shoulder, elbow and knee were cut up as he somersaulted to a stop.
"I didn't take any specific blows," the native of Victoria said. "But I wasn't getting up very quick."
In many cases, in top-tier road riding, a man picks himself up, probably foolishly, and gets back on the bike. In this case, medical personnel were on the scene, and Hesjedal's race was over. At the hospital, after CT scans and X-rays, it was good news: nothing broken, and no concussion.
So the 32-year-old, Canada's top road cyclist, is set to ride the Tour de France, which begins June 29.
"I feel good," he said. "I feel good on the bike. I showed that at the start of [the Tour de] Suisse. I haven't been hindered by what happened."
The crash in Switzerland happened Monday, 50 or so kilometres from the finish of the third stage in a race in which Hesjedal was ranked second, a couple of seconds out of the lead. The performance was welcome after Hesjedal, the winner of the 2012 Giro d'Italia – the first Canadian to accomplish such a feat – had to withdraw from this year's Giro after he was subsumed, like others in the race, by a terrible, swamping chest cold.
After leaving the hospital on Monday, he returned to Spain on Tuesday, and on Wednesday spent an easy hour on his bike to ensure all parts of his body were in working order. On Thursday, he put in 100 kilometres on a training ride, over three hours, including some ascents, to test himself.
"Everything was good," he said. "I could push."
The sequence of recent events has not been ideal, but is typical of cycling, where chance cuts more severely than in many sports and individuals are at the mercy of the vagaries of group dynamics. After abandoning the Giro, Hesjedal recuperated on his couch, and subsequent blood work indicated he showed no lasting ill effects – as evidenced by his solid start in Switzerland.
Now, he has to focus on training for France – "days in the legs" – rather than just racing in Switzerland. It is good and bad. The plus is that he and his teammates will perform some "recon" of some of the final mountain stages of the French tour, something he couldn't have done otherwise.
The Giro, to cyclists, is nearly equal to the Tour de France, but the latter remains the cultural icon, even if it is badly sullied by rampant drug use of past decade or more and, frankly, throughout its history.
Hesjedal has had, as most cyclists do, mixed experiences in France. His best finish was sixth (initially seventh before the winner, Alberto Contador, was stripped of his victory for being on drugs), some nine or so minutes off the pace.
Last year, however, after his stirring Giro win, Hesjedal was trapped in a whirlpool of a pileup as a large peloton went down like dominoes in the French countryside in the sixth stage. He had to withdraw because his left leg and hip were hurt.