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Nine North American riders to watch in this year’s Tour de France

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp)

Victoria, British Columbia
Last year, Ryder Hesjedal rode to 18th in the Tour de France and was a key ingredient to Garmin’s teams classification win. This year, he has been on a whole other level, winning the overall in the Giro d’Italia in May. If he can mitigate the fatigue from his victorious Giro campaign in May, Hesjedal should find the form to improve on his career-best sixth-place finish in the 2010 Tour.

Whether the 100-plus kilometers of time trialing will work for or against him remains to be seen, however. His prowess against the clock played a major role in his Giro win, as he used the time trials to gain precious time on his rivals while maintaining his advantage with strong performances in the mountains. Against time trial strongmen such as Bradley Wiggins (Sky), who defeated world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) in the Dauphiné time trial earlier this month, and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), who was second to Martin in the final time trial of last year’s Tour, Hesjedal will certainly have his work cut out for him. But, as he recently told VeloNews, “I have shown that my time trial has improved. Those guys (Wiggins and Evans) are at a higher level, but I can hold my own.”

Previous Ryder Hesjedal coverage >>

Hesjedal shares leadership duties for Garmin with Americans Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson. Indeed, he carries the confidence of a grand tour winner into this race, and will be one to watch as a dark horse for the overall should Evans or Wiggins falters.

The Canadian was a 2003 worlds silver medalist and 2004 Olympian in men’s cross-country mountain bike and moved to a full-time road career in 2005 with Discovery Channel. He has progressed steadily since and in 2010, Hesjedal was fourth in stage 17 at the Col du Tourmalet. The ride was a revelation and two years later, the Canadian delivered on a decade of promise with his Giro win. Hesjedal is a gifted descender and arguably the best all-rounder amongst the race’s GC contenders; he has finished inside the top 10 at Montepaschi Strade Bianche multiple times, landed on the Amstel Gold Race podium and in 2010, he jumped into the Tour’s GC picture when he rode away with Stuart O’Grady, Fabian Cancellara and Andy Schleck on the cobbles in the Tour’s third stage.

After a letdown in 2011, look for Hesjedal to follow the Evans model of staying at the front and in contention for stages through the Tour’s opening week. If he can gain time early — and find himself on the final podium — Hesjedal would be the first Giro winner to do so in the same season since the late Marco Pantani in 1998.

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