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GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alberta (VN) — In his 12-year professional road career, Ryder Hesjedal has only three times started his yearly program in January at the traditional season-opening Santos Tour Down Under in Australia. This is one of those years, and Hesjedal is tired and uncertain of his fitness.
Similar to Rohan Dennis, the BMC Racing rider who discounted his chances in the recent USA Pro Challenge and then dominated the field, Hesjedal is downplaying his overall victory chances in this week’s Tour of Alberta.
“It’s already been a long year; I’ve had 77 race days,” said Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin), who completed both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France this year. “I love to count them and it’s definitely up there for me personally.
“Especially since I did the Giro and the Tour. But it’s been a bit of a rest and I tried to keep it rolling. I did San Sebastian [on August 1] and it was to get one big final race day in Europe. Simply getting out of that rhythm of racing is really good for the body and just recover and be with friends and family. I enjoyed that a lot.”
Hesjedal, 34, is Canada’s only grand tour winner, with his overall title in the 2012 Giro. He rode in the inaugural Tour of Alberta in 2013 and finished 60th while riding for Dennis, his former teammate, who claimed the overall title. Hesjedal skipped the event last year, opting instead to race the Vuelta a Espana — where he won a stage and finished 24th overall.
In addition to starting in Grande Prairie with a team time trial, both race firsts, the Tour of Alberta will also have consecutive mountain days for the first time, in stages 3 and 4, to Jasper National Park and Marmot Basin Ski Area. The fifth stage, which was to have included more than 34 miles of dirt roads, now will feature only 11.5 miles of dirt because of poor road conditions.
“For me, I enjoy it any time the pavement disappears and it turns into dirt road,” said Hesjedal, who transitioned from a mountain bike career to that took him to the 2004 Summer Olympics into road cycling. “I simply grew up riding gravel road a lot, be it on a mountain bike or road bike. If you’ve only ever ridden on pavement and you’ve never touched gravel on a road bike, then it gets a bit complicated. For me, that’s not the case.”
Despite competing in his native country again, Hesjedal has never raced in Jasper National Park. The third stage will separate the field of 120 for the first time.
“Definitely the races in Jasper are exciting and I hope to be in mix, and, if not contesting the overall, looking at winning a stage and getting the most we can out of the race as a team,” said Hesjedal, who will leave his current squad after eight years and join Trek Factory Racing next season. “But to be honest, I’m not really sure about my condition right now. I had to take a break after the Tour. I’m doing the best I can to be in the best shape I can and perform in Alberta.
“I was able to get back into competition with the Tour of Victoria ride (his fifth annual charity ride in late August — ed.). It was great to get out for a good day and get into the swing of things and come here and finish up the season in Canada in September. So for me, that’s enough motivation to push through when the legs are tired.”