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Hesjedal confirms Tour start, Garmin leadership role

It’s official: Giro d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal will start the Tour de France.

Hesjedal — who confirmed to VeloNews on Thursday that he would race the 2012 Tour — is sticking to the road map that’s served him well over the past few seasons and promises to ride with Garmin-Barracuda’s interests first.

“This is not about me getting the best result; it’s about Garmin-Barracuda getting the best result possible,” Hesjedal told VeloNews on Thursday. “We will have good options for the Tour. We have Christian (Vande Velde) and I believe he will be at a high level. He did an incredible Giro. I will go as the team leader and that is a big honor. We will have a couple of options.”

Garmin’s team interests and Hesjedal’s profile have changed dramatically following the Canadian’s historic Giro d’Italia ride last month.

The Giro victory rockets Garmin and Hesjedal out of relative obscurity and directly into the Tour de France limelight. Not only was his pink jersey the first grand tour win by a Canadian, it was also the first grand tour victory for the Garmin franchise. With that success comes higher expectations, but Hesjedal is confident in his ability to deliver.

“It was always in my plan from the beginning of the year (to race the Tour). Those first few days after the Giro, we didn’t have an answer yet. We wanted things to settle in a bit,” Hesjedal said. “It was mission accomplished for the Giro, so why not try for the Tour? Not racing the Tour just doesn’t make sense.”

There was still some doubt, however, whether Hesjedal could come off a grueling Giro and still be competitive for the Tour. After enjoying the after-glow of wearing the maglia rosa on the highest step of the Giro podium, Hesjedal said the decision of racing the Tour was a no-brainer.

Hesjedal cooled his jets for some time in his European base in northern Spain and linked up via telephone with team boss Jonathan Vaughters and sport director Alan Peiper to talk strategy for July.

The decision was unanimous: Hesjedal would carry his Giro-winning form into the Tour, without pressure of having to live up to Marco Pantani’s legacy of being the last Giro-Tour winner, but at the same time, not discounting anything either.

“I am going to be the team leader for the Tour. I have earned that designation, and I am confident and the team is confident that if I have the legs, we can have a great Tour,” he said. “They asked me and said it’s up to me if I feel I am capable of doing the Tour after the Giro. I was able to pull it off the Giro with the support of the team. They were absolutely amazing. It’s a huge honor for me to lead the team.”

Hesjedal said he felt surprisingly good after the three-week Giro effort.

“I feel good. Mentally I feel good,” he said. “When you win a grand tour, it’s normal that the motivation is high. We have a great team for the Tour and I want to be a part of that.”

Hesjedal said he would ramp up his training intensity in the coming two weeks and then join his Garmin-Barracuda teammates for a pre-Tour training camp to recon some of the decisive Tour stages.

Hesjedal said the Tour is the next step in an ambitious calendar that he and Garmin mapped out during team meetings last fall.

“The major goals this year were Giro-Tour-Olympics-Canadian [WorldTour] races. The Giro was the first big objective and that went pretty well,” he said. “Everyone could see that with my characteristics of getting better in the third week; let’s see how I can recover and build myself back up for the Tour. It’s worth taking a chance.”

In the meantime, Hesjedal said he’s been soaking up the glory that comes with the Giro victory, but in his own trademark, laid-back manner. There have been no wild parties with movie stars nor trips back to Canada to appear on television shows.

“I only took three days off the bike. I’ve been taking it real easy. I wasn’t doing much. I’ve just been chilling out,” he said. “I’ve just been doing my normal routine. Nothing too crazy.”

Hesjedal admitted that he sometimes has to pinch himself when he reflects on what happened during the gripping three-week battle across Italy.

“I am a Giro winner. It rolls off the tongue pretty nice,” he said. “It feels good. That’s why we do all this work and make all these sacrifices. You have to do the work and seize the moment when they’re there. That’s how it goes in cycling.”

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