What Ryder's ride means for a Canadian bicycle company
Canada's Ryder Hesjedal pedals during the 20th stage of the Giro d'Italia cycling race, Saturday, May 26, 2012. (AP / Daniele Badolato)
Published Sunday, June 3, 2012 6:48PM EDT
When Ryder Hesjedal came from behind to win the Giro d'Italia by just 16 seconds last weekend, he made history by becoming the first Canadian to ever win a Grand Tour race -- the epitome of achievements in professional cycling.
And he did it on a Canadian bike conceptualized, engineered and designed in Toronto -- marking a major milestone for an upstart bicycle company that didn't even exist 17 years ago.
In fact, Cervelo Cycles was only born in 1995 because founders Gerard Vroomen and Phil White couldn't find a buyer for their revolutionary new time-trial bike design.
They quickly came up with a solution, deciding that if they couldn't find someone else to build their bike, they would form their own company and put it into production themselves.
That was the humble beginning for a company that has now risen to the pinnacle of the cycling world, creating some of the lightest, fastest and most technologically advanced bikes on the market.
Hesjedal, speaking from his apartment outside Barcelona where he spent the week resting before resuming training on the weekend, told CTVNews.ca he's proud to have been able to ride a Canadian bike to victory.
"I think it just adds to the story and it adds that little extra bit of historical value, and I'm proud of that," he said.
Hesjedal, who rides for team Garmin-Barracuda, said the ultra-light Cervelo R5ca carried him through the gruelling mountain stages of the race, but he gave the most credit to his Cervelo P5 time trial bike.
It was the time trial stage that allowed Hesjedal to make up time and achieve the win on the final day of the three-week-long 'Giro' -- an almost unheard of accomplishment.
"Certainly the P5 did its job, it played a huge part in the time trial," Hesjedal said. "Just having the top equipment and a cutting-edge bike -- you can't be competitive without that, and that's what they do for us, they allow us to compete at the highest level."
But Hesjedal pointed out that Cervelo hasn't just appeared out of nowhere. In the 17 years since the company was founded, the logo has been winding up on an increasing number of podiums around the world.
In fact in 2008, Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre rode a Cervelo. And in last year's Tour, Cervelo riders wore the prized yellow leader's jersey for four days.
"They've been proven on so many different fronts, from the classics to the grand tours, the time trial, every form of racing. So they have it covered and it's not that they just happened to have the best rider at one point and that was it, the bikes have been proven time and time again," Hesjedal said.
Brian Dillman, Cervelo's executive vice-president, said Cervelo's winning record proves the company, which only has about 60 employees and is 90 per cent Canadian, is doing something right.
"That's where the consumer sees the credibility, because we're not big enough to be able to tell everyone, every day, how good we are and how great and fast we are based on data," Dillman said.
"It's the credibility you get with wins in the pro peloton."
Damon Rinard, senior advanced R&D engineer with Cervelo, attributes those wins to the company's commitment to putting engineering and performance above everything else.
He said throughout its history the company has pushed the boundaries, inventing techniques for reducing weight, while also increasing strength and rigidity in its carbon-fibre frames.
Riders and engineers work together at a lab and testing facility, dubbed Project California for its West Coast location, to develop products in a way that can immediately be tested by riders.
From the tires to the seatpost and water bottle bolts, every gram of weight is accounted for and every inch of carbon is strategically placed for maximum performance, said Rinard, who is also Team Garmin-Barracuda's race engineer.
"The results have trickled down into all Cervelo models and have benefited guys like Ryder," Rinard said.
"The technology we've gained through Project California...it's everywhere in our model lines and it's raised Cervelo's engineering expertise as far as I know beyond the expertise of any other bike company engineers in the world."
In addition to wins at major races and wind tunnel testing, there's another metric the company uses to gauge its success: the number of Cervelo bikes in competition at Hawaii's Kona Ironman.
And by that measure as well, the company is seeing success. In 2005, by Cervelo's own count, the company had 200 of its bikes among the 1,200 belonging to triathletes in Kona -- more than any other brand at the time.
In 2011, Cervelo counted 480 bikes in the race. Their closest competitor had just 200.
"It's a big number that we're very proud of," Dillman said, noting that their presence has grown each year since 2005, while their closest competitor has remained flat.
They're also extremely proud of Hesjedal's success. His win at the Giro has been referred to as a potential watershed moment for cycling in Canada.
"I think it's extremely important because the company is very proud of its Canadian roots and it's something we promote quite often," Dillman said. "Phil White, our CEO, mentioned the other day that this might have a similar impact as the Gretzky effect had on hockey."
Hesjedal said he hopes that's the case, and that he can play a role in helping to inspire the next generation of cyclists through his own success.
"I hope that does resonate and people do get excited and take on the bike in any capacity," he said. "It doesn't have to be for competition it can just as easily be for pleasure or function from commuting to simply getting your blood flowing."
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